In 2005, the art market climbed ever higher in a way
that made everyone anxious, which lead to a sense of imminent
doom that lead to better parties and somewhat stupider art. The
prevailing thought is that the art world has become too popular
and successful for its own good a thought confirmed by
the fact that MoMA is so crowded it's a bit like shopping in a
mall the day after Christmas.
Another reason the art market looked really out of
touch was that art prices and gas prices skyrocketed just as tensions
over troubles in Iraq went ballistic. This begs the question:
Is the art-market boom just some liberal guilt pressure valve?
Well, yes and no. Part of the problem of answering
that question is there are many art markets.
One art market is the investment market that likes
blue-chip artists like Elizabeth Murray because she has a long
track record ... regardless that nobody gets all that passionate
about her work. She is always out there, always weirdly OK. She
is the reliable second-tier blue-chip artist you'd trade in a
heartbeat for anything decent by Louise Bourgeois or Ellsworth
Kelly. Those are two artists that do elicit a major passionate
response, both positive and negative.
Kilimnik was painting this back in 2002 when it was fresh.
Another art market involves artists and galleries
that primarily sell cheap to produce art made of string, glitter,
glue, lint, etc., as cutesy jokes.
Yes, this is a liberal guilt pressure valve and it's
been going on since at least 1998 but, back then with artists
like Karen Kilimnik, it was a reaction to overly academic and
Now it's just the echoes of an old trend.
Much of the lower end in this market stuff is being
produced by the privileged children of upper-middle- to upper-class
families who have no idea what to do with their anxious selves.
But since they have all been taught they are "above average,"
they feel the need to express their "above average" yet self-conscious-to-a-fault
views. It's a bubble of frantic mediocre activities that hasn't
presented any new ideas or content since 2002.
Being privileged isn't a crime (I write from experience)
but one should do something with that opportunity. Of course,
there are always standouts and I'm discussing the hoard they leave
behind. But increasingly, even the standouts are standing out
less and less. Remember the Greater
New York show in 2005?
A list of 2005 attitudes that must die:
1) Glitter is good because it is cheap, easy to add
to anything and a surrogate for fool's gold, which is a good analogy
for the current moment where most things disappoint. If one settles
for and celebrates disappointment, it is a victory over having
to do anything of consequence.
NADA art fair 2005 ... we get it already.
2) Try not to make art that looks too solid, exquisite
or well made because that implies value and indicates a wish to
survive into the future, which is scary and to be avoided at all
costs. Instead, tell amusing jokes about the present as a way
to avoid the current lack of intellectual foment.
3) Self-consciousness as a replacement for intellectual
facility. Drawings in pencil or pastel colors are preferred because
they seem less defined. Sure, some people do this well. But it's
a style that has been so widely adopted that it's already horribly
This younger group of self-conscious artists looked
funny because the art world on many levels seems preoccupied with
fanciful charm rather than effect or striking a nerve. Clearly
there are two Americas: one where people join the National Guard
and another where people go to art school.
professional installation of 2005: Canada Gallery at the NADA
art fair, too messy or not messy enough? (At least it was
One trend that has been in effect since the 2002 Whitney
Biennial has been "the big mess" and Jerry Saltz discusses it in his "Clusterfuck Esthetics"
Saltz rightly describes it as a frantic, unresolved
state that refers to the current anxious moment and the free-for-all
atmospheres you can find at art fairs.
I'd also like to add that it evokes the detritus of
disasters like tsunamis and hurricanes. Yep, more misplaced guilt.
It's interesting that some artists organize detritus,
whereas dealers often try to create cacophony by showing lots
of artists in a haphazard kind of way that mimics flea-market
By confounding interpretation, dealers are possibly
covering the fact that the emperor has no clothes a smart
move but impossible to maintain.
Nothing epitomizes this mess more than the NADA art
fair. In 2004 it was all the rage but in 2005 it seemed to already
become a parody of itself. Still, it wasn't all bad. There were
some good things that created a monstrous order from chaos (which
one could see in Takashi Murata's video at Ratio 3 Gallery at
the NADA art fair, but which I saw months earlier at the Affair at
the Jupiter Hotel art fair in Portland).
"Monster Movie" video at NADA.
Overrated in 2005: Ryan McGinness. He is our lame
American answer to Takashi Murakami for graphic design as contemporary
art. He makes poppish heraldic crests, but those arrows and patterns
were already easily adapted to window displays in Diesel and Urban
This mock heraldry is mostly just an embellishment
whose legs are already worn out. Besides, Diesel and Urban Outfitters
have already moved on. Barry McGee is much better but needs to
stop tipping over vans, etc.
World Trade Center: A taller version of the Empire State Building
... how original!
Also overrated for 2005 is Elizabeth Murray. Her retrospective
was the talk of the town, but the show doesn't seem to stick with
anyone like the Lee Bontecou show did. Bontecou set a precedent
for unearthing good female artists who haven't been looked at
Problem is, Murray isn't all that memorable. She looks
OK to good when you see her best works, but they just don't haunt
you (and I generally prefer shaped, sometimes campy, abstract
Most underrated show of 2005: Robert Smithson at the
Whitney. I guess it was mostly underrated because it had already
been shown in L.A., where it was my Best Show of 2004.
Biggest disappointment: the WTC tower and site design.
Yes, the art world seems annoyed with itself while it is thankful
for the art market activity. But nothing says "failure of imagination
in New York" like this debacle.
If the world is lucky it won't get built and something
better can happen in the future.
Is it the end of the world? No, but we can only put
off the inevitable for so long. Then again, Americans are utterly
amazing when it comes to postponing the inevitable.