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.
The subtitle of this panel, “Is Jerking Off Getting Out of Hand?,” could mean anything from, “Once you’ve seen one jerk-off in an art context, you’ve seen them all, so a painting renaissance is inevitable,” to “Painting itself is the equivalent of jerking off, so why paint?” In either case, if you’ve been waiting tensely for the verdict, the panelists agreed that painting is not now, nor is it likely in the foreseeable future to be dead. In fact, one assumes that the four painters convened exactly in order to reach that conclusion. It did, however, take them three-quarters of the evening to start to explain why.
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.
For over two weeks this month, the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art, and other national memorials, parks, and zoos closed their doors and locked their gates because the United States Congress shut down the federal government. The National Museum of Serbia has been closed for fourteen years, the artist Saša Tkačenko told a small group that gathered for a salon at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in Brooklyn. And the Museum of Contemporary Art has been shuttered for six years.
The second and final panel on the symposium for the Jewish Museum’s exhibition Jack Goldstein x 10,000 featured presentations by two artists—Kathryn Andrews and Paul Pfeiffer—who emerged a couple generations after Jack Goldstein. Neither artist was directly influenced by Goldstein, as they arrived at their aesthetic approach prior to gaining knowledge of the elder artist’s work. One of two panel moderators, Claire Bishop, described the situation as “reverse engineering.” While hers was certainly a clever use of the phrase, the concept is standard operating procedure for scholars making connections between the art of different decades. That doesn’t mean artists don’t have a say, and here is what they said about Goldstein and influence.
What did this evening’s panelists—three artists who had moved to New York from across North America around the turn of the century—have in common? If you guessed a burning desire to find success—whether that be money, fame, or gallery representation, or just an audience for their work—you’d be wrong. The correct answer is couch surfing. All three artists, Noah Becker, Sue de Beer, and Ryan McNamara, none of whom is a native New Yorker, spent many nights crashing on their friends’ sofas without a place of their own.
Moderated by the painter Annika Connor, “Art outside the Gallery” addressed the ways in which savvy promoters can reach audiences for art beyond the traditional white cube. Connor activated the entrepreneurial side of her practice ten years ago, after graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with many unanswered questions about the workings of the art world. Back then professional development and advice for artists, through books, workshops, and classes, had not yet fully developed into the cottage industry it is today.
For her lecture at Hunter College, Chrissie Iles, curator of film and video at the Whitney Museum of American Art, gave a basic overview of projection art (film, video, slides) from the 1960s to the present. It was an engaging talk with a lot of images to look at. I asked a question during the postlecture Q&A session, though not as articulately as I would have liked. I queried her on why artists haven’t explored—or appropriated—modes of distribution through Netflix (for rentals) or Amazon (for sales).
I caught Rhea Anastas’s paper, “Untitled by Andrea Fraser: A Short Reception History 2002–5,” in a 2006 CAA Annual Conference session chaired by Andrew Perchuk and Matthew Jesse Jackson called “Before and after Institutional Critique.” Rather than summarize Anastas’s enlightening talk or describing Fraser’s video from 2003—if you know it, you know it—I want to offer two thoughts, on both the audience for the work and the artist herself, that popped into my head while listening to Anastas speak.