After reading an article in the review section of Saturday’s Guardian by Hari Kunzru about Ai Weiwei’s recent disappearance/incarceration, it’s prompted me to pose a few questions in relation to our second public event, Collecting the Uncollecatable. Particularly in response to a section in the article which talks about how
“The art market fetishises objects in the name of preserving their value as commodities, and this is something artists have frequently felt the need to kick against……”
At the art school I went to in the mid-late nineties there was never a mention of the commodification of objects. The focus was mostly about process, finding a voice and developing a personal visual language through practice. I always saw my education as much as a discovery about myself in the world (philosophical) rather than having a career in the art world. I never felt like I was kicking against something because there was nothing really to kick against. I was (perhaps ignorantly in hindsight) happy exploring and discovering new things about my adulthood through materials, ideas and peer discussions (going to the pub!). The whole ‘career/professional development’ question was more or less swept under the carpet and generally ignored or was never a part of the curriculum. I often wonder if I was at art school now, whether my attitude towards being an artist would be different. Actually I already know the answer is yes. I now lecture in both further and higher education colleges so I see the pressure on students to become ‘successful’, quickly, which often equates to selling work, being represented by a commercial gallery, making money. “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art,” as Warhol once wrote. There is much more focus on professional development, career strategies, passing modules, being ‘business like’, competent at writing excellent and convincing C.V’s and marketing yourself. The space for taking risks, making mistakes, playing around seems to be disappearing? As Graham Crowley pointed out in his letter to Art Monthly
“Money currently spent on marketing, publicity and administration should be spent on teaching. Management culture has led to the prioritisation of the administrative over the academic. We now certificate rather than educate.”
I’m not necessarily saying this is a wholly negative aspect of how courses are now run, but it does seem distinctly different. The commercial arena and notion of selling your work seemed like a dirty word when I was at college, whereas now it is more positively embraced, perhaps more realistically?, as an integral part of being an artist. I must admit it has taken me years since leaving college to accept that it is okay to make money from selling my work and that this does not undermine its integrity because like I said this always seemed like a taboo subject. It’s been a gradual acceptance/realisation but now for me it is about striking a balance and recognising that different contexts/opportunities provide different outcomes in terms of furthering my artistic enquiries or/and being able to professionally finance this.
Is it still possible for an artist to value process over product? are the spaces/opportunities that provide this sufficient – i.e schools/colleges/residencies/studios/project spaces
How does an artist who makes temporary, transient and ‘non-existent’, like Robert Barry’s inert gas pieces of the 60′s, sell their work – is this dependent on selling the documentation? I’m thinking of someone like Karla Black who makes site-specific environments in gallery spaces using materials which don’t last. I remember overhearing her gallery, Mary Mary, at Zoo art fair a few years ago talking to a potential collector about purchasing a certificate as tangible evidence of ‘buying her ‘work’. Or there is Richard Wright who makes wall-based architectural drawings and Sol LeWitt who sells his diagrams and instructions as the work of art. How did Martin Creed sell his piece, Work No.227: The Lights Going on and off?
I’ve noticed a proliferation of public galleries selling limited edition prints or multiples of artists work – does this provide an accessible opportunity for collectors to purchase an artists work or are they merely props, asides and residues of the ‘real’ work?
Finally, here is a link to the Top Ten Uncollectable artworks, published in ArtInfo on June 14th 2010 by Andrew Russeth