on the New Museum, and maybe rearrangements beyond

Wayne Thiebaud Display Cakes 1963 oil on canvas 28" x 38"

We're telling the bakers' families that cake just isn't enough.

Yes, yes, the rich and powerful have always been with us, and they have always pretty much controlled what art gets seen, even if they may no longer control everything that gets made. But the playing field was almost wholly altered by the explosion over recent decades in the monetary value of the work they compete for at the top end of what they have made into just another "market", and most remarkably in the run up of contemporary art prices.

When Barry and I first met with William Powhida to discuss the New Museum's plan to turn over its spaces to the Joannou collection he agreed that we all knew that this is pretty much how large art institutions operate, but added, "I just don't like them rubbing my face in it".

That was several weeks ago. Now it's become clear that Powhida wasn't the only one.

In the last decade the speed and breadth of communications provided by the internet has altered the art world even more profoundly than big money, and in ways we're only beginning to understand. Among them is the demand for transparency and accessibilty.

I've started to think that maybe earlier protests and movements for institutional reform in the arts, including but not limited to the one identified with Marcia Tucker and the founding of the New Museum itself, were only skirmishes; this time it might be the real thing. Watching what has been happening on line and elsewhere over the last week or so, I'm more and more convinced that we've started something really big, a narrowly-focused critique which has finally taken on a life of its own and gone beyond the current practice of the New Museum. I think it's particularly exciting to find that there's such a range of responses to the legitimate questions which are being raised. It makes me think a little of the conversations which preceded and continued within the French regional and national assemblies which eventually made a Revolution in 1789. Well, maybe now I'm stretching.

As a history nut I may be partial to discussions which invoke the past, but I think a commenter whose remarks appeared on Jerry Saltz's New York Magazine November 16 Vulture post yesterday morning (Wednesday) may have the right metaphor:

The issue here is deeper than this one particular event at the New Museum. There has been some kind of paradigm shift that is not being acknowledged at the top levels of the arts, and they keep partying like it's 2006. It's not.

That's all. It's the Marie Antoinette issue, let them eat cake...

Something feels illegitimate about the time, as if this current era is holding on too tightly to a time that is already gone. I sense that people are simply saying "move on". The public, contrary to Jerry's perception, is not just made up of a bunch of pauper moralists with nothing to say. Sometimes, there is a zest of zeitgeist in the air.

by hellorinis

The rich will always be with us, but maybe, just maybe, we can show them that art is not just another commodity. The aristos can keep their heads this time.

[image from SF MoMA]

Hi james, thank you for including the Vulture post. It is great to see that there seems to be a connection at these most trying times.

The issue with the New Museum is a reflection of the change of times. It is an interesting moment when the art doesn't change, but the questions and reflections of a public resonate beyond what is currently supported by highly visible art institutions. I am a fan of Urs Fischer and Jeff Koons by the way, but the question, does art address the time from which it sprung? I would think both artists did - up until he recession came.

If only art institutions addressed what is currently affecting the majority of artists and citizens in this city, we would probably not be having the conversation that came up with the whole Joannou issue.

Once the economic problem - which has been either ignored or overlooked by what we see - took hold, the needs and questions of a certain new time period have come up. Maybe it's the fear that if we point this out, the whole art market will crash for good.

The other side of the coin is that art has existed recently in an escapist, fantasy-like realm and if we bring back the "real" then this will become entirely apparent. Maybe the art "impulse", the so-called Kunstwollen has gone underground, and the separation from the "art market" is now complete.One question - how does one reconcile the interest in objects and the need to have deep complex issues addressed? Does one *have* to exclude the other?

This issue has brought up the public questions that could be addressed but that may also mean that these questions may have to involve what keeps institutions and artists alive - namely, money.

Hi James,
I admire your optimism and it's nice to see it echoed by Hellorinis. The New Museum-Joannou situation has brought out a lot of justified outrage and almost as much hopefulness--the latter not really justified, I'm afraid. The art world--or the one that puts on the shows that get reviewed and includes the artists who have auction records--is first and last a market. This is not to say, as some simple souls in the journalism biz suggest, that big collectors have turned the work of certain market-stars into mere money. Nor is it to deny that that there are many art worlds. Still, the high-profile art world--with its high-profile artists, dealers, and collectors--is a place where goods are traded. And the goods known as artworks are not the ones the most desperately sought. In the high-profile art world, the most desirable commodity is social status--or, rather, the especially sparkly kind of status we might call socio-cultural. Or even socio-cultural-historical. People like Joannou try to buy their way into history. And, guess what? He is succeeding. Obscure businessman pulls himself up by his financial bootstraps and, sooner rather than later, becomes an internationally recognized monument in the landscape of contemporary history. As long as "Horatio Alger" stories like this are there for the telling, the art world--or the high-profile art world--will be a place of utterly corrupt opportunism. I know you know this and, again, I admire you for objecting to it. But it may well be that such objections only add to Joannou's luster, not to mention Lisa Phillips's. For a while there, all the various art worlds were focused on the shenanigans of the New Museum. Not just one spotlight but many, all focused on one cheesy institution. How great is that?