In a review of the Frieze Art Show in New York, Holland Cotter of the New York Times describes Frieze show artists as “worker bees in an art-industrial hive. Directed by dealers and collectors who dress like stylish accountants, they turn out predictable product for high-profile, high-volume fairs like Frieze.” He distinguishes between the art he saw at Frieze and art one would find in “studios, or going to offbeat spaces… where all kinds of serious, in-touch-with-life work is going on.”
I asked the members of my monthly artists’ critique group what they thought about the hive metaphor for the art world.
Q: What factors are contributing to the “art-industrial hive”, as described by Cotter?
E: Art has become an industry that starts in art school now, manufacturing art. Before, artists were told, “Express yourself” to the extent that the teachers didn’t actually teach anything. People tended to grab onto their “gimmick” in order to show they had an artistic identity.
Now, there’s a move away from hands-on connection with art; it’s all about where’s the next big thing.
J: I think it’s very natural to have shifts in technology over time. Whoever’s got the resources decides what people see.
G: Art schools now think in terms of involving the engineering school [in creative projects, just so they can get grants] for funding.
C: But, painting is looked at as quaint and not serious.
Q: What do you think about what Holland Cotter’s description of the Frieze show?
E: Art fairs are like a big box store for art.
C: I get the impression art is marketed, packaged [and designed to] pull in investors. I have heard some people who are running galleries now have financial backgrounds, not art backgrounds; it’s all part of this set up to sell the art work as another type of commodity. Small dealers have been driven out of business. Galleries in Connecticut [for example,] became an art destination where people would go when they got out of New York in the summer. The dealers all knew the artists, they were friends; they had a real dialogue and relationship. These galleries have been closing. People with a genuine passion for art have been driven out.
Years and years of stripping art out of the schools has the result that people aren’t educated about art. Their art choices are based on decorative or financial considerations. People aren’t culturally sophisticated. There used to be a respect for the humanities, no longer.
Architects and designers have become involved in designing interior spaces, to the extent of what people put up on their walls. I have been stunned to learn people have a lot of money, yet they have blank walls, and they have to hire somebody to decide what goes on the walls. Their choices are driven by status or decoration. They’re either afraid to make choices of art or they have no opinion, no taste. It’s cowardly, but also ignorant– out of not having education, not having exposure to art and experience with it. For people who don’t have lots of money, museums are often too expensive.
An alternative to the bee-hive: E and I attended an opening reception June 15 for “Facemask”, a juried group show, curated by Sergio Gomez, at the Zhou B. Art Center in Chicago, which fits Cotter’s description as one of those “ offbeat spaces… where all kinds of serious, in-touch-with-life work is going on.” (One of our critique group members, Gabriella Boros, has a work in the show.)
The work was fresh, provocative and varied, and the energy and dialogue among the artists/attendees was palpable. E and I left feeling inspired and energized, eager to get our hands dirty in our studios.
Artists: what do you think of the art-industrial hive? How do you want to reach the public with your art?