My essay on the retrospective of Richard Serra’s drawings that has hung at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Menil Collection is up now at Idiom: http://idiommag.com/2012/06/on-site-serra-at-the-met-and-the-menil/
The state of the art market and the fantastic sums of money thrown into it as a part of the economic recovery[i] continue to serve as fodder to trumpet or denounce the direction of contemporary art itself. Breathless claims for art as an asset class are countered with calls that the money involved is irretrievably corrupting any aesthetic value. Add to this mix the Occupy movement casting its eye towards the art world as the only cultural arena where critical judement is almost entirely determined by the super-rich[ii], and the level of discourse gets more and more histrionic (on both sides) at the expense of actually addressing the fundamental issues or offering any possible solutions. There’s a good deal of populist rhetoric but it’s unclear how much of it is actually looking at art. Disturbingly, art is not being judged on the gallery or museum wall, but via the booths found in art fairs.
Most of the artists I know consider fairs a sort of necessary evil. Whether they go or not usually depends on if they can get in for free[iii], and if they go it’s because they can see a phenomenal amount of art in one place at one time; even compared to gallery hopping in Manhattan there’s more to see, but then the viewing is less than optimal (although compared to the free Friday evenings of most major museums in New York City, it can’t be too much worse).
Morley Safer brought out his second supposed dissection of the art world, the first having come not quite twenty years ago. This time he looked at the market through the lens of the Art Basel fair in Miami but his report has little in the way of actual investigation or exposition; there are some tossed off facts and a graph or two, but most of the issues are raised as snark and then left to quietly drop.[iv] While Safer did raise the issue of the amount of money in the art world, all too often he was ingratiating rather than critical. He has to practically beg to talk to Larry Gagosian, and instead of following up on ideas that the art market is completely opaque and unregulated and what this might mean, he spends his time poking fun at art he finds both silly[v] and overpriced. Cindy Sherman, Gerhard Richter, Anish Kapoor, and a host of anonymous art join Robert Gober, Christopher Wool, and Robert Ryman for mocking this time. To his credit, he at least goes after big names[vi] as long as they’re not in the same room; when he gets a tour of the Rubell family collection, he lampoons a work that drips honey from a box for participants to catch on bits of bread without noting that the artist in question is the Rubell’s daughter. Instead of exploring the nexus of money and privilege in the creation of art and how that affects broader aesthetic concerns we’re left with art reduced to mere absurdity, which is an easy answer. Drawing a connection with his first report, he wryly mocks Do Ho Suh’s delicate fabric recreations of elements from places he has lived by stripping them of all relation and reference, undercutting any possible meaning or engagement by treating them as ultimately little more than a commercial spot.
Safer notes a few works on view as worthwhile[vii], but the problem with his approach[viii] is the same many make: the conflation of aesthetic value with how much a work of art costs. This is the clear cut issue with art at an art fair; not that personal obsessions are opaque (they are) or that the tussle of the contemporary scene is different than canonization (it is), but that as long as society insists on using money as the primary yardstick of “worth” it will be viewing art through a distorted lens. An art fair is ultimately about art as salable ware in a way that it is not in a museum, or even a gallery; the distortion Safer applies is that people more conversant in art manage a fair according to their own needs, while Safer presents it as the only way art is considered anymore.
Where Safer couches his aesthetic conservativism as a critique of billionaire spending, Charlie Finch seeks to align the problematic points of the art market with the economics of sports. He handles this arguably worse than Safer. For one, he should have a better understanding of the issues within the art market, but he so mangles his opening example[ix] that it’s impossible to take him seriously; it makes me question whether or not he’s ever actually listened to a baseball game[x] and by extension just how much stock to put in the rest of his analysis. He complains that “What’s missing in both narratives is the traditional public interest that used to motivate the whole process”, but when I listen to a baseball game, I always know what the batter did, and so does everyone else. Likewise the only coverage of the fairs that I paid attention to[xi] hardly mentioned sales, but did mention that Michael Riedel’s installation at Zwirner’s booth was great. What is more problematic here is the equation of a singular aesthetic pursuit such as art to popular pastime like professional sports.[xii] To claim that Baseball is only a “construct no longer intended for public entertainment, but merely to justify the exchange of large amounts of capital between the 1% of the 1%” is to both reveal that one has never been a sports fan, but also to say that art should be merely public entertainment.
