John Canaday, for those of you too young to remember, used to be senior art critic on the New York Times, and hence, some felt, the most powerful art critic in the country. I remember a Sunday column of his about a woman in the art department of Appalachian State University who had put together an exhibition so fine that he praised it unstintingly. This was particularly impressive to a New Yorker because at the time the very name of the university conjured up an isolated pocket of insularity where it was hardly expected art would be taught, let alone exhibited—and abstract art at that. Canaday’s Appalachian connection appeared again at College Art, as we saw him on the panel, “Recurring Regionalism: The Southern Rim.” The title came from an earlier conference of the same name.
I think the best thing A.I.R. [Gallery] could do would be to have men. I hope there won’t be any more women’s panels and I hope this is the last one I’m on. You get what you want in this world by surprise, by doing the unexpected. They expect us to continue the way we are…. I don’t think feminism is the real world any more. The point was to get women artists taken seriously. Women still aren’t as equal as men, but I don’t think women’s galleries are helpful any more. I don’t think it helps to be in A.I.R.
Though the outrageous antics of Jim Jones and Charles Manson reverberate through the American public consciousness, a broad history of less-sensational activities from the 1960s and 1970s probably had a larger if surreptitious impact on US culture. Encounter groups, the human potential movement, large-group awareness training: these cultic approaches to self-actualization came shortly after mind expansion through psychedelic drugs in the sixties and just before business motivational seminars and self-help gurus of the eighties (followed by the deliriums of late-night religious programming and inspirational infomercials). Today, soccer moms practice yoga and mindfulness is all the rage, but once upon a time, New Age ideas were a serious threat to mainstream Judeo-Christian values. The objectors were partly correct, but I digress.
What do artists want from critics? Barbara Zucker answered for us all: “I want them to be my fairy godmother, champion my career, say I’m a genius, and stand behind me unequivocally.” Although she and others went on to discuss the importance of dialogue and the wonderful insights that artists might derive from criticism of their work, nothing rang as true as these opening remarks.
The symposium on “The Relationships between Artists and Museums”—featuring David Bourdon, Richard Hennessy, Diane Kelder, Barbara Rose, and Marcia Tucker—was a formal display of sparring and volleying between five panelists, some of whom raised genuine questions. A few presented themselves as ideologues. Only the final speaker attempted answers.
It’s no secret that the tuition for all kinds of schools has increased significantly over the last thirty years, and thousands of students take out huge government and private loans to cover their educational expenses. Those armed with BFAs are unlikely to make tons of money right out of the starting gate, as the familiar narrative goes. Yet we live in a time in which euphoric articles pronounce the MFA as the new MBA appear with alarming regularity. What should a young artist do?
Matthew Miller’s work for the past five years has primarily involved naturalistic representations of his own unusually shaped, closely shaved head, usually with a neutral, enigmatic expression on his face. The Brooklyn–based artist talked about his paintings—oils on wooden panels executed in a painstaking old-master style—in front of a tight crowd at a gallery with a long, unwieldy name, Hansel and Gretel Picture Garden Pocket Utopia.
What happens when artists act as curators, organizing exhibitions for museums, commercial galleries, and other venues? Well, they become curators, if for one show only. Is this new? Is it a trend? What advantages and complications result when an artist takes on a different professional role? The third session for the conference “Exhibit A: Authorship on Display,” simply titled “The Artist-Curator,” explored these ideas and more.
Boris Groys presented a keynote address called “The Museum as Gesamkunstwerk” to kick off a daylong conference, “Exhibit A: Authorship on Display,” that explored historical and contemporary approaches to organizing exhibitions. His accent made it difficult for me to concentrate, and he repeatedly chuckled at what seemed like minor disciplinary quibbles between he and other theorists. He relayed that, according to the nineteenth-century composer Richard Wagner, “the artist of the future must be radically indifferent” and boldly claimed that “dictatorship is a curatorial project” and documentation of it supplies nostalgia for the ephemeral event.
The question “How the Market Gives Form to Art” is one I ask not at all cynically. I think it’s the question of the ’80s and a difficult one to answer. My premise is that the drastic change in the art market over the last twenty years has effected a change in the condition of the artist as modernism defined it, that is, as outsider. The artist’s life is still difficult, the speculative nature of his or her work remains the same, generating insecurity and so providing a continuum with earlier times. However, today, opportunities are far more numerous than they were two decades ago and this seems to have reduced the artist’s identification with the marginal.