Posts Tagged ‘chelsea art’

So long, Chelsea?

February 17, 2009

 The obituaries have begun rolling in, a bit prematurely.  The art business, including New York’s Chelsea district art galleries, wouldn’t be the first industry to take a critical stumble after engaging in widespread speculation.  Considering the economic conditions, there’s bound to be a substantial reduction in the number of galleries, but the process it is likely to be more of a gradual shedding or retreat than a forest fire. 

 Despite the economy, the problems in the art market also have a significant basis in the nature of industry’s past decade practices.  The growing price tags and auction receipts had been making the evening news for years, but that is mainly involving the somewhat established artists and artworks.  Notable to more than a few interested observers there has, arguably, been an change in the quality of artwork exhibited in a number of contemporary galleries and other exhibition spaces.  This is attributable to several factors, including the emphasis on trend and fashion over content, by both buyers and sellers, coupled with an expectation of an inevitable increase in valuation.

 The fashion world seems to have become particularly melded into the art world to a much greater degree.  However, what is good for fashion is not necessarily good for art.  The associated media attention does not necessary advance the progress of art as cultural communication, but rather art as an event.  Trend (a.k.a. celebrity) and lasting cultural value are often opposing characteristics.  The trend focus in the art business has come to encompass a package containing more than just the artwork, or perhaps the artwork is simply the least of it.  Within the last 7 or 8 years, particularly, there has been a inclination towards promoting the artist as personality, as a basis for valuating the artwork.  Naturally people want to see the young, fashionable, trendy and attractive–and artists that fulfill those qualifications have had some success on this angle.  But, one may question whether this position creates a sustainable art market.

 The first result of this perspective is that artwork is not evaluated based upon its actual worth but on a transient element that exists outside the boundaries of the actual work.  Sometimes this can be a historically significant event that ultimately adds a lasting cultural dimension to the work.  However, when this transient quality is the based upon the fleeting presence of a personality, this characteristic rarely remains attached to the artwork.  Once a personality fades from view, or reaches the media expiration date, a certain depreciation of the artwork may occur as well.  Or, perhaps, it simply fails to increase in value.  Artwork sold on the basis of the future value of an artist’s personality and celebrity potential is speculative and subject to the same risk as other gambling—so long as there is no other more lasting quality to the artwork.  Once the personality/trend bubble has passed, interest in the artwork and artist fades, along with its revenue potential.

 Secondly, this trend based focus tends to circumvent the natural development of an artist.  In recent years there has been an infatuation with artists straight out of–or still in–graduate school.  However, a very very few artists come out of graduate school with a fully developed conceptual perspective and working method.  Graduate school–which now seems to be a requirement rather than the exception–is a place where ideas are coddled and where, ideally, a fermentation process begins.  An individual artist’s ability to continuing developing, artistically and intellectually, depends upon completing a cycle.  Without this, subsequent work product can sometimes just result in a rehashing of earlier works without the development of new ideas.  In essence, a sustained  focus on graduate students as a product pool short circuits both the individual and collective development of visual art.

 It will be interesting to see where the current economic landslide leads the galleries, whether they will continue in pursuit of artwork in the same vein, or begin to market more works with a perceived higher likelihood of value retention.   Whichever direction it all goes will likely determine the future of the art market and the career potentials for artists.  Regardless, there seem to be changes soon to come–some in the form of bankruptcies, but also in the form of art business’ that quietly close the Chelsea shop, slip off to Brooklyn, and show artwork “by appointment only.”  Regardless, it seems inevitable that the economic downturn will irretrievably alter the art market, and in the best outcome, allow for more diverse and hardy varieties of grass to grow in the resulting space.


Part I of many; to be continued.