the hot 100
Judging from the comments that an earlier post on the book has generated, people's reactions range from being pleased that something, anything at all will be published about DC art...to being puzzled by the various phases of the selection process or the scope or aims of the book...to being outraged by various omissions and/or inclusions.
As one anonymous commenter put it: "However, there is one name that is a complete embarrassment to the list. I won’t name him/her, but the work is a bad, bad imitation of perhaps the greatest US artist of the 20th century."
That artist, of course, is me. The artist I'm imitating: Thomas Kinkade. The part of his oeuvre I'm ripping off: Peeing on Winnie-the-Pooh satues; driving drunk; being an egomaniacal opportunistic cuss. The code has been cracked!
What do I think of all of this? Well, I'm on the list, so my opinion may not be worth much. There's no printed book to read at this point, anyway, so all I could hope to address are the author's stated intentions, the list of names, and maybe the author’s professional relationship to some of those names—which by now has been done, and of which you can make as little or as much of as you like.
I've looked at that list. I have no idea why this Jeffry Cudlin guy is even on there...but beyond that, what strikes me is the fact that many of these artists might not consider other folks on the list to be in their peer group.
I ruminated a bit last week on this idea that there is not one art world, but several overlapping ones--and that imagining that people who do traditional portraiture, kinetic metal sculpture, and web-based art projects are all engaged in the same practice, courting the same audience, or looking for approval from the same authorities and institutions is simply not useful.
So, if this were my book, how would I do it? I don't want to diminish for a second the hours, organization, and mental energy that Lenny has put into his book…but it seems to me that to really put this concept to bed, one needs not just to identify a pool of notable working artists, but to sort them according to the various disciplines in which they work.
This imaginary book, then, would survey and classify the various strains of DC gallery culture, with brief intros to each section, and offer a little history, a little criticism, and bios of key players in galleries and museums as well.
Right out of the gate it seems to me that this book would need to account for the division between traditional gallery culture ("new realism", landscape painting, black-and-white street photography, etc.) and avante-garde gallery culture (new media, installation, cross-disciplinary project work, and traditional consumable media oriented toward contemporary art museums/Artforum/Chelsea). I'll let Olav Velthius unpack this a little, with help from Pierre Bourdieu:
As Bourdieu and others have noted, the art market is characterized by an opposition between an avante-garde and a traditional circuit. More than just profits are at stake in this opposition. Ultimately, Bourdieu argues, it coincides with an opposition between two social classes, between the dominated and the dominant fractions of the dominant class: those with cultural power but less economic wealth are affiliated with the avante-garde circuit, while those with economic power but less cultural wealth are affiliated with the traditional circuit. In other words, a class conflict between two fractions of the dominating social class is transfigured in the form of a "conflict between two aesthetics" (Bourdieu 1993, pp. 101-2).
Okay, so Velthius seems pretty firmly aligned with the avante-garde camp, since he’s suggesting that folks collecting in the traditional circuit have plenty of money, but not much savvy. Ouch. Still, his point is an important one: There are two different markets here, not one.
He goes on to describe what a traditional gallery looks like vs. an avante garde one; where one might expect to find each type of gallery in a given city; how the stable of artists for each would be arranged, what shows would look like, pricing, etc.
Like I said, I think we can go on to identify other strains worth isolating within these two larger markets: from artists doing practices that are more academic or less aligned with gallery spaces or sales per se; to artists working in design or fashion and art; to folks operating in something we might call fine craft (which can remain steadfastly traditional or migrate into something contemporary/avante-garde); to graffiti or street artists; to even artists we might classify as fringe-y outliers--doing "pop surrealism" or related genres.
For any of this to make sense, we would need a chapter highlighting a few different models for DC galleries—non-profits, high-end contemporary, plucky independent contemporary or project spaces, design galleries, co-ops—and perhaps outlining the movement of gallery districts within the city over the past 25 years or 50 years, with attention to the way that the movement of galleries has influenced or been influenced by the socioeconomic development of the city.
And then it might be good to offer a chapter detailing the circulation of ideas and influence between DC and other mid-Atlantic cities—Baltimore, Philly, Pittsburgh—as well as the relationship of DC art to national and international art capitals.
And even some history on the relationship of the area’s artists to D.C. museums, with bios of key personalities.
So, anyway, that’s my fantasy all-context-accounted-for DC art book, where ultimately, the list of artists is broken down so that you have X number of representative figures for any given discipline--and the trajectories of each discipline over time and in relation to developments nationally are thoroughly mapped out.
Mind you, I’m not ever going to write this beast—unless you want to find me a $50,000 grant to do research and interviews full time for at least a year. Are you going to go find that for me? No? Quelle surprise.