For me, the strength of art lies in its possibility for finicky, over the top elitism. What great movement in art has not been met with howls of derision and outrage from the general public? It can be the expression of a single individual that is not dependent on larger social or economic structures for its creation. The tricky thing with appealing to the taste of the general populace is while you’re never sure exactly what you’re going to get[xiii], it is safe to say that it isn’t likely to appeal to the contemporary art world. In appealing to the taste of the 99% I don’t think Finch intended to spend much time writing about Thomas Kinkade[xiv] or the latest generic Hollywood romantic comedy. Why should anyone believe a rant about how the influence of the 1% is destroying culture for everyone when the art Charlie Finch endorses would not pass muster with most majorities; aesthetically speaking, he is the 1%[xv] and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous at best and delusional at worst.
This is not to say that there are not economic inequalities that arise in participating in either the sports or art economy, but they are much more complicated to unpack[xvi], and the issues extend beyond just either arena to issues that affect the broad politics and economics of a city or region. In a sense this complexity is what makes it so easy to stop at just platitudes and economic name calling. The issues (and possible solutions) are less sexy when not looking at just art[xvii], and they also require the 99% to accept some responsibility for how things have turned out. I do not mean to use “responsibility” as the cudgel conservative politicians do, but whatever the problems that have come from a widening gap between rich and poor and a slow dismantling of the social safety net, these were legislated for in a functioning democracy. In such a political system it can’t be accurate to say that this was done to us; the sad truth is that we let this happen to us. Accepting responsibility is the first step towards reconstruction.
I tend to agree with John Powers when he identifies the ever widening disparity of incomes between the haves and have-nots as one of the central economic problems, and points to that providing healthcare and education as a simple leveling mechanism. While I would be quite happy to see the implementation of Scandinavian quasi-socialist economic policies designed to provide for all of the citizenry before (rather than after) splitting up the pie among private interests, I also do not think that any calls to remove art from the functions of basic capitalism and the laws of supply and demand have much credibility. Art cannot stand apart as a separate, somehow pristine economy because at its root it is interconnected with the rest of the global economy[xviii], just as is everything else. This is neither good nor bad; the issue is not working outside of capitalism, but in assessing how art can be produced within such a system.
Accepting the basic agency of supply and demand appears to be the lost key in understanding how the contemporary art market ebbs and flows. Artists tend to focus on the supply of or demand for actual artworks, but in responding to calls that “the game is rigged”[xix] one should turn to the supply and demand for labor. Finch blames the super rich for creating the illusion of opportunity, but when you get right down to it the fact is that being an artist (or at least the idea of it) is incredibly seductive. The reason there is a lot of competition is because so many people look at it as something that would be a great thing to do with their lives. Of course that image often doesn’t show the hard work or luck that underwrites the myth of success, but this is the same in a great many professions. [xx] I have actually often likened starting a career as an artist to trying to play a professional sport[xxi], but where Finch points to the failure rate and cost inherent in the system as an indication of its corruption, I see it as more and more people bringing new ideas to the table, and making art and its discourse stronger through variation and competition, debate and synthesis. Of course this strength also provides a broad labor base for an industry to draw from as new artists look to find work in their chosen field, and that pushes the value of that labor down, but it’s not realistic to expect that the art world is going to be able to support every artist. No industry provides that level of income security, and every artist has always had to work against the giant stereotype of the starving artist blinking annoyingly in the background. Even if artists saw some of their classmates offered solo shows, one would’ve had to blithely ignore the basic math[xxii] (along with most anecdotes from art history about how long it took for artists we care about today to find an audience). I don’t see any way that should be laid at the feet of art or the art market any more than all of cinema should be condemned because there are a bunch of actors waiting tables are disappointed that they didn’t get to have Brad Pitt’s career. We may have been raised to believe that we were all going to movie stars or rock gods, but if we’re pissed off by the fact that we’re not then we really have only ourselves to blame, even if it’s only for believing an advertisement.
