Tag Archives: Jerry Saltz

Arts

The Art World After COVID: An Invited Essay Series

We’ve invited a number of people to write brief reaction pieces to art critic Jerry Saltz’s recent piece in Vulture,“The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One”. The writers were also asked to comment about the effects the virus and resulting mitigation steps have had on their work. We are publishing these pieces over the next several months. Below are contributors and links to the individual pieces in this essay series, in order of publication. Additional contributors and links will be added as essays are published.

John Brooks – Artist, Gallerist, Poet and Writer

Stuart Horodner – Director of the University of Kentucky Art Museum

Dmitry Strakovsky – Art Intermedia Faculty, Founder of Infinite Industries

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Dmitry Strakovsky: The Art World After COVID – The Last Days of the [Centralized] Art World.

We’ve asked a number of people to write brief reaction pieces to art critic Jerry Saltz’s recent piece in Vulture,“The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One”. The writers were also asked to comment about the effects the virus and resulting mitigation steps have had on their work. We will be publishing these pieces over the next several months.

Image courtesy of Dmitry Strakovsky

The art world that Jerry Saltz is mourning in the Vulture is one that outsiders don’t really experience. To be fair, it is quite welcoming but rather hard to find or to keep up with. Its threads connect the world’s political and commercial centers via the paths of global capital – most of these intersect in New York. I “heart” the city but I also recognize a certain myopia that it fosters whenever we talk about art. For example, the previous catastrophic events that the author refers to reflect the contractions in the market for contemporary art. These are not felt particularly strongly outside of the commercial gallery nexus; a feature absent from the landscape of most American cities, to say nothing of rural areas. New York, LA, sometimes Chicago, sometimes Houston, Miami once a year, that is where the art world lives. It is beautiful! It is amazing! It is full of my favorite people. It is also absolutely crippled by its own economics.

Saltz’s assessment that the finances are concentrated “in the hands of a lucky, mostly white 1500 people” is spot on. This is precisely what has been leading the trend of ever-increasing centralization: smaller commercial galleries going out of business and larger galleries getting significantly larger, also mentioned in the article. It is an unsustainable arms race that involves moderate expansions in the rosters of artists and gargantuan growth in the amount of real estate a gallery has to occupy to try to keep up. Consequently, it is increasingly complicated for an artist not represented by a mega-gallery to gain access to financial resources needed to produce their art. Major museum and other large public-venue-type shows by living artists without commercial gallery representation are virtually non-existent in the United States.

The art world, much like the rest of the economy, is overly centralized. We are stuck in the endless loop of complaint that there is not enough money for art and bemoaning the fact that the market, back to the 1500 people mentioned above, is ruining the art world. This was an unsustainable scenario before the COVID-19 outbreak and the current pandemic is just accelerating the destructive process.

Now, after nodding my head to yet another denizen of the art world pointing to the obvious issues without providing any real solutions, I would like to simply say that chasing the same group of rich collectors around the globe is probably not a way forward. We need to expand the audience in a meaningful way; embrace contemporary technologies beyond the corporate fold of Instagram and try to see what “scales up” in the cultural sphere.

It must be noted that the idea of scale can be incredibly destructive: fast-food franchises give us scale but not necessarily a pleasant dining experience. Pushed to its extreme “scale” is simply another way to refer to bland monoculture. However, if we are careful, we can use the software development tools and marketing solutions of the internet age to make connections to new audiences and expand the base of participants in our cultural experiments. This brings me to a project that I care deeply about: a non-profit that I helped to start about three years ago.

Infinite Industries is a project designed from the beginning to try to expand the audience for contemporary culture in general. When the virus hit, the focus of what we do hadn’t really changed: provide a unified platform for cultural producers to distribute information about their events. It is a pretty funky mix of technocratic and idealistic approaches: provide a single comprehensive platform but make it free and easily hackable so others can use it. We needed to make technical adjustments on the fly but we are a small volunteer tech team (BIG Shoutout to Chris Wininger and Matthew Gidcomb!) so we could pivot very fast.

Art, theater, dance, music worlds are super welcoming places but we constantly fail at getting information out about what we do to the rest of the world. The simple truth is that unless one is judiciously looking on Facebook, and is friends with all the right people, and is subscribed to at least a couple of listservs, they are not going to find much about what is happening in a town even as relatively small as Lexington. In order for us to thrive, we have to expand the audience. We have to be more visible! We have to be more vital! We have to diversify the sources of eyeballs and cash!

The art world and, by extension, a larger culturally active world that I would love to see on the other side of the pandemic is one that embraces technology to create resilient and decentralized networks that are open to an ever-increasing number of patrons.

