Archive for the Plus ca change plus d'art échoue... Category

We here at CAFA HQ recommend all of you check out Holland Cotter’s recent NYT article “The Boom Is Over. Long Live the Art!“ 

In it, he writes: “The contemporary art market, with its abiding reputation for foggy deals and puffy values, is a vulnerable organism, traditionally hit early and hard by economic malaise. That’s what’s happening now. Sales are vaporizing. Careers are leaking air. Chelsea rents are due. The boom that was is no more.” But instead of wallowing in this failure and bemoaning this decompression, an accusation that has occasionally been leveled at this site, Cotter sees this moment as mostly a hopeful one:

It’s day-job time again in America, and that’s O.K. Artists have always had them — van Gogh the preacher, Pollock the busboy, Henry Darger the janitor — and will again. The trick is to try to make them an energy source, not a chore.

At the same time, if the example of past crises holds true, artists can also take over the factory, make the art industry their own. Collectively and individually they can customize the machinery, alter the modes of distribution, adjust the rate of production to allow for organic growth, for shifts in purpose and direction. They can daydream and concentrate. They can make nothing for a while, or make something and make it wrong, and fail in peace, and start again.

Still, lest we give Cotter and his boundless hippie idealism too much credit, you should know that Cotter, and most of the New York artcritiscenti, have been salivating for this boom to be over for much of the past two or three years, as I recounted in this essay from May, 2007:

While I have been pondering, this past autumn and winter, the issues related to why a person decides to take on the artist’s mantle, numerous art critics and observers have commented of late on the wild-and-wooly nature of the current art market and the great rewards within reach of an artist who is able to “make it” today. In December, Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker called the current art market an “art-industrial frenzy, which turns mere art lovers into gawking street urchins.” In mid-January, Holland Cotter in the New York Times called contemporary art “largely a promotional scam perpetuated by—in no particular order of blame—museums, dealers, critics, historians, collectors, art schools and anyone else who has a sufficient personal, professional or financial investment riding on the scam.”

Two days later, Jerry Saltz described, in eloquently jarring terms, what he thought of the art market: “A private consumer vortex of dreams, a cash-addled image-addicted drug that makes consumers prowl art capitals for the next paradigm shift… a perfect storm of hocus-pocus, spin, and speculation, a combination slave market, trading floor, disco, theater, and brothel where an insular ever-growing caste enacts rituals in which the codes of consumption and peerage are manipulated in plain sight… an unregulated field of commerce governed by desire, luck, stupidity, cupidity, personal connections, connoisseurship, intelligence, insecurity, and whatever.”

At the end of January, Charlie Finch on ArtNet.com explained that the art market’s arbitariness “disregards questions of esthetics and connoisseurship.” And he said such distortions in turn “affect the traditional ways we think about the art market.” And Jed Perl, one day later, in an article about money in the art world subtitled “How the Art World Lost Its Mind,” bemoaned the “insane art commerce of our day” and proclaimed “the essential problem in the art world today is that in almost every area, from the buying and selling of contemporary art to the programs of our greatest museums, there is an obsession with appealing to the largest imaginable audience. And in practice this means always operating as if painting and sculpture were a dimension of popular culture.” He explained that when we see artists “whose careers are barely a decade old dominating the auction rooms, with their work selling for millions of dollars, we are being told that a widespread consensus can crystallize in a moment—and this is a pop culture idea.”

Cotter and his ilk were not really exhibiting much insight, as one of the the easiest things in the world to predict is that an overinflated bubble will eventually burst. Further, these critics didn’t really offer many useful thoughts in the midst of the market, as they seemed to prefer instead simply to kvetch and complain about the situation, revealing the sour grapes they were tasting from their loss of cultural import in the face of the market boom. Nor is Cotter particularly unique in suggesting that arts folk will get back to simple brass tacks after the dust has settled (I did the same here and here; it’s a pretty easy call).

Still, as you fans of failure know, such tawdry thoughts do make for pretty good reading…

Loretta Bebeau, a Minneapolis-based artist, emailed her thoughts recently (quoted below) in response to my post on What Artists Are Thankful For and my paean to Grizzled Art Warriors. She started by explaining there’s a “story” waiting to be written about her friends Marge and Ed Bohlander.