Again, the key issue comes back to our unit of measure. Finch’s hypothetical benefit-less adjunct professor for Schlump Community College hasn’t had his work assessed in any way other than via the standing of his bank account. This is where criticism of the art fairs becomes problematic, since their entire raison d’etre is to sell art, and that helps artists (who presumably will get paid for their work). Safer and Finch ultimately get the art world they are looking for rather than the one they want because of the questions they ask. They want the work they like to be financially rewarded, but short of legislating taste perhaps the key to looking at art should be to look directly at the work rather than the price tag off to the side.
[i] Remember when the economic collapse was sure to herald in a new conceptual agenda reminiscent of the halcyon early 1990’s and the market would be corrected to a state subservient to aesthetics?
[ii] Almost any other medium for expression makes its bones on selling multiples, be it identical copies or tickets to a performance. This means that a certain amount of populism is built into the market. Where there is a singular object, that sum total concentrates into the single object, elevating it out of the price range of mere mortals.
[iii] This past round it seems like comps were harder to come by and ticket prices that rival MoMA’s probably kept some of the unwashed (i.e. non-buyers) away; with the next big event being the Frieze fair isolated away on Randall’s island, access does become a more pointed issue.
[iv] Yes, the art market and its participants do sometimes behave as though they are investing in commodities, but that is a problem why exactly? Show your work, Morley…
[v] That some cultural production could be both bad and ridiculously expensive should not exactly be news to Schafer as the same network that broadcasts his story also broadcasts “Two and a Half Men.”
[vi] We can all still agree that he might have a point about Koons though, right?
[vii] Kara Walker being the only artist so named, but pretty much anyone discussed is damned by the association of inclusion. I wonder if Safer’s viewers recognize that the quick insert of a small Picasso or large Frankenthaler are something they’re supposed to know is good.
[viii] From the standpoint of someone interested in art; trying to grab ratings by pandering to middlebrow misunderstanding of contemporary art is probably still a sound broadcasting strategy.
[ix] So let’s break his paragraph down, Finch writes
‘Turn on a televised baseball game, for example, and the announcer will say, “Joe Palooka is coming to bat. Joe is in his walk year, making $15 million, and his agent is rumored to be negotiating for a minimum six-year contract with the Red Sox or maybe the Rockies. Here comes the pitch. Strike One. Whether the Rangers will trade Palooka before the All Star break depends on management’s willingness to eat a big chunk of Joe’s current contract.”’
Just to start with, announcers just don’t talk this way. Being in the entertainment business, it’s generally accepted that too much talk about astronomical sums of money doesn’t really appeal to Joe Six-pack fan. Furthermore agents don’t negotiate with other teams for extended deals during the season. That would be tampering with a player under contract and MLB actually takes that pretty seriously. The player has to file for free agency for anybody to do any negotiating, and that happens in the off-season, not during the season.
Next, the teams are all wrong; the Red Sox don’t really compete with the Rockies for free agent signings (it’s the definition of a large market with lots of money, and a smaller market that can’t compete in spending), and anyways since the Rangers have been very good for the last few years, they wouldn’t be looking to trade away a good player at the deadline. That’s a salary dump and salary dumps are for good players on bad teams, they don’t happen to good players on good teams who are looking to go to the playoffs… but let’s not let facts get in the way of a nice bit of alliteration.
[x] Maybe Finch has only been listening John Sterling all these years, who is legitimately awful and barely does call the game; his pitch calling is non-existent, and he hardly interrupts his monologue to let the listener know that “there’s a strike.”
[xi] Rachael Wetzler writing for Idiom (who I also occasionally write for) and Greg Allen blogging for himself stood out in my feed, but many blogs looked at the art without getting to hung up on the money. Even Tamara Warren, writing in Forbes of all places, spent more time talking about the work than how it sold.
[xii] For the purposes of this discussion, we’re talking Baseball, which is the only sport I follow, although the issues that can be raised via Baseball can also be applied to other sports.
[xiii] As evidenced by all the cat videos on the internet.
[xiv] Although with his recent death perhaps we’ll be treated to an obituary that had all the wit and generosity of his thoughts on Hilton Krammer’s passing.
[xv] And likely so are you, dear reader.
