More Art

by Christian Haye

A screen shot from Sick Fucks (2016) – a Treasure Island porno

It’s truly wondrous what can be achieved with the power of naivete. After six years of art criticism, mostly for Frieze, I opened a gallery in New York in 1998. It was called The Project and went on for eleven years.1 Wandering back into the art world after six years of self-induced separation, I find myself in that hazy familiar unknown of discarded places. There is an overwhelming desire to name the evanescent. No one cares. Stop. That is wrong. We don’t want to know. Unknowing is a false ideal. Forgetting is not unknowing. Unknowing is the yearning for the state before knowing. The best one can do after you know something is not knowing.

Looking at art online is the model state of not-knowing. In nitely reproducible images become pixel pablum. Art with no context is the not-knowing. I don’t mean this to sound like a judgment. Some of my favorite conceptual works (Yoko Ono or Douglas Gordon come to mind) add nothing by seeing them in-situ.

The art world I first encountered of course no longer exists but its evolution has been over discussed and under thought. When I first started to write about art discussing the machinations surrounding art was anathema to seeing/discussing art. The last decade has made these two divergent thoughts inseparable. I am thinking most recently of the David Hammons exhibition at Mnuchin Gallery on the Upper East Side. A taut career survey that Hammons has not enjoyed in New York since the PS1 (pre-MoMA) show in 1990. What has become evident in Hammons work since 2000 is a direct engagement with the market and its means as both an inward looking and broader take on income equality and the changing role of the viewer. Hammons visual lexicon has broadened to include signifiers of wealth like fur coats and signifiers of “art” such as frames and and engagements with stretched canvas – which has moved in his work from tool to message. The advantage Hammons has in his critique is a body of work that younger practitioners simply don’t have. Critiquing the market with no background of pre-market work seems fang-less for less experienced practitioners whereas Hammons social critique has bite because of his longstanding practice of several decades of social justice inquiry in his previous work. This work knows itself so well that it knows how to choose its gilded gallery context because a museum would turn the work into artifacts.

The New Museum

Middle and above – The Lenfest Center

Museums. There are a lot more museums now than before. And there are more of the museums that were there before. The museums have acquired more since then. There are more programs at every museum than before. Even for the staff of a museum how much of the program (talks, films, panels, etc..) can one actually see? (The appeals of more static institutions like the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the Frick Collection or the Cloisters beckon.) The institutions which seem to be working today are those that know their audience. The majors have taken on too much. In a not too distant past MoMA didn’t compete with Anthology Film, Harvestworks or Dixon Place. The modern major museum has become a superstore for every form of cultural production. Smaller nimbler spaces like the venerable Studio Museum, the newly reborn Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Grey Art Gallery at NYU and the non-institutional institution Participant Inc are able to consistently program outside of the fair and gallery context. Since the Neue Galerie opened in November of 2001 the list of museum expansions has been mind boggling. So much so that for the end of paragraph fact stuffing I’m limiting my scope to the 132 museums located in Manhattan. (And for international readers you deplane in Queens, party with your friends in Brooklyn and Manhattan is traditionally the rest of your NYC.) First the New Museum opened it’s 58,700 square foot space in 2007. The Museum of the City of New York added 30,000 square feet in 2008. The MoMA/PS1 merger was completed in 2010 and an additional 41,000 square feet came with the consummation. The Drawing Center scaled back its expansion 60% and still added 120,000 square feet of space. Even discounting the Metropolitan Museum’s acquisition of the Whitney’s Breuer building adding 82,000 sq ft to the Met, the Whitney itself opened 200,000 sq ft in 2015. The 9/11 Museum I think is 110,000 sq ft and I believe that doesn’t include the 4 acres of memorial wells that accompany the site. The (brilliant) Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space opened on the lower east side. The thriving Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art went very size queen in its new digs. Also, keep in mind that the Smithsonian colonized New York with two outposts: The National Museum of the American Indian and the Mu$eum of Finance. This impressive amount of museum girth is not even fully erect. By 2020 the Studio Museum in Harlem will add 10,000 sq ft, MoMA will add 150,000 square feet and the Museum of Natural history will add 300,000 square feet. The New Museum is also considering further expansion into the building it owns next door and the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art is planning on growing again. Between 2005 and 2020 museum in Manhattan will have added roughly 1 million square feet of space. Easily eclipsing the number of low income housing units built or planned in Manhattan by anywhere from 100-500%.

Galleries. There are a lot more galleries. Galleries are the kudzu of gentrifcation. Isolated they are beautiful and beneficial to any community. Collectively they become an invasive species storefront. The street level Borg until they starve a neighborhood of its individuality until they themselves can no longer survive and seem to shift en masse towards a new weaker neighborhood. The irony of a business dedicated to the promotion of individual talent(s) siphoning the uniqueness of its environs is something I not-know all too well and frankly gallery inflation I truly feel is overdiscussed and has born the brunt of the weight of this obese art world.

Art fairs. There are a lot more art fairs now than there were then. These trade fairs are the nee plus ultra of not-knowing art. There has been enough said about the mystifying ways these traveling circuses manage to turn the art viewing experience into the equivalent of a cruise ship oating sameness to every port willing to allow them to dock. The meet and greets have become so rote the gallerists are usually absent after day two leaving assistants to deal with the hordes of curiosity seekers and art students eager to engage with the keepers of the commercial gate. The more more more starts at roughly $25,000 for even the smallest gallery to participate in the biggest fair.

Art schools. There are lot more MFA programs and students than there were before. The professionalization of the art world is so complete teenagers enter the art-industrial complex with their fates decided by their choice of undergrad program. I cannot remember the last “outsider” exhibition I have seen in a “hot” gallery. To find artists who didn’t go to the right art school you usually have to trek away from the conventional wisdom art centers of the city to spaces and situations that sit firmly outside of the conversation. Even Cooper Union students are now looking at an MFA and a soul crushing six figure debt. One of the hottest MFA programs is at Columbia University where an academic Lincoln Center is being built that will encompass the art school a new gallery space and performing center in a formerly depressed industrial section of Harlem. The Lenfest Center for the Arts will add 65,000 square feet and an eye level view of the elevated one train. Academia will not be left out the prosperity plump. Your turn, NYU. (Again I have to cape for the Grey Art gallery, it’s program over this period has been literally indispensable.)

We all have our marionette-like parts to play in this system and play we do. While I think that contemporary art is indeed a Dutch tulip in 1630’s this decade could easily stretch for a century. My point is that there is no escaping culpability from this system. No matter how big the art world becomes, it (and arguably dance) are the last vestiges of cultural production that demands corporeal participation. No matter how many jpegs and websites you devour we know this to be a weak simulacra of an authentic art experience. I remember as a child witnessing Keith Haring poster over subway ads with his art – it seemed to take no time whatsoever for The Pop Shop to spend money to advertise in the subways to hock its wares. With the help of the billionaire mayor (major art world philanthropist and destroyer of working class housing) Manhattan has become a playground for the rich and even the lowly critic has a bit part in this poison play. Basquiat’s personal battle with the dichotomy between destroyer of social mores and enabler of social systems was never resolved. I have no resolution either. Welcome to the new culpability. Loosen your belt, buy a mu-mu and eat the pain away.

Poison Psalm (1987) from Basquiat’s notebooks

1 That is enough to get the back story.