Over the past few weeks I've been in email dialog with several people about artfairism, and I feel a little out of gas about it now. A lot of the conversation was about is this good or bad. My feeling is that it is simply the inevitable movement of all things (everything, even church, school, and politics) towards entertainment and shopping- consumerism. It's a new kind of market and, if it lasts, will encourage and produce a different kind of artist, one aiming to either outright please or shock in a not too threatening way, who makes work that isn't too taxing intellectually or visually of the consumer, er, I mean, viewer. Meanwhile, I'll be back at the ranch here making horse shoes.
But there's this: despite my distaste of large crowds, ambivalence towards the dominance of beautiful people, and objection to siutations in which the art doesn't come first, if a gallery wanted to take my work to an art fair, could I say no, I don't believe in it?
We probably know the answer. And I like to think I'm a person of principles.
Here are a couple of other thoughts related to art fairs and bienalles and the tendency of art towards what I think is global entertainment:
In Alan Light's book review of Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell With the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield, there's an idea in here about a modern medium that is disappearing which I think is worth considering in thinking about art's place and function:
The album is dying. As a format of recorded music, the album — LP, CD, record, disc, platter, licorice pizza, whatever — has been tossed aside by file sharing and the iPod. Tower Records, rest in peace. For better or worse, pop music has effectively returned to the days before the Beatles arrived, when everything was strictly one single at a time.I value the album experience, perhaps sometimes more than I value the song. And then, in addition to that, I value the artist's series of albums, the corpus of the work. Analagously, I value the gallery or museum experience and art's place in it, the body of work, a context that art fairs take art out of. I like bodies of work exhibited together, and I like the history of an artist's work built up through exhibitions over the years, that becomes the artist's public corpus of work (and we typically only get a true view of the entire corpus when we have a chance later to see works that perhaps were never exhibited- I'm thinking of Picasso's sketchbooks; more recently, I'm thinking of a book I've been looking at of Twombly drawings spanning fifty years, works mostly in his own collection). Perhaps my tendency, towards bodies of work at specific times, and the overall corpus, is now old-fashioned, bricks-and-mortar thinking. Galleries considering not having exhibition space and being exclusively art fair galleries are shifting art out of the exhibition, body-of-work model towards something new and different. Whether or not I like it, it's happening. What does this mean for one's work, or how it is perceived?
Secondly, globalism and outsourcing and world markets are here and inevitable. Of course, this is not about leveling the playing field or equitably distributing wealth and resources; mostly it is about the bottom line, profit. For galleries, participation in art fairs seems to me more focus on the bottom line, not on the art. Also, what gets lost in globalism is regionalism and difference; the art world seems very happy to give this up. Sure, art from China, India, Argentina and Serbia might look different, but there is also a tendency towards sameness in terms of subjects, size, materials, and the ways it is handled and shown, whether in large bienalle halls or art fair stalls.
My inclination is towards regional albumism and corpusism. Towards the Gee's Bend model- make your work, learn from it, repeat, innovate, over time. If you're lucky, and with a little hard work, it will find its place and audience.