Went to some art openings on Thursday and Friday. Thursday night in Chelsea was unbelievable — the increase in the number of people in the streets had me stunned. I recognized some of the “regulars” and some actual artists amongst the throngs, but where did all the rest come from? The crowds were bordering on street fair San Gennaro festival levels — but here they are all hipsters. From Williamsburg and LES some of them? I made a joke that someone will soon be selling tube socks and Italian sausages from tables.
My first thought as I rounded the corner of 25th St. and saw the crowds was “that’s it, it’s over, art is just TOO popular now!” This is a quantum leap in attendance, and the change in scale isn’t insignificant. It is the end of something, and the beginning of something else.
Went to see a show by Tucker Nichols, and his gallerist was thrilled by the crowds. He viewed it as “isn’t it great that everyone is interested in art now!” Cindy was more skeptical — she suggested they might not all be here primarily to view art. I could see both sides: there were indeed, as she implied, a lot of people, young men and women, just hanging out, mostly on the sidewalks, hoping to “make some new friends.” It’s a social scene as much as anything. Art has become a thing, a life accessory, which one must become knowledgeable about. In that sense it is a lifestyle and status marker — being aware of art implies that you are refined, interesting, and possibly… rich. The comment by the gallerist also seems to imply or infer that art appreciation is somehow good for you. In fact, it might even make you a better person. The increased interest in art is not just good for his business, but for the minds and souls of the public.
I don’t believe that. I don’t think viewing art makes you more moral or better in any way shape or form. I believe that this idea might be a holdover from the past, when art collecting and appreciating was the preserve of the landed classes. Since — subtly now, but more obviously in the past — the upper classes let everyone know that they are more refined than everyone else, then by inference, liking what they like might make you better and more refined too. Right? Some of it might rub off. At least it would get you closer to money and power, and that couldn’t hurt. Imagine if someone said that stamp collecting made you a better person.
I think it’s not surprising that the values and public behaviors of the upper classes became considered more moral, refined, stimulating and well, high class — being the upper class, or wealthy or powerful you would want to give that impression — except for fox hunting? Fox hunting too. We know that hunting fox, peacock and small game became something the nouveau riche adopted too. The morals of the upper classes are probably no better or worse than your average double wide inhabitant, but somehow most people believe that attending the opera and drinking fine wines makes you a better person. It does not. Living in a double wide does not make you a lesser person either, though financial pressures would be more acute.
I think there are reasons for the existence of popular myths of the noble poor person, the immoral poor person, the decadent rich and the high-minded philanthropist. We’ve seen them in a million movies.
So, if the arty world becomes too popular, there will probably be a strong desire by certain parties to form a new, gated community — otherwise, where is the status in liking what everyone else likes? All the collectors hate when their field becomes popular — there’s a built in snobbism that is the same whether it’s a MoMA board member or a stylish skateboarder.
The next night was not quite as crowded, but at Pace 22nd St. there was a line to get in to Keith Tyson's show. I was told later that there were over 100 assistants and fabricators working on this “piece” (it is actually over 230 individual pieces) for 2 years. The sheer amount of fabrication boggles the mind — there were realistic sculptors of people and animals, odd biomorphic shapes and what looked like a titanium hip hop artist.
Inside I was chatting with Andrea, wife of gallerist Mark Glimcher, and up walks Alan Yentob, the (to me) famous BBC Creative Director. We all chatted briefly about the blow up, the explosion in attendance, and the interest in art — if indeed it is interest at all.
Yentob is making a doc, for the BBC I guess, on “How To Get On In The Art World” — that's how he put it. I saw two camera operators elsewhere in the gallery. Yentob casually asked more questions and then I noticed he was wired — he had a mic clipped onto his jacket collar. I could see one of the distant cameras pointing at us. I began to feel a little uncomfortable. I commented on the fact that some UK artists get covered in the daily tabloid press over there — it would be like a Mike Kelly show here for example, getting big coverage in the news pages of the Post, which is not going to happen. But, I offered, the interest by the British tabloids in what Tracy and Damien are up to is not, in my opinion, a sign of arty interest on the behalf of the UK workingman. Instead, it is an effort by the Murdoch owned papers to reinforce the idea that artists are nothing but fucking nutters and crafty conmen to boot. It sells more papers if you can work up some class outrage at the shenanigans of the art world. Yentob remarked that Damien and Tracy earn so much they are crying about the press slagging them off all the way to the bank. I excused myself.