Marge is one of the few women who did air brush in the 70s/80s/90s. Ed is/was a fantastic metalworker. We have a friendship that goes back to Hopkins and the early arts activism in that town. (In fact they called me and asked me to show.) It’s not the big, hot space like Flanders or T.Barry, but it is a friendship and they know their art. (They’re from the same era as T. Barry.)

Bohlanders went to NYC for awhile and returned to Hopkins, MN. After a successful stint there, they bought the building on 36th Ave. South. Here’s where we pick up their story. After a string of health problems they are now returning to their orginal career goals……….. this is what happens to artists as they go through life. Should we prepare the younger group?

…We ask “where are all of those art students after the age of 30?”

Additional topics:
Where do the older artists show when they want to develop new work? new audiences??
Why is it so awful to be showing from a studio? especially when “galleries are pulling back” due to budget problems. Who is creating “chatter” to build public awareness of visual arts? Who sees the artist as someone over 30?
Does the mature artist exist “out of” academia??? Why should we be proud of them???

Let’s compare visual art with the music world. The enthusiasm of Elvis cannot be recaptured, the Beatles represented the 1960s, and visual arts also represents a time period that cannot be regained. Therefore, earlier, older art still is valuable and continuous chatter about visual art creates awareness of the value.
Let’s compare the athelete over 30 to the artist over 30. Where do the old ballplayers go? Better yet, where are the UofM musicians from Bob Dylan’s era??? Let’s compare them to the local visual artists from that era.

I don’t need responses to the above questions, my purpose is to get something stirred up…. brainstorming…was the old term. During the down times, visual artists have always created a new “drive” for community attention. The drive also raises community spirit and health, aimed at a community pride in their artists.
It’s the time for the 40 year olds…

Then she shifted to explaining the hard realities of her artistic life.

I just read the tales of the “Grizzled Artist.” So, you have it. Onceuponatime I could just skip into a corporate file/admin/secretary job and pick up cash. But this no longer happens over age 50; bright young 30ish people rule the world.

Hey, I have children in that group and want them to do good, but the reality of food and shelter is reality. Also, painting was a habit that sustained me during that nurturing part of life. Artmaking is/was a basic part of my daily thinking. What do we replace it with??? Should I rock back and forth in a chair, or sway to imagined music?

Now the medical community mentions that creative arts keeps the mind from falling into Alzheimers and dementia.

Do I continue to spend amounts of time and money making art that no one wants to see, or do I actually fix the plaster on the kitchen wall and buy paint for it??

Hope, that all too scarce commodity of late, made a brief, mild resurgence earlier this month, only to suffer setbacks to late-November fear and panic. (November is just that way, or so I surmise in my latest piece on the Thousandth Word.)

But hope, as we all know, even if it often gets beaten down and left for dead never goes away. (I remarked on this tendency too, in two recent pieces on the local arts, again for the Thousandth Word.)

But you don’t have to take my word about hope. One of my favorite recent arts commentaries—a piece from the Art Newspaper earlier this month called “Tough Times Will Provide Opportunities“—suggests too that hope springs eternal, even in a collapsed economy, even in a bottomed-out market, even in the dismal contemporary art world. “So what’s next? Is the future of the art market that bleak?” the article asks.

No, this will be a market for new opportunities. Major collectors are waiting for prices to come down 30% to 40% from their peak, a correction that was already evident in the latest round of auctions in London in October… Further pressure on prices is expected, and it will take some time before the market has reached equilibrium… Now the question is: which artists will survive the adjustment? We all know what the last crash in 1991 did to hotshot artists such as David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Eric Fischl, Francisco Clemente and Sandro Chia. Their markets took 15 years to recover, and in real terms (adjusted for inflation) are still considerably below their peak, but at least their markets survived… The primary market is also likely to regain the balance of power compared with the auctions. The auction houses have dented their credibility as money-making machines, and would-be sellers are realising that the liquidity is quickly evaporating. In a falling market, the focus will again be directed towards the galleries that have proved their commitment to their artists… In the end, a correction is healthy for the sustainability of the future art market. The interest in art will not disappear, art and artists will not disappear—if anything, a tougher environment will be more conducive to artistic creativity, and hopefully the market will go back to focusing on what constitutes the real value of art, as art history is rarely made in the auction rooms.