[xvi] Just to start with the economics of having municipalities levy taxes to build stadiums and arenas for private enterprises that are both already very profitable. This trend becomes even more distorted in the face of the funding for the New Yankee Stadium, as the Yankees lack a credible threat to move anywhere else (does anyone really think Jersey is an option?) while at the same time annexing public park land in a poorer section of the city to build upon. The Yankees proposal would have returned said public lands back in trade, but only in a fragmented and less useable fashion, and they haven’t even undertaken to live up to those meager responsibilities. By comparison, funding for oversize art projects (public or private) are the super-rich spending their own money. Even if you argue that their incomes should be taxed at a higher rate, you simply do not see even major museum projects (never mind galleries or projects by single artists) making such a bald claim to privatize public funds. The unpopularity of contemporary art that insulates it as a luxury commodity is also what keeps it from becoming a larger drain on the taxes paid by the 99%. When art accrues value and prices push ever higher, the only people who are paying more and more via auction and private sales are already very, very rich.
[xvii] And thus actions like Occupy Museums have less purchase for grabbing media attention. While such tactics are good for exposing issues that should be debated and starting a dialog with otherwise indignant and closed institutions, they appear to provide less in the way of demands for change or actionable solutions.
[xviii] Money is a very pervasive technology precisely because it is so convenient. Artists, galleries, and museums still must draw on resources of power and utilities, space, transportation, and labor. These are all networked into the general economy in a way that cannot be easily segregated into a separate system based on, say, barter and good will. Any such separate economy would run into limits of scale that art, like most global markets or enterprises has long since surpassed. The genie simply cannot be put back in the bottle.
[xix] Which is a common refrain, echoed by Finch and participants in the Flux Factory Death Match linked to above.
[xx] There are a lot of things to do and ways to make a living that look really interesting, but in the end are not easy to get a foot in the door. An example that goes beyond the arts is my brother’s work to become a full time pilot. He spent his summers flying weather modification in the middle of nowhere, just so he’d have a job flying and could log flight time that he could bring to an application for an airline job. But the air line job he got still gives a great deal of weight to seniority and institutes practices that takes advantage of the fact that there is a very deep pool of labor to draw on.
[xxi] At least in pro-sports the goal of winning a game that has clearly defined rules means that talent will always trump unrelated maters. This is obviously not the case with art, but that is a strength as well as a weakness. With art we can at least define our own goals and goal posts.
[xxii] Take the number of people in an MFA program and use that to extrapolate the number of MFA candidates in all of the grad schools across the country. Then subtract the number of gallery shows available in a single given year and take the square root of that number. If the resulting number is imaginary, then so was the financial planning behind the idea.
My review of the mini-retrospective “Fred Sandback: Decades” at David Zwirner Gallery is up on Idiom.com. The link is http://idiommag.com/2012/04/playing-out-the-string/.
My review of Bill Jensen’s exhibition at Cheim and Read is up now at Idiom: http://idiommag.com/2012/02/a-painters-painters-paintings-bill-jensen-at-cheim-and-read/
The New Year’s holiday inevitably brings about remembrances and prognostications. 2011 saw me celebrate a decade in the same studio, and as I sat around looking at works in progress and planning for the New Year (figuring out new works, and considering the more daunting task of trying to resolve what’s already been started, discarded, or just left sitting around) I was also considering my New Year’s day trip to the art openings in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I started thinking more and more about the (very) long-term affects of changing economic conditions, and how the seemingly continual search for space affects artists, and where that search may lead.
In a year that saw the birth and subsequent suppression of the Occupy movement focus attention on corporate machinations, it is hard not consider the footprint of corporate interests in finance, real estate, and art when considering any such potential future. The early fiction of William Gibson seems to particularly apply, with his simultaneous exploration of the corporation as quasi-governmental power and interest in art and design. Any attempt at articulating a future will be more a snapshot of the author’s present more than the future, but Gibson’s Sprawl fiction presents a future for art that is in some sense already here. Artists are measured in a stock market-like system of fluctuating points, up and down. The actual works of art are purchased by reproduction, and then safely crated away in secure storage, possibly never to be seen before being resold. Scholarship is privatized as well, with the heads of the new oligarchies serving as patrons (and also demanding favors) in a model reminiscent of the medieval kings. His setting for the market of the art world is likewise eerily prescient. Marly Krushkova, the disgraced owner of small gallery for emerging art contrasts with Picard, the international gallery manager who treats art as any broker would their preferred commodity. Setting aside motivation, the contrast between the power and wealth available in the realm of the blue chip as compared to those working from purer motives is stark.
