The journal of the Center for Documentary Arts, a nonprofit initiative to bear witness to suffering and promote the common good through the arts. At the crossroads of art, ethics, faith, and social justice, the Center brings together makers and thinkers whose work advances beauty, compassion, collaboration, dignity, and mercy.

05 May 2012

This stuff called art

The tent on Randalls Island, NYC, containing the art fair Frieze New York, which Holland Cotter describes as, "nearly 180 galleries, along with restaurants, bars, V.I.P. lounges, an auditorium and a bookstore." Cotter's review in the NYT includes a rather deflated account of what he calls the "gentrification of contemporary art": 
Part one is about a 20th-century model of an avant-garde, with artists as feisty cultural delinquents and idiot savants who set themselves outside the mainstream to make baffling things and think deep thoughts. 
In part two, set in the 21st century, the model has changed. Now artists, whether they know it or not, are worker bees in an art-industrial hive. Directed by dealers and collectors who dress like stylish accountants, they turn out predictable product for high-profile, high-volume fairs like Frieze.
I wish I were free to attend this event. I am not at all sure what the move from gallery to fair means for the future of art. I don't think anyone is. The crowds that fill the tent at Frieze and the other huge fairs (Basel, Miami, Maastricht, Dubai ... )  bring to mind the Paris Salon at its height in the nineteenth century, when going to the official painting exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts was the cultural equivalent of a new Harry Potter movie, the Super Bowl, and the Whitney Biennial rolled into one. It was the artists who didn't make it into the Salon, or those who rejected its principles, who would change the history of art. That said, Manet showed in the Salon, as did Chardin, Delacroix, Courbet, and Millet before him. History's lessons are generally ambivalent. 

As is Holland Cotter, as he ends his notice of the Randalls Island fair:

" . . . tickets for admission to New York Frieze are available only online. This effectively denies entry to anyone without computer access, which means a not-small number of New Yorkers. Outside, after I saw the fair, I thought of the poor, the crazy and the criminal who once, whether they wanted to or not, called Randalls Island home. Their ghosts must be looking at that big white worm of a tent, at the Wall Street suits, and at this stuff called art that you can do nothing with but buy and sell, with wondering distrust. I’m looking at it all that way myself.

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