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NY Art World: Land of Flesh-eating Zombies?

By joy garnett


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... [Jerry Saltz] plows forth in "The Battle for Babylon":

[...] the art world has never been so flush with money. There are almost 300 galleries in Chelsea, with more than 30 expanding or relocating there this season. A 20-story "gallery condo" is under construction; Matthew Marks is opening a fourth gallery space, Perry Rubinstein a third, Pace a second; Marianne Boesky is building her own building. No one's closing. There are also hundreds of contemporary galleries outside Chelsea. So New York truly is Art City. Or is it?

Even with all the buzz, we're in a predicament. Partly, this is because while this hyper-driven phase allows more artists to show quickly, it reduces art to its exchange value. Popularity and market viability are measures of quality; things are considered successful if they sell; selling means selling big. Consequently, the system is making people offers they can't refuse when it should be making them offers they can't understand; too many have too much invested in the system as it is to change or challenge it; a sameness has set into the operative model of what a gallery is.

Flush or not, people are frustrated. In private many say most of the shows they see are safe or conservative. Yet most reviews are enthusiastic or merely descriptive. Too many critics act like cheerleaders, reporters or hip metaphysicians. Amid art fair frenzy, auction madness, money lust and market hype; between galleries turning into selling machines, gossip passing as criticism and art becoming a good job; the system, while efficient, feels faulty, even false.

Perhaps it was ever thus, but today it seems more thus than ever. Now the system regularly replicates conditions it's familiar with, defaulting to known positions, producing pathogens of itself. It knows art is a good investment and traditionally made by men so more men show and sell while fewer women show at all. The ratio of one-woman shows in New York galleries between now and Christmas is a deplorable 17 percent. Thus the discourse is being driven from a place that suppresses difference. This system needs to be starved into submission or changed.

[...] Everyone maintains there's new content. If so, there should be new forms to house this content. We need to reimagine what a gallery is. Galleries shouldn't be seen primarily as shops or salesrooms but as test sites and arks. Few gallerists are flesh-eating zombies who only want to sell art; most want to shape culture. Many are disgruntled with only being managers of the trading floor. Galleries should have attitude. Most already have positions. These positions have to be heightened and emphasized, which is where attitude begins.

[...] We also need to acknowledge that much of the local work we see and talk about is seen and talked about only here. This provincialism could spell trouble; although interestingly, Berlin, London and Los Angeles are becoming more provincial too. Perhaps this is intrinsic to the Super Paradigm; maybe these regionalisms will eventually mingle or war with one another. I'm not advocating an esthetics of negativity or oppositionality. That brand of radicalism is sclerotic. Rebellion may be a better word for it. Whatever, art shouldn't only be about tweaking middle-class values or critiquing and redressing the art world.
(The Battle for Babylon, Artnet, 9/19/05)

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