By comparison his artists Slick Henry, Rubin Stark, and the artificial intelligence discovered at the end of Count Zero are represented in a romanticized fashion that make them seem more outsiders than careered artists. Their creative drive is an unsullied internal need. (Only Stark has representation, and fully engages the market for his creations. In this sense he actually comes the closest of the three to representing a successful artist working within today’s art world.) Aside from their collage based practice and their affinity for cast off materials, these characters share an affinity for living and working in repurposed industrial spaces. These are a future version of the light-industrial lofts that became the new model for the artist’s studio in the Post-war art world.
Whether the size of these new spaces allowed or caused artist to dramatically change the scale of their work, what is evident is that the work produced in these spaces is peculiarly of these spaces: just as the scale and materials of pre-war modernism seem particularly suited to a Parisian garret, the paintings of the New Yorks school swelled to match the space available in an urban center with a surplus of raw, light-industrial space. Contemporary art has seen the loft space institutionalized as grad studios in MFA programs and this as affected how the art is made. Construction is an ad-hoc affair with considerations of craft in construction giving way to a direct and immediate engagement with the work that assumes that problems of logistics, transport, and storage can be solved after the fact. Artists will be keenly aware of their own space, and often build work that just fits in or out the door by a matter of inches, but these measurements are unlikely to consider future doors in different neighborhoods that the work may need to get in.
I’ve always considered the migrations of artists in New York to react like quicksilver to pressures relating to the cost of space. Artists form the leading edge of gentrification in the city, following the arteries of transportation through to under-used (or under-capitalized) light industrial spaces that could be taken over for idiosyncratic ends. The post-war bohemia of Greenwich Village was pushed into Soho and from there into (generally) Tribeca and lower Manhattan and out to Dumbo and through to harder to access areas like Red Hook or the Navy Yards. Another tack flowed to the East, from Village and out into Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Long Island City and into Bushwick. It appears that artists are following the subway lines to anywhere there is cheap space, which was usually “the next stop out” from a popular neighborhood. Established residential neighborhoods formed a natural bulwark to an influx of artists, providing the rents were high enough. If the neighborhood tended to be lower income, or zoned for mixed-use, it was only a matter of the next financial boom until the indigenous residents who didn’t own found themselves forced out, soon to be followed by the artists who couldn’t afford the rising rents. Leaving aside the contemporary socio-economic implications and looking to the future, what sort of changes and evolutions can we expect in art and the art world as economic pressures continue to exacerbate the problem of a finite amount of urban space?
Gibson’s artists find themselves in extremely out of the way locations, but are able to interface with culture and patrons virtually via technology. Presently artists still feel the need to gather, but space is becoming more and more limited and the influx of new, young artists into the same limited, urban territory will eventually subject the makers of objects to evolutionary pressures that will affect where and how art is made. Artists never left working in their apartments, and post-studio and conceptual practices may become increasingly popular urban practices to accompany works at a more modest scale. Another avenue would be a longer, more desperate migration that can be observed in other species struggling with dwindling local resources. Other smaller urban areas connected by similar transit options are one option, yet will face the same pressures from outside industries. These factors will only increase as rural populations contract, but with a retreat to urban centers new spaces will open to colonization by artists. Strip malls and abandoned big box stores of the twenty-first century will present similar floor plans possibilities to their light industry counterparts of the twentieth century. With a proliferation of mobile connectivity and social media artists will be able to take advantage of cheap real estate as working space trumps the ability to grab a drink or quick meal with a fellow artist.
Looking back on the crowds that crammed into Norte Maar or spilled out onto the sidewalk in front of Storefront on New Year’s Day, the implication (or threat) to artists is probably greater to the underrated social community that surrounds long hours alone in the studio rather than any specific need for space; after all artists will still find a way to make things under the most pressing limitations. Nevertheless I can already envision a future version of Loren Munk, traveling so far that he’s nomadic and without time to paint, his work documented digitally via GPS and JPEG like a cyberpunk Richard Long, trekking out to and mapping the remains of a Walmart that was once home and studio of a now famous artist…until he or she was priced out and now the space is occupied by a bohemian descendant of Sam Walton. Even in the future, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
 Gibson’s future is the ultimate in corporate privatization, with national governments collapsed and corporate conglomerates wielding their own private armies. Nevertheless there must be some organizing and mediating principle, as evidenced by the wild global urban infrastructure his characters must navigate.