A new story out in Time magazine discuss the inevitable news: As the rest of the world tanks culturally and economically, so apparently goes China.

At a Sotheby’s sale of 20th century Chinese artwork on Oct. 5, two-thirds of the 110 lots failed to sell, and many of the pieces that did find buyers went for below their estimated prices. By the close of the biannual sales of the world’s largest publicly traded art auction house, Sotheby’s took in about half what it had expected, at just over $140.7 million….

Many say the unimpressive results were a combination of already overinflated price estimates and the dismal economy. “Particularly with the fund managers, if they are concerned with things happening in the world, they may be inclined to hold on to their funds,” said Mark Joyce, owner of Koru Contemporary Art in Hong Kong.

That’s not good news for Sotheby’s. Following the poor sales, the auction house’s shares fell 14% on Oct. 6, hitting a three-year low. (Sotheby’s was not available for comment.) Nor does it bode well for the regional art market: the Hong Kong auction was its first gauge after the worldwide financial crisis hit last month. “Due to uncertainty in the markets, investors are making selective choices as to where to spend their money,” said Shirley Ben Bashat, director of the Opera Gallery Hong Kong….

Beijing-based artist Zhao Gang isn’t surprised. “Three years ago the prices started going higher and higher,” said Zhao. “Last year the price was pushed way too high, and it’s got to come down.” …

Still, the local art world isnt’ getting too depressed — yet. Says Bashat, the director of the Opera Gallery Hong Kong, “Many buyers see art as a safer investment in the mid to long term compared to other investments in the market.” Buyers may be turning away from contemporary Chinese art today, but at least they are keeping an eye on Asia.

An article in the National Post of Canada, titled “The working man’s case for arts funding,” reveals some exciting news from that quiet country to the North: Canada has, politically speaking, finally reached the 1990s. Canada has at long last discovered the great golden age of the American “Culture Wars.”

According to the story’s author, John Moore:

(Prime Minister) Stephen Harper’s campaign has been all about easy points. Teens with guns; lock ‘em up. Average families (we all think we’re average); give ‘em a tax cut. Arts funding; let the sushi-eating, bow-tie-wearing snobs pay for their own meat dresses and urine-soaked crucifixes. Earlier this week, the PM took a gratuitous swipe at the arts, cleverly widening the perceived divide between “ordinary working people” and the “elites” who make their living in creative endeavours.

Ah, such warm and gentle memories this evokes in my hardened art-loving heart. Jesse Helms. The NEA Five. Piss-Christ. Pat Buchanan. Rudy Giuliani. Oh, it’s so fun to demonize the arts and terrorize artists! So much fun!

The author continues with some good points (that puts some of the blame on the artists themselves):

It’s not easy to make a case for the arts, which is precisely why they are such a ripe target. And artists don’t make it any easier. Most Canadians don’t really have a warm and fuzzy impression of Wendy Crewson or Margaret Atwood. Outside of their books, sets and performance venues, artists have a frustrating inability to connect with anyone but each other.

No, it is not easy to clarify why the arts are important to protect, nurture, and support. I’ve tried to do this for years, and I sometimes feel I’m no closer to any answers than I’ve ever been. Moore, for his part, gives the examples of Cirque du Soleil, SCTV, and a full host of Canadian art stars — all of whom received small token amounts of important governmental support when they were struggling to get established. Without such support, he suggests, these institutions that have entertained and thrilled so many people would simply not have been able to survive and thrive.  Because of this, he argues, small amounts of leg-up money from the government ultimately benefits all of us, not just some untouchable elite.

It’s a tough sell, no doubt. Good luck with your wars, Canada. Having been there-done that, I don’t envy you. At the very least, however, I can say in all sincerity: “Welcome to the 90s!”

Been distracted with late-summer shenanigans lately — so posts have been relatively scarce on CAFA. I did manage to post a piece earlier this week on The Thousandth Word.

It’s a rant – called “We Choose to Go to the Moon” – about how whimpily risk-averse we’ve become in this country and about how we need to go back to the age of John F. Kennedy. (These were thoughts that popped in my head after stumbling on a public art piece in Brackett Park in Mpls.)

