[iDC] Art Basel: Signs of a Broken Food Chain

Cynthia Rubin cbrubin at risd.edu
Tue Jun 19 10:58:50 EDT 2007

I am curious about how others are reacting to the buzz on the big art fairs.  In particular, I was struck by comments in Carol Vogel's report from Art Basel, June 14, NY Times


quotes from Vogel's text:

Collectors are grumbling about the scarcity of top-quality art.

“There are some good things, but not as many as there used to be here,” said Donald L. Bryant, a Manhattan collector and trustee of the Museum of Modern Art. “The market is so hot, and the demand is so great, it’s getting harder to find great art.”


The food chain is broken.  Everywhere I go, I find intelligent people working on interesting ideas - wonderful artists who have stockpiles of work in their attics, basements, under their beds, or digitally stashed on hard-drives.  I am not talking about totally unrecognized artists, but about artists who once were in important shows, who had their work discussed at length in art magazines, or even on the cover of art magazines, or have been honored with grants and commissions.  Not overlooking younger artists, we find artists at all stages of their careers who are making installations or exhibitions in their homes, restaurants, wherever they can.

I am writing from Avignon.  Yesterday I stumbled into a gallery where stacks of abstract paintings recalled the 1970s, but the gallery owner explained that even these do not satisfy the local market of buyers who are clamoring for Provencal scenes which could have been painted more than 100 years ago.  On Saturday night I went to an open house by an established artist in one of those elite "year-in-Provence" towns --- an artist whose name shows up in google searches of auctions - -and who does some interesting work - and he had the stockpiles described above.  I also visited the new contemporary art museum "Collection Lambert" , and saw the Cy Twombly exhibit http://www.collectionlambert.com/pages/expofutur.htm.  Nice paintings, but it still is not clear how these merit the title "quality" while many others did not get there.

We know that we live in a curated time, a time in which the interest comes not from the artists but from those who envision and organize exhibits around conceptual movements that they either identify or invent (who knows?).  If work falls outside of the parameters of the curatorial mission, then it is not shown.  If work is too similar to already selected work, it is not shown.  

But if work goes too long without being shown, it fall out of view of the curators, and it is difficult to resurrect it.  Consider this observation in the Vogel article:

quotes from Vogel's text:

Art fairs help to gauge popular tastes, and dealers hungry for material often revisit artists who have gone out of fashion. A decade ago no one would have paid attention to the installation of Belgium street signs by Marcel Broodthaers adorning the booth of Michael Werner, a dealer in Cologne and New York. But by the afternoon of opening day they had all been sold.
“Michael has had them since 1969,” said Gordon VeneKlasen, his partner. “He showed them at Mary Boone in New York in 1987, and nobody touched them. Now everyone wants to have them.”

The non-artist frequently has a view of artists receiving first local attention, then national, then international, all of the basis of aesthetic or conceptual merit.  What is really happening, however, is that if artists are interested in "the market" (and many are not), that they artists are forced to spend more and more of their time second guessing the curators.  Others, who do "quality work", fall into void.  A few fortunate ones, like Marcel Broodthaers, may get pulled out again, but consider that he might not have been - that all these years he had to pay storage for work that 20 years later is "great".  Was his timing off?

Is there anyway to mend the food chain? Do we care?  What does the "lack of quality work"mean for the many artists making quality work that never gets shown?

Cynthia Beth Rubin

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