Top image photo by Kate Trifo on Unsplash

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Stuart Horodner: The Art World After COVID

We’ve asked a number of people to write brief reaction pieces to art critic Jerry Saltz’s recent piece in Vulture, “The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One”. The writers were also asked to comment about the effects the virus and resulting mitigation steps have had on their work. We will be publishing these pieces over the next several months.

How has COVID 19 impacted what you do?

The spread of the virus and all the precautions around it led to the obvious decision to close the UK Art Museum until such time that it is safe to return. The staff and I are working from home, doing research and creating online offerings that provide the robust flavor of what we normally do, if not the actual taste. We meet via Zoom and FaceTime, and the longer our seclusion lasts, the more these gridded conversations keep the connection between us and remind us of our shared commitment to a life in the arts.

In a recent article for The New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz wrote about the theatre in these days of quarantine: “I hope it doesn’t sound too prematurely elegiac to say that one of the things I miss about going to the theatre is the going: leaving home, travelling, with a sense of purpose, to a specific place at an appointed hour. I miss threading my way through the obstacle course of Times Square, secretly proud of my agility. And I miss being part of an audience, one soul among many. I even miss the infuriating madness of other people.”(1)

I can relate. Not being able to feel each distinct part of the work day – from driving to the university, dealing with the day’s tasks, eating lunch in the break room, and having face-to-face encounters with students, faculty, staff, and the public who’ve come to see an exhibition, attend a lecture or a tour, or participate in a workshop or Family Day activity – is disorienting and depressing. We are planners and presenters, and this gives us a sense of purpose and pride. Not being able to know for certain when to arrange for the installation of new exhibitions, or book travel for exhibiting artists or guest speakers, is maddening. Oh, to be back in the happy days of listening to visitors complain about the lack of parking or scrambling to get ready for an opening reception!

As I write this, government officials and university leadership are making budget calculations and projecting the possibility of phased returns in the future. While we wait for a clear sense of how this will work, my mind goes to the belief that I’ve maintained since adolescence – that art is meaningful and transformative, giving us insights into ourselves and others. While we can’t have the real thing right now, there is something satisfying about delivering a few weekly social media items that can engage the homebound art lover. The museum has a modified Sweet Sixteen basketball tournament going that pits artworks from our permanent collection against each other, asking viewers to vote on their favorites, as well as writing prompts for parents and teachers using current and recent exhibitions, and staff reflections on their own wondrous objects, which is a teaser for the upcoming Cabinet of Wonder exhibition.

How do you see post-COVID 19 practice?

This period puts in even starker relief the vulnerabilities that organizations of all sizes understand about their situation. A small and scrappy art center knows the struggle of paying staff what they are worth, and the value of each grant, membership, and annual fund donation. A venerable encyclopedic museum with millions of annual visitors knows the challenges of securing major sponsorships and the mind-numbing protocols of crowd control. I’m reminded of a comment by artist Xu Bing: “My viewpoint is that wherever you live, you will face that place’s problems. If you have problems then you have art.” (2)

None of us could have imagined that a pandemic would put a total stop to our publicness. That was not in anybody’s strategic plan. But if problems yield art, then our collective creativity now and in the future will figure out appropriate ways of being.

When I interviewed for the directorship of the UK Art Museum in the spring of 2014, I told everyone I encountered that great university museums do three things in this order: they are a valuable asset on campus, offering faculty and students varied exhibits and programs that can be linked to syllabi and various learning outcomes; they are beloved in their communities as a destination for art lovers of all ages and backgrounds; and they contribute to the field, establishing a solid reputation for rigor, experimentation, and relevance.

University museums are often poised to take risks, and I’m thinking of several past and present directors and curators that I’ve respected for years, who have each steered their institutions with passion and clarity. They’ve worked in good times and bad, dealt with questions of appropriate scale, diversity, and inclusion in hiring practices and collection management, and economic uncertainty. A quick list includes Ian Berry at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery (Skidmore College), Barry Blinderman at the University Galleries (Illinois State University), Andrea Barnwell Brownlee at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Susanne Ghez at the Renaissance Society (University of Chicago), Ann Philbin at the Hammer Museum (UCLA), Larry Rinder at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives, and Simone Wicha and Veronica Roberts at the Blanton Museum of Art (University of Texas at Austin), to name a few.

Artist Tony Tasset standing next to his Mood Sculpture, installed near the UK Student Center, but relocated this past winter to the front of the UK Art Museum. Photograph by Alan Rideout.