Here’s a sample:

Certainly, the Brackett rocket offered an important object-lesson to any kid who managed to climb into the exalted, rarified nose cone: If you overcame your fears and dared to make the climb, then you were rewarded — especially if you lived to tell the tale. I wonder if the same could be said today about a country too long pampered and protected, about privileged citizens living ever-cushier lifestyles, about politicians who fear administering any sort of necessary, but vote-draining, pills — have we simply grown afraid to face the numerous challenges of the future? Does anyone other than me wonder how John F. Kennedy might have suggested we deal with any of our sundry contemporary dilemmas: Unaffordable housing and health-care, a devaluing currency and ever-ballooning trade deficit, a looming energy crisis, rising ocean levels and increasingly environmental stress, loss of industry and job, increasing inflation, a growing divide between haves and have-nots, and on and on?

What’s great about this new incarnation of the Brackett rocket is that the sculpture has the power to evoke the spirit of a bygone era and point out every important difference between then and now. It hints at a better version of ourselves — the nation of risk-takers and achievers who made, despite the great dangers surrounding the country, “know how” and “can do” everyday expressions, and an everyday approach to living life.

Mary Abbe of the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s been busy of late. She’s the source of two of today’s Bullet Points of Failure (B.P.O.F.), both of which follow up on items I’ve been covering here on CAFA in recent weeks.

  • In Anxious artists’ fears quelled, protest averted with attorney’s answers, Abbe writes to follow up on the MAEP kerfuffle. Apparently, on July 24 a group of artists attended the MIA’s annual members meeting, attempting to mount a protest, only to see it wither “under the weight of parliamentary procedure… Board president Brian Palmer, a Minneapolis lawyer, defused the situation by answering each question with judicial precision and disquisitions on the museum’s legal responsibilities. The Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program will continue unchanged and independent, he said. Questioners would need to ask the program’s coordinator why he resigned voluntarily if they wished to know.” And thus spaketh the passionate crowd.
  • In SOS: Same old struggles at the MMAA, Abbe reports further on a story reported here previously, the resignation of Bruce Lilly, the director of the Minnesota Museum of American Art. “The resignation last week of Bruce Lilly,” she wrote, “the museum’s director for 11 years, highlights the St. Paul institution’s long-festering problems. Museum officials put a brave face on the situation, insisting that the organization would find a new leader, new quarters and more money. ‘It’s not easy, but the staff here is up to the challenge,’ said Natalie Obee, the museum’s business manager, who who stepped in as interim executive director.” Apparently, the museum has had a long cycle of debt–including an estimated deficity of $260,000 in 2007, on an annual budget of about $700,000–and is facing the loss of its current space (the second time it’s faced a move in the past five years).

Friends of Failure, and sundry outlying readers of CAFA, in case you’re wondering why production has fallen off of late on this site just know it’s not a sign of the end times. I’m currently in the midst of several upcoming projects, including an analysis of the state of Minneapolis arts and a longish essay on the f*cked up nature of young artists these days (both of which I will discuss/link to on this Chronicle in due time…).

Also, I’ve been working to establish a new arts writing initiative (and ruminating on the nature of “success” in the wacky world of arts writing), seeking (and closing in on) new daily sustenance, dabbling at some poetry (in an effort to keep myself sane), organizing community events, and giving a careful reading to Bill Ivey’s intensely documented and highly opinionated new book, Arts Inc.

It’s summer, after all—the perfect time to step back a bit from the usual goings on to ruminate somewhat on what it all means. And so that is what I’m doing…

I promise things’ll pick up (quite a bit, in fact) in future weeks here on the Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America.

Here’s a study in contrasts that reveals something about the extreme conditions facing the arts and arts organizations these days.

In Minnesota, where governmental arts funding has been flat for the past six years or so, and other forms of support are slowly shrinking (such that most arts organizations that I’m aware of are having financial problems; some severe), lobbyists and advocates have hit on a novel (and controversial) way to prop up the state’s struggling arts orgs: A new constitutional amendment to levy a new sales tax. And even stranger, they’re doing it in partnership with environmental protection advocates.

