NEW YORK CITY ART WORLD SCUM
NEW YORK CITY ART WORLD SCUM
“In our studios and before artworks we still experience moments of authentic serenity, passion, and meaningfulness–places on the edge of language that the market can’t strip away. In this imperfect realm we can intuit the elemental feeling that sometimes, just by making or looking at art, we might glimpse the full range of human possibilities.” - Jerry Saltz
“In these conservative times, it’s easy for art to become hollowed out from any progressive or radical energy and exist only as a bourgeois decoration.” - Jason Fox
NEW YORK CITY ART WORLD SCUM
The Armory Show is America’s leading fine art fair and claims to show the most important art of the 20th and 21st centuries. In March this year as a Southampton Solent University staff member , I waited with 30 excited Photography and Fine Art students to see the Armory show for the first time. Like them, I wore my camera around my neck looking forward to capture the best of the art on show.
Very quickly however I became aware that art as I understood it, an art of ideas, of aesthetic exploration, of political and personal engagement was nowhere to be seen. The artist’s voice had been silenced, artworks decontextualised , no information was provided other than price. The galleries were devoid of conversations discussing the roles and responsibilities of art in the world. Instead, all I could hear was the tap, tap, tapping of mobile phones, Ipads and calculators in the hands of black-suited art dealers.
So instead of taking photographs of the art, I turned my camera on the dealers.
The Armory show has sales of approximately $30,000,000* a year while the average American Fine Artist with 20+years of experience earns between $20-$55,000.**
You’ll see no prices on these works. With two fingers firmly thrust in the direction of the corporate art world, all of these images are available for free download together with a scanned signature of my name from www.dottycommies.com/nycartworldscum. Feel free to use them as you wish.
Alan Schechner – May 2011
Hunting Art World Predators: Kant’s ‘Disinterestedness’ versus Financial Interests at the Armory Show, NY, 2011
Alessandro Imperato, April, 2011, Atlanta, USA.
Alan Schechner’s recent series ‘New York City Art World Scum’ (April, 2011) asks questions concerning the art world, commodity trading and the cynical condition of art as a luxury item to be bought and sold with little regard for the work in-itself.[i] It is well know that art has always been entangled in financial concerns since the Feudal period of aristocratic patronage and the development of the art market in which artists had to sell their work to survive in the capitalist economy. The art market has increasingly dictated the cultural landscape of what is considered art for over two centuries. Although there is no room in this article for a sustained analysis of the art world and it’s economic foibles, it is safe to say that this tendency of art commodity exchange has intensified to a greater degree with sale prices reaching record highs in recent years.[ii] Artists have engaged with this issue since Warhol’s embrace of the market in the sixties, the ‘Post-Modernist’ Jeff Koons’ commodity broker art in the eighties and more leftists critiques in the form of Capitalist Realism in the work of Sigmar Polke during the nineties. What differentiates the art world today from the last few decades is it’s metamorphosis into a quasi ‘fashion world’ due to the increasing influence of major fashion moguls such as Francois Pinault (Gucci). Sarah Thornton’s sociological study in Seven Days in the Art World (2008) unwittingly revealed the similarities that contemporary art has to fashion via the dealerships and mainstream art magazines like Artforum and events such as the Armory Show & Art Basel.[iii] Who happens to be the flavor of the month is very short lived and contingent on financial patronage and superficial evaluative and collecting criteria as the street artist/s known as ‘Banksy’ recently exposed in the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010). In the film Thierry Guetta or ‘Mr. Brainwash’ hosted a blockbuster and sell-out show with little talent or aptitude for art. Indeed, what now constitutes art is down to who or what is promoted in the galleries and institutions of the hip centers of London, New York, LA, Geneva and Miami.
New York City Art World Scum is a digital photographic series consisting of candid shots taken at the New York Armory Show in early March this year. The audience of art in this sense is a far cry from the shock and awe created by Duchamp in his art world hijack with Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 (1912) at the Armory Show in 1913. In the photographs, art world dealers, agents and gallery staff are captured, either as aware of being photographed and therefore project a constructed self-image or they are unknowingly caught on camera. Schechner’s approach has traits of the aggressive intrusion of a big game hunter, in which his victims are ensnared and the ‘slice of time’ arrests their complicity in a crime against art. This has the qualities of an anthropological excursion. The ‘hunted’ are those who are usually the ‘hunters’ of art deals, and are guilty of total disinterestedness in the art they are supposed to be involved with. Laptops and smart phones abound as the uni-sex uniformed black-clothed custodians of the art market are caught ‘red-handed’ in acts of disregard and obliviousness to the work on show. Here the issue is not art’s otherness, but its use-value as a commodity. This spectacle is revealed through new social media and instant communication technologies. What would once have been private and hidden back-stage is now paraded publicly in the ‘hallowed space’ of the art temple. The sanctity of art blasphemously abused by crass philistine commercialism. Schechner’s work has always been difficult for the art world to digest due to his focus on political issues regarding the Holocaust and the social injustices that are involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestine, work that I have also written on.[iv] This series follows in a similar vain to his socially aware artwork.
