Thursday, July 05, 2007Home

Art Basel: The MTV Approach?

Everything too fast, too loud, and all at once: if this is your understanding of what MTV has to offer, then you're like me (and probably haven't watched this abominable cable-commuted brain-drain in at least a decade). If, on the other hand, you're one who holds these connotations for contemporary art shows, let me know. I don't know any of this latter group personally.

Quite a few commentators in the art world—like the ones mentioned here—have weighed in on the issue of art fairs and their impact on appreciation of the photographic image. The target in this case is Art Basel, the Switzerland-based annual art show. Reports from the event do everything to suggest a mad rush on the part of newly-minted billionaires to acquire contemporary art from big names: Sigmar Polke, Jeff Wall,
Baldessari, and others.

It doesn't seem to be a significant stretch of the imagination to apply this criticism to fine art photography festivals, which share in common the crowded, fast-paced atmospheres of contemporary art fairs. It is the very nature of international portfolio reviews (often with their concurrent print sales) to be fast-paced, pairing as many photographers with potential clients, business partners, and patrons as possible. This does not detract from the value of creative experience, it only provides a faster, high-density alternative that many seem to favor in this modern world. Who is to say what impact these events will have on the art itself?

From CultureGrrl's blog:

But what most alarms me is that the sea change wrought by the growing importance of art fairs and auctions means that most purchase decisions are now being made under these frenetic, crowded conditions, far removed from the undistracted, unhurried contemplation that subtle, complex and profound pieces require to produce their effect. Under such harsh conditions, works that lend themselves to being easily comprehended in a brief glance are the species most likely to survive and thrive.

We are entering the era of
Snap-Judgment Art.

The general assumption seems to be that the only people who attend and support art fairs like Art Basel are corporate clients
with money to burn, or hedge-fund managers (think the mutated brethren of Thomas Wolfe's brokers in Bonfire of the Vanities). It's true that Art Basel orients itself towards corporate buyers, but it remains a public event. And let's not forget that you have fellow artists interacting with their peers at these events.

Also, isn't it still the "regrettable" status quo that so many people outside of the art industry (mutants or no) have little more than a moment's glance to decide their preference for a piece of art? The experience of lingering around a gallery exhibition, coming back to a piece initially ignored and discovering a new perspective, or meaning, or detail, is one that should be enjoyed by all. The importance of gallery exhibitions and museums has not been diminished, precisely for this reason.

Modern ways of seeing have, on the universal level, more emphasis on immediate gratification. We have TV and movies to thank for that, not "buy-a-paloozas" like Art Basel. It is a symptom, not a contributing cause. If its environment is not supportive to the actual interaction of art lovers, there is a copious amount of alternatives.

Art Basel's sister event in Miami Beach takes place December 6-9, 2007. I'd like to hear a first-hand experience from anyone who plans to attend (or has attended in Switzerland.)

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