“This November, the things we treasure here in Minnesota are on the ballot,” said Ken Martin, director of the Vote Yes Minnesota campaign, a coalition of 200 environmental, conservation, outdoors and arts organizations. “This [amendment] will protect our waters, land and way of life. If we don’t act now to protect these great natural and cultural resources, they will be lost forever.”

The theme of the campaign is “Protect the Minnesota you love.” …

“This state is on a directional course that is no longer acceptable,” he said. “We have to convince people that voting for this amendment is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also the legacy that we want to leave to our children and grandchildren.”

The estimated financial impact on each Minnesota family (because of the 3/8 percent increase in the state sales tax) is estimated at $56 per year. A number of prominent Minnesota figures and politicians have already endorsed the measure, which goes to vote in November.

At the same time, in Arizona, a bill intended to protect arts education from looming budget cuts (along with PE classes), was vetoed last week.

The governor [Janet Napolitano] noted that course cuts already are typically decided upon by local school boards during public meetings. …

Napolitano also called the measure “an empty promise” because it offered no additional state funding to help school districts provide programs teaching the arts, vocational education and PE.

[Bill sponsor Rep. Mark] Anderson countered that the bill had “broad, bipartisan support,” and said its intent was simply to send a message to school districts contemplating course reductions.

It’s been awhile since we’ve looked at what’s going on–funding-wise–across these art-hating United States. Shall we have a quick look-see?

Florida – You’ll Have Your Budget Cut by 50-80 Percent, and You’ll Like It

This quote, by Rep. Carl Domino (R-Jupiter), pretty much says it all: “The bottom line is at least they weren’t zeroed out,” he said. “That shows continuing support for history and culture.”

In a May 6 story titled Florida Legislature OKs cuts to cultural affairs, historic resources, the Palm Beach Daily News reports, “State funding for culture and historic preservation will fall sharply under the belt-tightening budget approved Friday by the Legislature. The Division of Cultural Affairs, which administers grants to cultural organizations, will get nearly $6 million — down from last year’s $12.5 million — while funding for the Division of Historical Resources, which oversees grants for history museums and historic preservation, will drop from $7 million to nearly $1.2 million. That’s a plunge from two years ago, when the state earmarked $32.7 million for culture and $18 million for history.”

According to one arts administrator, Florida’s arts groups will have to be “resourceful” to survive the economic downtown. “It will be survival of the fittest companies,” he said.

New Jersey – Things Even Worse Than During the Great Depression…

Favorite quote: “…the ideal [is} that art, with a capital A, should be incorporated into public buildings, as a high-ceiling barometer of culture in a civilized society. The irony is that the Statehouse Annex was built in the earliest days of the Depression. Still, art was not sacrificed. Not then, and not when the building underwent extensive renovation in the mid-1990s… [NJ Secretary of State Nina Mitchell] Wells seemed pained to explain why the arts and history funding under Gov. Jon Corzine’s proposed budget was being cut anywhere from 25 to 100 percent from a variety of programs.” –Mark Di Ionno, in a Star Ledger column titled “The irony here is art itself”

According to the story, “The New Jersey State Council of the Arts will lose nearly $6 million of last year’s $21.5 million in funds, a cut of 27 percent. The Newark Museum will see $2.3 million disappear from last year’s $4.7 million in funding. The Historic Commission will lose all $189,000 it paid out in project grants for history teachers and researchers. It will also lose $1.1 million from its supposed stable funding source, the hotel/motel tax, reducing its grant budget to $2.7 million. That’s 30 percent less than last year for the hundreds of volunteer-supported local history museums and societies around the state.”

And Let’s Not Forget Pittsburgh…

According to this story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Hempfield Area school district, facing budget shortfalls is eliminating world language at the elementary level, and limiting middle school art and music to one nine-week instructional block per school year, and cut the daily activity period high school students use for club participation.

According to the story: “At a special meeting Thursday night, administrators said their primary goal is to provide a ‘rigorous curriculum’ that meets the needs of all students, but a review of existing programs was necessary to put the focus on early intervention to ensure proficiency in reading and math and increased instructional time in the core content areas.

“The proposals outlined last night would affect four world language positions, three art positions, 2 1/2 music positions, two guidance counselor positions, two assistant middle school principals and one librarian.”