Let’s all pretend it’s all going to be OK

FriezeFairSosnowksa.jpgWitnessing the first throngs of yet another busy fair opening, it’s odd to observe what a delicate house of cards this whole art world of ours is, not to mention that I am sat in the ironically flimsy tent of the Frieze Art Fair, this year given an even more precarious feel by a mysterious dent caused by Monika Sosnowska’s crash-landed sculpture which was removed from the roof before the opening (amazingly because the artist felt it looked too dishonest).

Across town, away from the moneyed aisles of the fair (where everyone is kidding everyone else that it’s a good year) is an interesting show called ‘Pop Life: Art in a Material World’ at Tate Modern, which piques the whole fragile institution of the contemporary art market. Its starting point is the vagary of late cash-for-portraits Warhol and his assertion that ‘good business is the best art’. What follows is a torrid wave of money- and publicity-hungry artists leaping from Keith Haring and Martin Kippenberger to Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami et al.

There’s much of the vulgar boom-time art that was discussed a couple of weeks ago here, but also some of the career-making moves of artists (whether knowingly or not) such as David Robbins and Gavin Turk. The catalogue briefly touches upon the phenomenon I seem to be witnessing all around me in this tentative marketplace, coined ‘subversive complicity’, in which those who posture towards defiance and anti-establishmentarianism are actually doing so from within the comfy system of value exchange that we’re all used to (also called ‘Capitalist Realness’ in one of the texts).

But most fascinatingly, this exhibition has an almost seething, disparaging undertone as if the curators (Alison Gingeras among them) were only too aware of how ridiculous some of these artistic positions (Koons astride La Cicciolina, Hirst’s straight-to-auction firesale) appear. Despite rooms titled ‘Worst of Warhol’ (his own term, natch) and ‘Almost Infamous’, there has been no mention of this implicit criticism in any of the extensive coverage – although it’s perhaps fitting that the star-blinded critics missed the critique at the heart of this show. It would have been more evident to the average viewer too, had the Tate the balls to stick with one of the original titles mooted for the show: ‘Sell Out’. But as it is, the new cheerier ‘Pop Life’ goes on making believe that everything is going to be alright.

2 thoughts on “Let’s all pretend it’s all going to be OK”

  1. I got the sense that it was meant to be an exhibition of exhibitions, which could have been somewhat interesting and even function as a nice forum for a study of a kind of sensationalism or showmanship of artists – even though it would be deeply New-York centered. Perhaps they could not recreate the original Takashi Murakami Boesky show and instead were offered the garbage in the last room of this exhibition. I would have loved to see a recreation of Damian Hirst’s show that was at Jay Chiat’s house in New York, instead of or along with the golden calf stuff. and a real re-creation of the “Neo-Geo” Sonnabend show. To force it all into a discussion of ‘sell out’ or to make it about marketplace, how cynical. Pruitt Early’s recreated show at the Tate could certainly be called their career breaking move in it’s original form.

    Just an awful, confused and probably deeply compromised exhibition.

  2. This just in from David Robbins.

    While reading this post from Ossian Ward I clicked through to Marc Spiegler’s assertion that I had disappeared from the art scene. Obviously given my inclusion in the Tate show that is not the case but I’d like to set the record straight on what really happened.

    I left New York in 1987 to live in Europe. Seven years later I returned to the Midwest for family reasons, not “to pursue performance art and dot painting.” It is certainly true, though, that I had become disenchanted enough with the New York scene to look for another way to proceed as an independent imagination. I removed myself in order to get away from the art system. After years in the art world, art had come to seem to me a false freedom. “We are free to do whatever we like so long as we are willing to call it art” — that formulation doesn’t strike me as genuine imaginative freedom. To me real imaginative freedom includes the freedom to discover and explore forms of communication that might be adjacent to art but are not art. I had explored the role of the “professional contemporary artist” enough; some other, for me better model had to be possible. In the years subsequent I’ve developed two alternatives to art, Concrete Comedy and High Entertainment, and written books about both. In short, I invented options. Now, having liberated myself from the artist’s habit of proceeding by “thinking through art,” when that rare idea occurs to me that is best realized as an art object, I feel comfortable making it. The goal can be simply stated — to attain full access to one’s own imagination — but the reality is a difficult thing to earn. Keeping my distance from the art system, and from the entertainment system as well, helps protect the freedom of thought that I seem to need.

    As for the “dot paintings and ice cream socials,” my Ice Cream Social project was the bridge that I traveled from art to… something more to my liking. For those readers who are interested to more fully understand the Ice Cream Social project, which ran from 1993 (the year that I made the one and only dot painting and hung it on the wall of a Baskin-Robbins in Manhattan) through 2008 (when one of my Socials was held at Misako-Rosen Gallery in Tokyo), a discussion between Hans Ulrich Obrist and myself (when you reject the art world, the art world gets interested!) will shed light.

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