Since I have been painting over the past few years, I have not thought much about how the work fits within the larger world of Art. Certainly I have thought about the work of artists who inspire me. But I have kept my distance from the art world because I believe too much consideration of how a beginner’s work belongs to a larger context can result in paralysis and worries. I am certain that this could always be the case, no matter how we understand our context, but with the weight of our work behind us it can serve as ballast when we move into the waters we begin to navigate.
I began an initial navigation a few weeks ago when I visited the Frieze Art Show taking place in New York City. Over the past several years I had become aware that Art galleries have been taking their shows on the road. It seems a bit carnival-like to me. And perhaps this is as it always has been, with the sellers of art trying to get their artist’s work in front of more people, more students, more buyers. In a global society it probably does not make sense to sit still and hope that the outside world is going to find you sitting still in a world that is constantly moving.
At the Frieze show we are all moving at the same time. The art, the galleries, the artists, the VIPs, and the VIPs behind closed doors, the lectures, the viewers, the journalists, the cooks, and toilets, and tables, and chairs, the books and catalogs and give-a-way bags….and the hundreds of bays of venues that create the spectacle that is the Frieze Show. There is something spare, spooky, about the experience, the environment devoid of any reverence for art. The feeling is fully commercial and exposing.
I do not know the art world. For this reason, I assume, I do not recognize the majority of the art in this place. I know the work in museums. I go to the show to learn, even not knowing what I will learn. But knowing that simply going will bring the lessons I need to learn. I am still considering what I learned…and I imagine I will be doing so for some time to come. I can say that I saw no art that looked like mine. I assume this is not a good thing. Does that worry me? Not really. I make what I make. I make what I make in relation to my voice in the world. Does that mean that my work is not worthy of the avant-garde collection presented at the Frieze? Maybe. But I don’t know, because I don’t know the art world. I guess I am beginning to get to know it.
I thought a lot about how the art was selected. About how all of these galleries from all of over the world decided to spend thousands and millions of dollars to rent space and ship art and people across the planet to arrive and present the work in a period of three days. The commitment to capital communicates a commitment to the work, to the artists they selected to show. I should, and do appreciate this commitment. I wonder about the vision. I question the motivation of the work. I sometimes feel like I am an outsider in the audience witnessing an enactment of the “King with no Clothes.” This is not to say I thought the work was not good, but that perhaps the value of it requires extra explanation to appreciate, additional context to value, or a framework of a particular criticality that I do not have. Maybe I will grow into this criticality. But I doubt it. I have never appreciated conceptual art. I will never love the work of art that is, for instance, a sheet of plywood with a few onions sitting on it, presented as a modern still life. Ode to Cezanne? Perhaps. But I would prefer to experience Cezanne’s paintings first-hand, or simply eat the onions in a very good meal.
I walked through the exhibit, bay after bay, looking at the work, thinking to myself, this work represents how each artist has taken a stand in the world. This work is how they put their stake in the “metaphorical” ground of thinking, living, and potential cultural transformation. With all their will they lay claim to the making of art and expression of self, world, context….in order to communicate to another through this work. This is the best medium they could come up with, the manner of making, the required complexity or simplicity of their idea and it’s expression. This work on the wall, or the floor, hanging in the air, or living in a black box, is their commitment to the world, their involvement, their soul exposed, crafted in its necessity. For them, there is no other way, than what is in that booth. And as Gerhardt Richter has said, when they stood back to look at their work, they knew if was finished because it was “good.”
I walked through the Frieze show with these thoughts in my head. I looked at the work, I watched the people. Decidedly belonging to the community of the Art World. I look at the work with these thoughts, in this state of mind, because this is how I look at my work, this is how I move through the world. How can art be any other way?And then I consider that maybe they think about the making of art in another way, a way that is different from how I think about the making and necessity of art. That their making is not about the necessity of expression, the necessity of making a way to belong and transform, a criticality to the means of expression, the value of being in the world. Maybe they don’t even care about arriving at the “good.” I think I have a lot to learn about the Art World that exists inside the places such as the Frieze show. I need to decide if I want to learn this new World.