Brian Dupont: Artist's Texts

An artist's writings on art.

Future Maps for these Territories

 

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[1] and interest in art and design. Any attempt at articulating a future will be more a snapshot of the author’s present[2] more than the future[3], but Gibson’s Sprawl fiction[4] 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[5], and then safely crated away in secure storage, possibly never to be seen before being resold. Scholarship is privatized as well[6], 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[7], the disgraced owner of small gallery for emerging[8] 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[9], Rubin Stark[10], and the artificial intelligence discovered at the end of Count Zero[11] 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.[12]) 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[13], 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[14] 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.[15]

I’ve always considered the migrations[16] of artists in New York to react like quicksilver to pressures relating to the cost of space.  Artists[17] 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.[18] 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[19], but are able to interface with culture and patrons virtually via technology. Presently artists still feel the need to gather[20], 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.[21] 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[22], 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.

 


[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] The novels Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, and the stories collected in Burning Chrome.

[5] Gibson’s holograms are a sexier antecedent to today’s JPEGS.

[6] 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.

[7] In Count Zero.

[8] 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.

[9] In Mona Lisa Overdrive.

[10] In ‘The Winter Market’, included in the Burning Chrome collection of stories.

[11] Spoiler alert.

[12] 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.

[13] Like any other nature vs. nurture argument the answer is probably “a bit of both.”

[14] 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…

[15] 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.

[16] 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.

[17] 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.

[18] 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.

[19] Low Earth orbit, or New Jersey.

[20] 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.

[21] 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.”

[22] Potentially leading to a version of Gibson’s Boston – Atlanta Metropolitan Axis.

Written by Brian Dupont

January 10, 2012 at 12:27 pm

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