It can be argued that Immanuel Kant’s theories of art’s separation from the world is an accepted ideological aesthetic principal in the art world, for bourgeois scholars and unreconstructed Modernists. One of the main discourses within aesthetic theory is that of Kant’s notion of ‘disinterestedness’ or ‘aesthetic attitude’ as argued in Critique of Aesthetic Judgment (1892). Here, the significance of a particular aspect of art appreciation is part of the consciousness of the viewer. To the aesthetic idealist, aesthetic value is mainly a question involving the primacy of aesthetic responses to a work, and this is via sensation and individual pleasure. The focus on a direct experience of the work and the sensation received adopts highly entrenched ideals of spiritual experience and subjectivism. The left cultural theorist Raymond Williams rejected the notion of the aesthetic ‘as a special province of a certain kind of response.’[v] Williams questioned how the purely visual could be pleasing and successful. Aesthetic gratification is considered a belief that is ideological in practice by theorists like Williams and Terry Eagleton.[vi] This belief in aesthetic value is not a property or quality inherent in things themselves but in human society, it is created by the social existence of humans as creative beings. To answer what aesthetic value is in these terms is to explain why certain works or groups of artifacts are considered appropriate for aesthetic attention. Aesthetic judgment then becomes contingent due to the social nature of the experiencing of art objects in contexts of meaning and evaluation. Is aesthetic experience a historically relative mode of perception because perception is a product of history, which legitimises particular forms of art and not others? Do ‘aesthetic’ evaluations reside in form or in a discourse and belief in cultic objects where society sets the standards of behaviour and the criteria of judgment?
Kant argued that for art to be called beautiful it had to be: “…the object of an entirely disinterested [ohne alles Interesse] satisfaction or dissatisfaction.”[vii] There are no interests at stake and can only be: “a disinterested and free satisfaction; for no interest, either of sense or reason, here forces our assent.”[viii] Qualitative judgments that are defined in terms of aesthetic valuations such as disinterestedness are rooted in Platonic philosophical discourse. As Richard Shusterman claims: ‘This tradition of intellectual formalism…can be traced back past Kant to Plato.’[ix] According to Kant, the senses and bodily pleasure was facile and inferior to the taste attained through mental reflection. Kant derived his binary from Rene Descartes’ body/mind dualism; therefore the cerebral capacities of the rational viewer were accorded a greater value, even ethically, as a superior distinction over the body.
What is revealed to be ironic in Schechner’s photo series is that a ‘double-disinterestedness’ exists, not only is art to be approached as if it is autonomous, de-contextualized and without social origin; it is then treated to a complete lack of interest by the very people who are supposedly it’s custodians. Thus the interest in art is not for art in-itself but is due to an interest in the financial aspects of a work’s worth. By capturing this state of money interests and disinterestedness in art and by being interested in this state of affairs in the gallery environment, Schechner has produced a photo series that highlights the political and social issues involved in the current take-over of the art world by the fashion industry, the fickle cycles of styles, ‘creative’ recipes and the status of ‘art for money’s sake’.
Alessandro Imperato is an artist and theorist who lives and teaches in Atlanta, USA.
[i] The use of the word ‘scum’ in the title has several connotations, the first is the obvious slang insult use of despicable people, though further definitions of the word also involve the ‘rising to the top of impure residue in liquids’ as well as ‘refuse’ or ‘worthless matter’. I was also reminded of the individualistic Feminist Manifesto of S.C.U.M (Society for Cutting up Men) coined by the insane and eccentric artist Valarie Solanas who shot Andy Warhol in 1968. To see more of Alan Schechner’s work see: www.dottycommies.com. The works in this series can be downloaded for free from this website at http://dottycommies.com/nycartworldscum/.
[ii] For a good treatment of these issues see: Mattick, Paul, Art in Its Time: Theories and Practices of Modern Aesthetics, Routledge: London, 2003 and Mattick, Paul and Siegel, Katy, Art Works: Money, Thames and Hudson: London, 2004.
[iii] Thornton, Sarah, Seven Days in the Art World, Norton and Co.: New York, 2008.
[iv] ‘Boundaries of Representation: Holocaust Manipulation, Digital Imaging and the Real’,
On-line Journal: Drain Magazine, ‘Lost in Translation’ Edition, Issue 4. 12/04,
[v] Williams, Raymond, Politics and Letters: Interview with New Left Review, London: 1979, p. 325.
[vi] Eagleton, Terry, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Blackwell Pub: London, 199
[vii] Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Judgment, (trans. Bernard, J. W.) Haffner: New York, 1951, p. 1.
[viii] Ibid., p. 2.
[ix] Shusterman, Richard, ‘Form and Funk: The Aesthetic Challenge of Popular Art’, The British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol.31. No.3. July, 1991, p. 213.