Targeting the new Independent Art Fair at the Dia Foundation in the heart of Chelsea was a lot easier than hitting the Armory Show – and other fairs – in midtown. It was also convenient because I was attending the Philly related, “Art-Wake,” afterwards where the panelists – there was no audience – were to mourn the Death of Contemporary Art! This was organized by Philadelphia’s notorious, “Art Blahg,” a sarcastic spoof of the original (and successful) Art Blog run by two critics.
Contrary to talks on the death of current art, The Independent Art Fair made the contemporary seem very much alive. The fair’s format was breezy, losing both the “booth” and boxy aspects of the Armory Show, Pulse and the other big fairs. I was greeted by the permanent installation, a three story Dan Flavin piece, lighting the stairwell as usual. Far more open and less elitist in format, high-end design firms and galleries worked in tandem, forming small enclaves and sometimes juxtaposing counter-intuitively. What a fantastic idea! A lovely Christopher Wool limited book edition (Black Book, 1989) was going for 6 grand and I almost bought it – big, bold single words broken into three or four lines, one word to a page; CON-CEP-TUAL or CAP-IT-AL. Very Graphic Designy for contemporary art. I forget who made the table it was on, but the works combined made for simplicity itself. Other duos (one including Robert Gober, another Thomas Struth etc…) were present and worked off each other extremely well. At the top of the stairs, I ran into Interim Art, a London Gallery where I was once included in a group show in 1985, as a desperate and angry young man – with Robert Mapplethorpe, I’m proud to say. Another British gallerist, her first time in New York, was showing a lovely “shack” made out of old doors and windows, by Ben Rivers. It had an old house look to it, distressed and pretty. A 16mm projector shooting through the window, it played a film loop of an idyllic scene. Lots of kids inside. They thought it was a tree fort! I saw Beck standing next to us. The gallerist said, no, that isn’t Beck. He certainly looks, Beckish, I replied. I mention this only because conversation with gallerists can often be curt and unfriendly. Not so in Chelsea on March Seventh, Twenty-Ten, Anno Domino! On the top floor, a giant spinning wall/corner covered in mirrors made me quite dizzy. It also took away my preconceptions about these obligatory stuffy events. In the middle of the room was a vintage Deloreon. Why not add a muscle car?
Before I left the building, I made sure I challenged a complete stranger – and ex-high school champion – to a game of ping-pong on the chrome table in the lobby. Not sure if it was an art piece but it certainly was a performance. We were both rusty, but it was the most fun I’ve had in ages! A “fun-fair,” day out for Joe Lunchbox and the kids? Dunno about that, but it was particularly user-friendly.
Though the panel discussion was more somber and chaotic, I knew it was going to succeed when I heard Joy Division playing on the stereo and was promptly offered a Budweiser! Called ART WAKE, it was part of a series of interactive and collaborations arranged to co-incide with the New York Fairs. The exhibition, held at The Winkleman Gallery on Twenty-Seventh Street, was called, “#class,” and featured the talents of William Powhida and Jen Dalton, a perfect match. Both artists use text to comment on the state of the artworld.
As moderator, I had to give the New Yorkers some background, especially on why there is a Philadelphia Blog-Feud. We were there, specifically, at the bequest of the “Art Blahg” – which I will call, Art Blag, from now on – it scans better and says more. They are known for adding unneeded consonants and exclamation points, in a similar way their sworn enemy, the original Art Blog, uses abundent over-enthusiastic platitudes. The Art Blags’s manifesto depicted a graveyard and accused the art world of being a “corpocracy.” The meaning was vague. They insist there is a new 40 year art period beginning; the last one was begun by Rob Rauschenberg apparently. It’s a neat theory, but do all Twenty- Something Artists believe this? I remember calling my MFA teachers old farts too, but back then, they were! That didn’t mean a new epoch in art had ended or was then beginning, although in 1982, it was certainly like that, being at the height of Post-Modern debate.
This current furor seems concocted and reminds me of hokey, generational nonsense; each having its own moniker and identifiers. The Greatest Generation had Hitler. Baby Boomers had the Beatles and conspiracy theories. A little later, it was The Sex Pistols/The Clash. Star Wars is also a sure sign of age and identity. So who knows what the so-called Millenials are up to. All the talk about internet art and collaboration on-line leaves me cold. It hasn’t quite led to a new breed of art or artists has it?
Full disclosure: I am no fan of the original Art Blog. Yes, it’s personal. They don’t run my pieces or write about my shows, preferring to review every poxy exhibition under the sun. It is lite-weight and spreads the focus too wide. They also steal the lime-lite, which should be shared and built upon. Plus, they project the notion that Philadelphia is having a huge boom – when actual contemporary art of any quality is barely shown. This is ridiculous. I know how it works; I’m a critic too, but I always sought out new and unsanctioned art to cover, not the PEW winners or hip street art.
Of course, Art Blag are hard to pin down since their identity is unknown! A few friends, myself and the handsome gallerist duo from Rebekah Templeton – a Philadelphia gallery – held the fort. We tweeted, twitted, re-tweeted and skyped our dialogue as the entire subcontinent of Asia looked on, and a guy named Gerald from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Panelists couldn’t help but study Dalton’s chalk board wit that surrounded us. It listed recent top auction “dips’ and Top Artist “Losers” categories. We ended up discussing the art market – the term, price-point, being used several times – and why it becomes the subject of so much art. The Art Blag is no exception, but is it an art piece? I doubt it. I believe it is the voice of the disenfranchised – I should know. After promoting dialogue for all these years on InLiquid.com, I’ve concluded that it must have substantative talk. Anyway, the solution lies with the galleries, the small local shakers.
Of course, I’m not Clement Greenberg, but I have to draw the line somewhere. Since the public funding in Philadelphia goes to non-art making activists and social workers, I’ll have to choose the gallery system, and it is no where near, “Corpocracy,” as Artblag claims. Though, their blasting the original Artblog critics is appreciated, it is misplaced. Please, do us a favor. Take all that fantastic energy and open a new contemporary space in Philadelphia!