Not only is art alive, it is thriving, was the assessment given by some of the nation’s foremost museum officials, art dealers, and artists to some four hundred persons at the first World Art Market Conference over the weekend. “Far from being less pertinent, the fine arts and the art museum will become more important,” declared Thomas P. F. Hoving, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Billed as “The First World Art Market Conference,” the show was, as John Everett, president of the New School, said in his opening remarks, about the “business of art.” It appeared to be mostly a media event. The press was given the three front rows, fussed over with TLC. Some four hundred others, dealers, and collectors from around the country, and a few artists hoping to learn about “business,” paid $200 each to see and hear the superstars of the art market. Those expecting a clear view of the crystal ball—specific investment advice—were disappointed. But they got lots of encouragement and word that the art market is very good these days.
Titled “What Price Art,” and provocatively subtitled “The Economics of Art: An Agenda for the Future,” the conference promised to explore the economics of the visual arts market, with practical details on costs and price structure provided by “national experts in economics, finance, law, public policy, art and journalism.”
For artists, the solo exhibition reigns supreme. For curators, it’s the group show. From major events such as the Venice Biennale, Documenta, and Whitney Biennial to curator-driven institutions like the Wattis Institute in San Francisco, Witte de With in Rotterdam, and MoMA PS1 in New York, the authorial curator’s name has typically transcended the artworks on view (or so the story goes). While the art-publishing industry ceaselessly cranks out new books on curatorial issues—nearly always an edited, multiauthored tome—few critical studies have considered the theory and practice of showing the work of a single artist, which is perhaps the bread and butter of art museums worldwide.
“Exhibiting Experiments,” the first session of “Exhibit A: Authorship on Display,” comprised two graduate students and a fresh PhD recipient and was moderated by Grant Johnson, a doctoral student in art history at the Graduate Center. Each speaker presented research on a single case study: unrealized projects by the Swiss curator Harald Szeemann and two group exhibitions from the 1960s, Dylaby at the Stedelijk Museum and Art by Telephone at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
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.
Drop “identity politics” into any art-world conversation now and you’re likely to get an eye roll—“so unfashionable.” This wasn’t the case twenty years ago, a time when the art museum—whether showing controversial photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe or hosting the contentious 1993 Whitney Biennial—was a primary battleground.
For the final panel of the Museum as Hub Conference, called “Institutions after Art,” the moderator, Taraneh Fazeli, education associate at the New Museum, wanted to explore institutional programming, alliances, content, context, and power dynamics, not just the status of structures that support artists. The Museum as Hub has supported exhibitions as a coproducer. What else can noncuratorial departments, independent groups, and nonprofit organizations do?
“Networked Institutions/Institutionalized Networks” sought to shed light on the dynamics of collaboration among institutions—now considered a common way of working in the art and museum worlds—that may have become obscured. Should networks increase an individual’s productivity? Is a network altruistic? Can schemata such as Alfred H. Barr Jr.’s famous diagram of the evolution of modern art, the research-based work of Mark Lombardi, and the politically oriented wall drawings of Dan Perjovschi be considered networks?
According to Annie Fletcher, curator at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, the professor Irit Rogoff once wrote that “you can’t have a position without a location.” A location, Fletcher explained further, can be psychic, historical, and sexual. Despite this expanded denotation, geography and its larger concept, proximity, nevertheless remains a perceived obstacle that needs to be overcome. The second panel for the Museum as Hub Conference, “Choosing Your Neighbors,” aimed to cover partnerships among institutions from across the globe and to address concerns of provincialism.
IN TERMS OF
Reviews of lectures, panels, interviews, conferences, and other live speaking engagements in the visual arts.