The post-COVID environment will demand that we are secure in being open and can be especially clear about our values and deliverables. What lessons did we learn that can be brought from this curious limbo condition to the first phase of a “new normal?” How can we prioritize our endeavors as we face likely budget cuts and audience anxieties about occupying cultural spaces? Which platforms and what tone will be most effective in communicating the significance of our work into the future?

I’m thinking a lot about the exhibition planned for fall called This is America*, coinciding with the 2020 presidential election. It was conceived to examine aspects of history, citizenry, faith, race, sexuality, dignity, power, and struggle today. How can it not be altered to address, in some way, the precautions we are taking, from hand washing to social distancing? It was always meant to challenge viewers to sort out their knowledge of, and feelings about, our country. Will visitors want to be challenged after months of isolation and anxiety?

How do you respond to Jerry Saltz’s recent article, The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One? (3)

I agree with him that the inequalities in the system which were obvious before will be even more so. I’m not interested in making predictions right now. Everyone has their version of the glory days and there have been war stories at every level of the artworld for decades. I will save mine for another day.

There will be changes, as always. Artists, galleries, critics, collectors, and institutions are never static. I remember Leon Golub telling me: “There are three things: your work, your livelihood, and your personal life. If any two are going well at the same time consider yourself lucky.” (4)

Given the current situation, we might need to be content with one good thing. We are all in the big “we’ll see.” But we are in good company.

  1. Alexandra Schwartz, “Screen Time: Performers on lockdown turn to their smartphones,” The New Yorker, pp 75-77, April 6, 2020.
  2. Xu Bing, in Letters to a Young Artist, Peter Nesbett, Shelley Bancroft, and Sarah Andress, eds. (New York: Darte Publishing, 2006), 15.
  3. Jerry Saltz, “The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One,” New York (Apr 2, 2020), https://www.vulture.com/2020/04/how-the-coronavirus-will-transform-the-art-world.html, accessed April 16, 2020.
  4. Leon Golub, conversation with the author, October 15, 1999.

Top image photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

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John Brooks: The Art World After COVID

We’ve asked a number of people to write brief reaction pieces to art critic Jerry Saltz’s recent piece in Vulture,“The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One”. The writers were also asked to comment about the effects the virus and resulting mitigation steps have had on their work. We will be publishing these pieces over the next several months.

On February 28th, Quappi Projects opened an exhibition featuring nineteen artists from around the nation and world. Two days later, I flew to New York to exhibit at SPRING/BREAK during Armory week. I was in the city for eleven days; the New York fairs were well attended, but with each successive day the mood grew more worrisome. I left the city shortly before the quarantine began. After returning to Louisville, I honored a handful of appointments at the gallery until Governor Beshear’s directive to shutter all non-essential businesses. Our opening reception was well attended, but it is disappointing for both the artists involved and the viewing public that the show has been seen by so few people. This, however, seems a small concern when lives are at risk.

The current exhibition was scheduled to close April 10th, but will hang indefinitely for the time being. That sounds contradictory, but with no way to know what is to come, planning is impossible. Our next exhibition has been cancelled. The artist’s concept had a meaningful tie-in to the Derby and with its postponement we can’t simply wait for reopening. Moving forward, the rest of the schedule is up in the air. While I do feel utterly unmoored by the current reality, there is positivity in even the idea of future exhibitions. I am holding on to that hope.

Regarding my own painting practice, I still have studio access. Traveling there requires only a short drive, after which I work in isolation. It seems safe and I have spent a few days each week painting.

Photo by John Brooks of woman viewing Dorthea Lange exhibition at MoMA.

None of us know what the post-COVID landscape will look like – any prediction is just conjecture – but something will unfold. Saltz writes that Chef David Chang expects 90 percent of restaurants to close and “surmises the food world will return to the pre-internet days of the 1990s.” I can’t speak to that industry, but with regard to ours, a return to the “pre-internet” era is simply inconceivable. The internet and social media have connected us in previously unimaginable ways, and there is no disengaging from that. I have developed immensely rewarding relationships with so many artists – mostly young, mostly queer – and we support each other professionally and personally; this has felt even more meaningful throughout this collectively endured isolation.

Saltz is right that this crisis could exacerbate inequalities between winners and losers. “Losing” may now be synonymous with nonexistence. Those of us who have been functioning – and surviving – outside the art world’s uppermost echelons must continue to support each other however we can. As we always have, artists and gallerists will advocate for our position in a culture that often sees us as extraneous, but perhaps a greater appreciation for our contributions will emerge since so many have turned to the arts for solace. After this period of societal crisis and existential introspection, I hope more value and attention will be placed on complex work in lieu of the clever, flippant, and depthless. Undoubtedly, art and artists will adapt, abide. Collectors, too.

Top photo by CDC on Unsplash