Recently, I have been thinking a lot about what keeps me riveted in the art world. It is most certainly not the demand or the startling prices fetched for paintings that “look like art.” Nor is it the “get me one of those” approach to collecting. The herd mentality is at work, and as Louise Lawler once said, “Recognition might not be useful.” The monetary value of art has been dramatically realized by those with capital power and by the institutional systems that use art as mere investment. A ubiquitous press and the growth of a global market further enable these systems.
But artists are reacting. The questions they raise about the existing paradigms of making and presenting art, and the compelling ways in which they are exploiting and playing with the market, is truly captivating. Galleries and institutions, as well as artists, are changing their models and challenging the capital systems that are in place. It is a great time to be a part of the art world.
It is somehow unsurprising that both Artists Space and Algus Greenspon are exhibiting and paying homage to the work of Christopher D’Arcangelo, the radical artist who in the 1970s presciently and subversively defied existing strategies. Clearly we are in the midst of a revisiting of institutional critique in contemporary ways. As in all serious investigations, historical perspective is useful—if not essential.
Artist Emily Sundblad has offered a more recent, and markedly more playful, example of a critique of the current art market. For her show at Algus Greenspon this past May, she created a painting that was both a self-portrait and an announcement for her own exhibition. Instead of including it in the exhibition, it was sent directly to Phillips de Pury to be auctioned in advance of the exhibition. Sundblad, who is also a partner in the gallery Reena Spaulings, explained in the exhibition press release, “The time of the artist’s emergence and their work showing up at auction is shockingly brief. With this painting I decided to cut to the chase.” Having eliminated the usual series of transactions, the work fetched some $37,500 at auction—achieving about five times the retail price of the other works in the gallery show and, in a sense, forcing the speculative hand.
Emily also transformed a section of the gallery into a space that would serve as the stage for her performance on opening night, and again during the exhibition. The nontransferable performance served as yet another challenge to normal expectations of commerce.
The shifting and blurred relationships between artists, dealers and institutions suggest more possibilities for new kinds of response. Sabine Breitwieser, chief curator of media and performance art at MoMA, courageously rose to the challenge by commissioning the New York collective Grand Openings to organize a 12-day program at the museum this past July. The five main participants, artists Ei Arakawa, Jutta Koether, Emily Sundblad (yes, again) and Stefan Tcherepnin and curator Jay Sanders, scheduled a multidisciplinary program called “Grand Openings Return of the Blogs,“ which included film, music, and performance. Much of what emerged was ephemeral and could not be co-opted by the usual systems of exchange. Sadly, I was there for only one mind-boggling day but based on what I saw and experienced, as well as the writings that were created as part of the program, I would deem it another highlight of the season.
For those of us interested in the expanding world of art-making and the exciting possibilities for institutions and galleries to address the singular issues of our time, this is an exciting moment. In future articles, I look forward to discussing more new models that we are sure to encounter during Frieze week and FIAC later this month.
Emily Sundblad, Algus Greenspon Gallery. May 2011. Emily Sundblad “Que Barbaro”. 212-255-7872. Opening Hours: Tues-Sat 10-6. algusgreenspon.com, 2011. Courtesy Algus Greenspon Gallery.