“A senior corporation source admitted to MediaGuardian.co.uk that Mr. Yentob often does not conduct all the interviews on Imagine, even though he appears nodding or reacting to them.”
The British refer to this as the “ nodding” scandal. Well, he was conducting this one himself, though he didn’t tell us.
If the crowds and interest in art explodes further, then simply managing the crowds will become part of the scene: there will be door people everywhere, with lists and velvet ropes and bouncers. Galleries will have VIP sections. Hip Hop stars will want to hang with Koons and Serra.
Gallerists used to bemoan the smallness of the art world, the same people and players every year. So this recent blow up will be a welcome change. (I can imagine in the former, smaller world if you couldn’t sell something, well, that was it, you didn’t have somewhere else to turn. Now you have crowds waiting in line.)
Despite my criticism of some of these antics, I won’t take the tabloid view that all artists and their dealers are scammers out to fleece the wealthy and the great museums of the world — and the public too, who pay for those museums, at least a little bit. I think a few are indeed corrupted by their own success, or are partly coerced into making “salable objects,” but most are just doing what moves them. As I noticed on last year’s trip to Miami-Basel, despite the focus on money, status, fame, power and class, there is still work that inspires and has heart. In that sense, it’s a lot more interesting and moving than stamp collecting.
JT show on HBO
I cooked Mexican food (sort of) — fajitas with chicken and nopales (cactus) — and a group of us joined Malu watching an HBO broadcast of Justin Timberlake’s MSG concert. He’s confident without being too overly obnoxious about it, and the amount and variety of dancing and stage business was mind-boggling. The action never stopped; of course, this was a video edit, so maybe it was tightened a little. For an all out pop extravaganza, it was remarkably tasteful, even chaste.
The stage appeared to be a large Maltese cross shape in the middle of the arena, with the live band tucked into some eye-shaped pits, though it was hard to see with all the dark lighting. Many sections rose and fell; sometimes the band seemed to be at stage level and other times, sunken. Sometimes, massive semi-translucent curtain screens descended with projected images.
While performing “in the round” makes sense in some ways, in these arenas at least one third of the audience will always be left out no matter what the performer does. One can only play to all quadrants so much, and when those screens come down, I imagine half the crowd is wondering what they’re missing — well, I’m sure it’s all on the screens. But on the whole, I was super impressed.
So, Bush and Cheney's General plays Westmoreland and says, "There's light at the end of the tunnel." What did anyone think he was going to say? Get the hell out? He's as full of shit as Westmoreland was about Vietnam, and so is Bush for claiming that if we leave there will be havoc like in Cambodia. The US brought the Khmer Rouge and the killing fields into existence with Kissinger's illegal bombing raids. They didn't simply erupt because the US was no longer "keeping the peace." Somebody needs to be called for this bullshit.
Here's my argument. Nothing much could be worse for Iraq than the US presence. Their superstructure has been destroyed, and left unrepaired. There is civil war. Their own oil isn’t bringing in money for them. So how could it be worse if we leave? It can't, really. Some folks are saying we broke it we should fix it. Tell that to someone who comes into your house and smashes all the furniture. That’s not the repairperson I would call. You might want to sue them, or kill them, or have them thrown in jail, but you don’t want them in your house ever again.
It's time to shamefully get the hell out before the incompetents in the Bush government make it even worse. These guys can’t fix or manage anything. I believe they will make it worse, given the chance. And the US media is giving them one by taking this General even a little bit seriously. He's a sock puppet and a liar; everything he says is bullshit.