Tuesday, March 3, 2009

DEBRIS: Lions and Lambs

Supercell thunderstorm, Miami, Texas, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

In lean years the strong get weak, and the weak get weaker. As the US and the rest of the world descend into the doldrums of a long recession I figured it was as good of a time as any to examine the state of the art state. Artstorm Gallery, formerly the best party-throwers on Caroline Street, is no more.

In the East End, BOX 13 continues on strong, hosting the best of the University of Houston’s photography and painting departments March 28th through April 30th. The Contemporary Arts Museum is settling into more local shows, thawing to Houston artists this May with No Zoning, throwing in the kitchen sink too. Mel Chin, Bill Davenport, Ben De Soto, Sharon Engelstein, Dan Havel and Dean Ruck, George Hixson, Lauren Kelley, Knitta Please, Jim Pirtle, Nestor Topchy, Zach Moser and Benjy Mason are all gonna do some shit. Should be a good party.

The Museum of Fine Arts seems fine; it won’t go the way of Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, which had to merge with the more solvent Los Angeles County Museum of Art. who were bailed out by Eli Broad. They are looking to the home team though, with a mid-career retrospective of photographer Amy Blakemore. Project Row Houses continues to grow its influence, reaching out to international artists as Rick Lowe travels the country speaking about community activism and saving neighborhoods based on the art and activism project in the 3rd Ward. Finesilver Gallery closed late last year down on Main Street, but there is no doubt that Midtown’s popularity will trump any other losses in the area in the short term. If the short term looks bleak, the long shot seems rosy.

A myriad of galleries throughout Montrose, Kirby and the Heights can’t be happy about belt tightening, R. Allen Stanford’s $50 million dollar swindle, and the continued low price of oil or high price of rent. It feels like some of them are going to go down, just like the early 80s when the “donut hole” carved downtown out of the city’s vernacular. Many of the galleries lost then sold second-generation Impressionists, and for all the bad Abstract Expressionism I’ve seen around I won’t be surprised when the end is near.

The Menil might have to postpone some of that massive construction, but if the Richmond rail line gets going I doubt they will slow down at all. The Bayou City Art Festival will shrink, just like the Houston Press has. Domy won’t go anywhere, I hope the Big Block at 4411 Montrose stays full, and the Art League probably restructured and expanded at just the right time to cruise through the recession. March 6th The Art League will host WEAH, ACK!, Raiko Nin, and Alex PR!MO Luster for their first show of taggers, across Montrose a block down on Drew Street are some great pieces by WEAH and ACK!

Dwindling ranks of newspaper critics scream that art, in its physical body, will soon cease to exist. Soon enough the critics won’t be there to talk about it, that much is for sure. The definition of an artist is breaking down, and the next time the next big thing rears its head it may be impossible to tell if it was anything more than a daily experience. Eating toast. Walking in the park. Meeting a new computer. Artstorm Gallery, with its emphasis on outsider art and illustration, recognized the issues with following the direction that academic art is going and fought against it with Americana. Both indomitable spirits and unequaled enthusiasm permeated the place, its artists and its events. If in its short run there is anything to regret it is only that it left so soon. Then again, I’ve been in art collectives that have been shorter. The appetite is out there for well thrown art parties that for sure. Who’s gonna pick up where they left off?


joel said...

Haha, what a bleak post. Moving forward...

ChuckEye said...

Art as artifact is beginning to lose some of its meaning. Yeah, I prefer having beautiful prints of my photographs... big. On a wall. Omnipresent, where you can reflect on them in your own time, rather than viewing images on a browser screen that are glimpsed and then forgotten without any time for contemplation.

But as I work to get my pieces ready for that March 28 opening at Box13, I'm reminded that costs of printing and mounting add up. If all goes well, it will cost me somewhere on the order of $500 to present 4 images. With no guarantee of sales, and a percentage going to the gallery space, I have to set my price high just to cover costs if I want to sell my work.

At the same time, last weekend I was breezing through Rhizome for calls-for-entry. I was able to knock out two, one via email and one by burning a DVD of my videos and dropping it in the mail. Shipping flat-work, well framed, would cost me a ton on top of the actual creation of such artifacts. With video, as much as I hate the way galleries and museums present it, it's so much easier to duplicate and distribute the work... let someone else worry about how it's being presented.

I don't know what this says to the long term viability of the gallery system. With the democratization of creation, through cheap digital tools and free distribution models like YouTube or Flickr, the scope of the Art Dealer selling editioned artifacts is beginning to apply to a dwindling number of artists' work.

Of course, that's just from the POV of a digital artist. I'm sure a painter or a sculptor has an entirely different perspective on things which is just as valid.

Anonymous said...

MOCA hasn't merged with LACMA. Eli Broad put down lots $$$$.

b.s. said...

Thanks Anonymous, things move quickly.

Thank was terribly astute, Chuck. I'll see you at BOX13 March 28!