Roberta Smith‘s response to the recent art auctions, Art Is Hard to See Through the Clutter of Dollar Signs, included a quote that has taken on a life of its own and is showing up everywhere online. After describing the spectacle of all time high prices and hedge fund managers tossing huge amounts of money at recent auctions (and her wry comment, “It seems that people really, really like art these days”), Smith simply stated the obvious: “These events are painful to watch yet impossible to ignore and deeply alienating if you actually love art for its own sake.”
Polarity and extremes are evident everywhere in our lives, and the art world continuum is just another example:
The glittery auction-house/blue-chip gallery sphere is spinning out of control far above the regular workaday sphere where artists, dealers and everyone else struggle to get by. It is a kind of fiction that has almost nothing to do with anything real—not new art, museums or historical importance. It is becoming almost as irrelevant as the work, reputation and market of the kitsch painter Thomas Kinkade.
(Thank you Roberta for turning that knife. No harsher condemnation could be dealt than being compared to the universally dismissed Thomas Kinkade.)
It is in this context that the counter position takes on an almost sacral place. I am on the look out for art and expressions that aren’t being sucked into this force field of cultural consumption, of the myth of a mass market or a catering to the super elite. Tired of the artificiality and manipulative inauthenticity of a Miley Cyrus? Try catching a Cat Power concert. On Monday night I basked in her disregard for staging or self consciousness, watching her fiddle with her microphones like a first time performer at a community center talent show. But once she started to sing, it was transforming. She is there with you in a way that is so open, so vulnerable, so raw and so REAL.
Or the impermanence of the salt constructions by Motoi Yamamoto. His meticulously inventive saltscapes, breathtakingly exquisite, usually only exist for a moment in time. Like the sand mandalas of the Tibetan Buddhist meditative tradition, these are created through arduous physical effort. And then they are gone.
I posted the following quote when I first began writing Slow Muse seven years ago. John Russell‘s admonitions feel even more necessary now than they did then:
I think that art should be allowed to go private. It should be a matter of one-on-one. In the last few years, the public has only heard of art when it makes record prices at auction, or is stolen, or allegedly withheld from its rightful owners. We need to concentrate more on art that sits still some place and minds its own business. We all hope for a strong response from art, but the kind of buzz that we have to live with nowadays is the enemy of art. Quietness and slow time are its friends. Let’s hope that their turn will come.
Note: For more about Yamamoto, a beautiful book is available, Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto.