Back to reading I chose to catch up with this book suggested for last year and which I never got round to. I have really enjoyed reading something light but informative and yes it has given me things to think over too. One of the main things being to what extent would I wish to be any part of some aspects of the art world whilst observing that there were artists in every section of the book however misplaced they might have appeared. I think that this reflection will help me think more about where I do fit in.
The Auction: Having read the other ‘easy reading’ book from the list, the X million dollar shark, this chapter was less of a novelty. I know they exist I sort of get the system and extremely unlikely to ever visit an auction house. I am glad I know about this but don’t think artists need to be anymore than aware.
The Crit: This was the most familiar scene of all the chapters as even if crits vary the scene has something in common with my life. I sort of wished I had more opportunity to share stuff in a serious way, the Paul Asher time frame was amazing. I lead crits for my students so it made me think about the different ways of approaching this – although we have such a limited amount of time allotted. Mary Kelly’s crit philosophy was really appealing – based on the artwork. The student presenting the artwork was not allowed to speak – the work has to produce the discourse and students need to learn to read the work not the wall text. I really like that idea. I would love to go to a crit with her.
The Fair: This is where I started to build up a vision of artworld people on planes traveling around the world and continually bumping into each other. My only experience of fairs are ARCO and Frieze. I preferred Frieze because it was in the park and not on the edge of the city. Nevertheless I found both bad for looking at art, which is obviously not the main point of the event but the reason I was there. In fact many artists are there also to be there and this is something I struggle to understand.
The Prize: Based on the 2006 Turner Prize showed the almost absurd problem of comparing or judging different types of work. It felt like a music prize where each piece was a different music genre such as opera vs rock vs rap. There was little relief in knowing that the prize would go to a painter. It was interesting how the majority of artists took time deciding whether to accept the nomination and the nomination seemed more important than the prize in some ways. As artists we really want recognition but the type of recognition is really important also we need to know that what we are doing is ok by us. Although this section was about the artists (and the judging) it wasn’t easy to identify with them.
The Magazine: This section was the least engaging for me although there were some interesting interviews with critics such as Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz. It also raised the question about reading press on paper. It seems there was a big difference between the content of ArtForum online and in print. Is this still the case. I never got on well with newspapers or journals physically so I am used to reading online. But I am now questioning the content. I really dread the idea of returning to paper journals as I rarely read any. I was impressed by the random interview with Thomas Crow too.
The Studio Visit: This involved a day (or two) with Takahashi Murakami in Japan with an entourage of gallerists and curators and other artworld people. They were preparing an exhibition which I saw in the Guggenheim later on and I think this coloured my reading a lot. It really helped me to visualise the whole experience. I did not interestingly enough remember the ‘key’ piece – the oval budha. Murakami comes across as relatively supportive if strict with the people he hires – allowing and possibly encouraging them to develop their own careers. The production process is probably exactly what we would expect knowing about his work and having seen the exhibition it was no surprise. However I don’t think that the majority of artists have this experience so i wonder if he was a great choice. I found it hard to relate to him and in spite of his success in no way envy his lifestyle or process. I more envied the worker who had run out of q tips when it was dusty as he was in direct contact with materials. I realised that I don’t see the point of all the rest unless you can make it. I need the contact with materials. I do nevertheless have a strong memory of the exhibition as a sensual experience and especially of colour. Maybe this is why I cannot remember Oval.
The Biennale: This chapter put me off the biennale completely. By the end of the book I disliked the art world more than ever and was set on rethinking my relation to it. I questioned why the exhibitions chosen were so big and such uncomfortable places to look at art. The art fair is a shop (or mall); the biennale a circus. I felt glad I went to Venice when the Biennale wasn’t on as there were already too many people around for me in such a beautiful location. The best interviewee was Iwona Blazwick from the Whitechapel in East London. I really liked her idea of artist’s making the pavilions into worlds in their own right. This meant risk taking: not just showing the work you were chosen for but meant using the occasion for a project. On the other hand there was the Italian artists Vezzoli who had given up his house and studio for a nomadic lifestyle and felt the need to keep up to date with the audiences for art – the ones who went to all the fairs and biennales and galleries around the world. I wondered when and where he made work? didn’t he need to stop and think and make? I truly realised this is not me. I preferred the very honest account of Blazwick who admitted “you skim across the art” although she obviously prepared, she had nearly missed a piece in the Hungarian pavilion but had luckily returned to discover it. As a person who likes to spend time looking and being with art in small quantities at a time, I really don’t think the Biennale is for me.
Chapters: Thornton describes her methodology as between sociology and art history – which she studied but calls herself an ethnographer in relation to the research for the book. She claims to have started out as an outsider. Her choice of 7 chapters is appropriate given her remit and she remained sympathetic to a range of conflicting interests including that of the artists.
Conclusions: The book is an excellent summer read as its very easy but it also raises important issues for us as artists. For me specifically the issue of discipline which has been striking me across the head from all angles for years. To get stuff done that no one really wants you to do you have to be disciplined. I am pretty hard working but also full of fear which has always held me back. The lifestle many of the protagonists of the book have is definitely not for me. I recognised a part of me in the Murakami / Adler no need for a living room scenario but I also have a need to live somewhere and I don’t like traveling much. I love Madrid to live in but the art scene is not good so I often come back to the idea of moving – but where to? Where can I afford to live and where can I speak the language? I was very struck by the Fortnum paper on the artist studio and I feel this really important. I also need to be alone when I work and I need to make things at some point of the process.
Next – Ways of Looking by Ossian Ward arrived yesterday