 Gibson acknowledges as much, writing that “Nothing acquires quite as rapid or peculiar a patina of age as an imaginary future” in the introduction to Burning Chrome.
 The Sprawl trilogy seems rather light on smartphones, and the graphics available to his cyberpunks and the animations that represent the web belong more to Atari than one where the imaging of Avatar is out of date. In this regard Neal Stephenson grafted the appropriate bandwidth onto Gibson’s corporate future in his novel Snow Crash.
 The novels Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, and the stories collected in Burning Chrome.
 Gibson’s holograms are a sexier antecedent to today’s JPEGS.
 In the future of the sprawl there seems little room for museums, and I imagine that community outreach programs were cut when the government fell.
 In Count Zero.
 In Gibson’s world, this means dealing with original works, presumably by living artists. There is little money in it, unless one gets extremely lucky, but there is the visceral, direct appeal.
 In Mona Lisa Overdrive.
 In ‘The Winter Market’, included in the Burning Chrome collection of stories.
 Spoiler alert.
 Although his work and character seems like a precursor to Slick Henry, as if the more career savvy artist had to be tamed to get along with his new neighbors and relations in the subsequent novel. Also of interest is that he has an agent, and not specifically gallery representation.
 Like any other nature vs. nurture argument the answer is probably “a bit of both.”
 Speaking generally, and certainly not of larger projects fabricated with the aid of specialized technicians, who generally need to have their shit straight to survive working with artists…
 This is a benefit to the much maligned practice of art going directly into storage after it is bought. Artists are at least free to make anything, and sell it, without worrying about where it is going to fit. In my experience far fewer collectors have huge garage-style roll up doors into their residences than you might think.
 Or, if you prefer, relocations. The constant movement of artists has a whiff of refugee movements about it, in a distinctly first-world way of course.
 In this case, young or emerging artists working to establish themselves. Older artists who have consolidated their position within the art world will probably have similarly consolidated their position in real estate. Likewise they are more likely to have family commitments that keep them from the young person’s game of pioneering.
 And of course some also headed West to New Jersey or North into the Harlem and the Bronx, and individual outposts or colonies thrive almost everywhere, but migrations are a matter of populations, not individuals. Chelsea remains an interesting outlier as artists have been there since at least the 1940’s or 50’s (deKooning had a studio there for awhile), but despite its proximity to Greenwich Village* it has never really had a status as an “art neighborhood” until the galleries moved in. If some future historian is looking to pinpoint where capital and galleries bifurcated away from artists, this is probably the point.
* Despite the rallying cry of the time, artists did head above 14th Street. Hipsters are notoriously unreliable that way, and of course there wasn’t an art museum that far south anyway.
 Low Earth orbit, or New Jersey.
 Following the split noted between the populations of artists and galleries in #18, it is interesting to note that galleries are exhibiting the same behavior, just within their own “species”, rather than with artists.
 Mira Schor’s call for an new intimate art may become a reality in light of working and exhibition space reducing (which can be seen a bit in smaller spaces on the Lower East-side downsizing from the blue chip Chelsea hangar). See “Modest Painting” in “A Decade of Negative Thinking: Essays on Art, Politics, and Daily Life.”
My review of Byron Kim’s exhibition Night at James Cohan Gallery is up now at Idiom.
The sentiment that the expansion of the art world is detrimental to artists is not exactly a new meme. Exposés and biographies of the art world past often contain a throw away lament about how things have changed, and not for the better. However for as often as anyone claims how much better things were in the “good ol’ days” it is never addressed that their halcyon time was being similarly decried by someone else who saw it as further evidence of a slow descent into an abyss. While Jerry Saltz and Mira Schor understandably garnered the most notice for their critique and response to the Venice Biennale, a similar sentiment was also expressed by Joerg Colberg in his look at how advanced technology and amateur practice are affecting professional photography. Even collectors can’t help but get in on the action, as Mickey Cartin weighed in on the increasing difficulty of finding art he likes. You can practically cut the condescension and generational bias with a knife.
What strikes me about these arguments is just how much blame for the art being exhibited and the state of the market is being laid at the feet of artists and their education. This seems particularly troubling in light of the fact that the first three are teachers within the current system that pushes young artists to get an advanced degree and incur similarly advanced student loan debt. The complaint that young artists emerge from their education looking like polished, inoffensive professionals who are unwilling to rock the boat of the commercial system is the flip side to the critical trope that young artists start showing too soon and don’t mature enough before engaging the market. Both positions privilege the elder critic’s position in the art world, alternating between ease of digestion and a respite from the blandness it engenders. The irony for these teachers to address then is that their students are emerging from their classrooms with looming loan obligations that paid their own salaries. To then complain that these artists are far too historically aware and that in trying sell their work they are compromising their critical faculties is tone deaf at best, and hypocritical at worst.
While to his credit Mr. Saltz lays some blame at the feet of the curators and institutions that present the work (after all the artists were selected to be in the Venice Biennale), it is a stretch to turn the conventional acceptance on show at the “State of the Art World” as an indictment of the adventurousness of young artists. Just as the site of Venice is circumscribed, any artist showing there is established to a certain degree; this is not a place to find notes from the underground any more than you would expect to find rumblings of uncertainty on a greatest hits album.
That art is going the way of dog breeding and is refining itself into an aesthetic cartoon of academic discourse relies on a negative characterization of Mannerism that ignores its value within art history.  Mannerism is the necessary counterbalance to and consequence of artistic freedom divorced from prevailing requirements for art. The first Mannerists reacted to the technologies that established naturalism within Renaissance painting and sculpture, laying the groundwork for future expressionism. This cycle is replayed within the narrative of Modernist progress as photography freed painting from the necessity of utilitarian representation. The new Mannerism comes out of the end of Modernism’s progress of formal reduction and an embrace of the possibilities inherent in Post-Modernism. If artists are freed from pushing a historical narrative forever forward they may instead focus on individual interests. The risk of such terrain is that there is little in the way of landmarks for artist, critic, or collector to aid navigation between what will last and what is merely fashion. Such uncertainty portends a large degree of floundering in both production and discourse, but also provides fertile ground for new and unexpected directions to emerge from; it becomes the responsibility of the critic and curator to tease out threads and trends that are suddenly much less apparent. Just as the “death of the author” corresponded to the “birth of the reader”, the passing of the Modern and immediately Post-Modern into a new Mannerism portends an era where art is not yoked to past narratives, and the new ones will be constructed by artists free to move in any direction.
But this freedom necessarily means that old revolutions will be carried forth haphazardly at best. Ms. Schor’s complaint that “the farther you get from the generative decade of the 60s and yes the 70s, the worse it gets” echoes the frustration of other first generation social activists and feminists that those that followed them are not getting with the program as they laid it out. So while social justice and a commitment to progressive or radical political causes may remain strong within the self-identified arts demographic, why should these artists be expected to shoehorn such issues into their practice? Surly the historically aware students in Ms. Schor’s classroom are aware that a lot of bad art was (and is) made when political content trumped aesthetic concern; that such art achieves far less in the way of real-world impact than direct action would naturally lead pragmatic, organized professionals to compartmentalize any political labors where it would be expected to do the most good and focus their time in the studio on work that is personally fulfilling.
Similarly, young artists will have seen that the market is capable of commodifying any practice or output, and that the previous generations of artists who have made supposedly “uncollectible” work now have objects, relics, documentation, or certificates to sell. Critique of the market has turned into another subject that an artist may engage with as they would gestural abstraction in painting, the machined surfaces of Minimalism, or the media construction of gender. As with other movements and interests in art, the first generation to tackle these interests stands rather tall; unless a young artist is personally invested in critiquing the market (or its attendant systems and structures) they will be working well trod ground with little reason to do so, and less conviction. If the hand wringing that accompanies a Mannerist field of operations in art is the product of a profound uncertainty of how to apply judgments, then the worst course for artists to follow would be to engage with their physical or conceptual material halfheartedly.
While Mr. Colberg’s critique focuses on photography, which as a medium moves between “high” art and commercial assignment, his bias is not dissimilar to Ms. Schor’s. He eschews any gross condemnation in favor of a well-rounded analysis of the market forces acting on the supply of images but ultimately suggests that an emerging photographer should consider the earning potential of his or her more established peers as they try to establish themselves within the professional ranks.  Young artists are navigating a new market and simply do not have the luxury of taking the same path as their elders. The ground has shifted.
Where the others approached from the point of view of the education system that feeds the art world, Mr. Cartin’s starts at the final destination, the gallery spaces at its epicenter. His concerns of how a surplus on the supply side of the art market can drag down the overall quality contained within smartly meet Mr. Saltz’s concerns about the final product but Mr. Cartin is maddeningly vague about just which artists and galleries are pushing soulless art onto ignorant “consumers” (one can assume that it is the art someone else may happen to value or love). While education remains a wished for panacea, it is not likely to correct for taste and systems of value which is what ultimately “ails” the art market. So as the terrain for production and criticism has been leveled to Mannerist smear across many potential sites, so has the market; the genteel market where a few self-styled in the know intellectual elites all attended the same openings has been replaced by the boisterousness of the bazaar where competing worldviews are made neighbors by commerce. The inherent value of the current system resides in the multiplicity of viewpoints available, where many voices can be heard and different tastes (no mater how extreme) may find their own space in which to operate. The consequence for viewers of art is that the overall space of the market becomes extremely cluttered and confusing. More work is required to finally stand in front of art that was worth the effort to find, and because it’s more work, the work needs to better to validate that investment. This sets a near impossibly high standard for entry; only Athena came forth so fully formed.
The central issue then is not of the privileging the judgment of critics (these, or any other others), but in not recognizing that the art world has undergone a tremendous change and growth to its fundamental structure that is leveling points of view. My concern is not in limiting the scope of criticism but in challenging the expectations that artists, especially those young and emerging, will limit themselves because of it, and especially when it comes from a position of another’s self interest. If there is a petite revolution in the emergence of a new Mannerism it lies in expecting that everyone involved (artists, critics, curators, and collectors) accept that no matter how dear their point of view may be, there is an equal and opposite measure that may and will be argued; what has turned is that this is a strength, rather than a limitation.
 In the interest of full disclosure, I’m still paying off the loans I took out during the course of my MFA studies.
 It should go without saying that if said artists did ignore recent art history in their practice they would be excoriated for that, too.
 Everyone wants a funky, messy art world that’s full of characters until they’re responsible for the financial planning of said characters later in life. It’s pretty easy to say that someone else should get out and man those barricades.
 In such a limited and sinking geographic space it is impossible to complete a representative survey, especially when that is not the intention to start with, and Venice as a site doesn’t have the flexibility of space for emerging artists to set up their own parallel or counter programming in a meaningful way. See my earlier essay ‘Site Specificity’ for a more complete explanation on my use of the term ‘site.’
 I do love me some Pontormo.
 You really could call it a desert.
 Although this risk is always evident; one only need go back to the last chapter of any published history of the art world’s recent to (then) current history to find that the number of artists mentioned who remain relevant or important falls off dramatically.
 I mean if Tino Seghal has a saleable commodity, come on.
 You don’t see a lot of aging coneptualists making ends meet working construction.
 To be fair this applies more to work for hire arrangements that do not have an easily analogous counterpart with in the art world,
 And Mr. Colberg’s position vis-a-vis the market for photography does correspond quite nicely to the complaints being leveled against emerging artists and the sector of the market that supports them.
 At least I think this is his general concern. Most of his essay is spent leveling a generic complaint about some corner of the art market (young artists, galleries, other collectors, art consultants) and then saying that he really can’t fault them for their behavior.
 Perhaps the greatest leveling of the post-modern age is to reduce the ‘other’ from a discreet coding of separation based on race, gender, or sexuality into a judgment on the quality of one’s purchases. As it turns out the joke is on Barbra Kruger.
 Boisterous in point of view, if not in actual market dealings; everybody has a back room after all.
 Mr. Cartin is comparing emerging artists to exhibitions by Sol LeWitt, Louise Lawler, and Picasso after all.
 If not the influence of established power structures and money; some things still fall at rates more closely associated with astronomical gravity.
 In the desert I propose all things are equal, even if in truth some things are more equal than others.