From the Editor
Under no circumstance did I set out to write this weeks letter about art fairs. Our recommendation this week, with the warranted reservations and skepticism, of Frieze New York amounted to enough thinking about the unfettered marriage between art, commerce, and internationalism that fairs represent for me. Whenever money is perceived to tread too closely to art we tend to get squeamish, and art fairs are adept at making even those amongst us with cast-iron stomachs a little queasy. However, fairs (and anti-fairs) are the new norm, even requirement, for the players in the commercial art world, to say nothing of the artists who have to produce the work exhibited in them.1 Dallas, Brussels, Basel, Miami, New York, name the place and it’s likely they’ll be playing host to a fair at some point throughout the year. Fine, I’m not going to my hackles up over it. Fairs represent one slice of the art world that I can choose to participate in or not, simple as that; albeit keeping in mind that my complicity comes with consequences. The most dismal repercussion of the art fair explosion is how they’ve become the touchstone for criticizing the whole of contemporary art and artists— ‘art is for the 1%,’ ‘artists are rich,’ ‘dealers are greedy,’ ‘contemporary art is bad,’ blah, blah, blah. It’s okay not to like art fairs, but let's not pretend they’re representative of every artist, dealer, exhibition and institution out there.
Supplemental materials abound. Endless guides to ‘surviving’ fairs are published and distributed as if wandering the plushly carpeted exhibition halls while consuming champagne amounted to navigating a war zone. How to guides (tedious enough already), rules for finding success in the art world (equally dull) and lists of perceived trends spawn from the lens of the fair at a rapid pace. Therein lies the source of my reluctance to address art fairs at all—too much noise. I’ve been reading David Toop’s book Haunted Weather: Music, Silence and Memory (2004) this week and stumbled on a passage that resonated with me. Toop says, ‘ Evanescent and thick with layers of substance and deep meaning, sounds are difficult to describe, which is why so much music criticism resorts to the material that surrounds sounds—social context, politics, mysticism, biography, trends, money, gossip—rather than discuss sound itself.’2 It’s not difficult to substitute ‘art’ for ‘sound’ in this context and arrive at much the same conclusion.
The question for me is one of reconciliation. How do we speak about the actual complexities and meaning of art objects while acknowledging that fairs, biennials, the market, politics and social context are, for better or worse, an inseparable part of that conversation? Simply dismissing the many frameworks that surround art objects as irrelevant is short-sighted, if not willfully ignorant, while pantomiming the singular importance of such frameworks is equally problematic and worse, eventually induces a deep sleep. Neither extreme is a place we want to get bogged down in.
Are you still with me? Criticism’s role in the current state of art world affairs is one of the subjects of Chicago-based artist and writer Patrick Bobilin’s provocative and engaging Long Read. Boblin’s censure of the bland internationalism perpetuated in part by web-based publications and the ‘biennialization’ of the art world is happily in my mind as I run down this weeks issue for you. Austin has a knack for atypical exhibition spaces and is currently hosting events all-over town by performers, filmmakers and visual artists as part of the annual Fusebox Festival. Artist and ...mbg staffer Emily Ng writes about Files Desks Chairs curated by Katie Geha, Sterling Allen and Travis Kent which finds its home in the old TOPS office supply warehouse, also the Fusebox Festival Hub, in East Austin. Down I-35 in San Antonio writer Wendy Atwell gives Tony Feher’s current project in the Hudson Showroom at ArtPace her attention. Across the Pacific writer and curator Mayumi Hirano lends her keyboard to Kota Takeuchi’s Open Secret at XYZ collective (SNOW Contemporary) finding an artist navigating a path between aesthetic, social and political values. Our Project Space this issue comes from San-Francisco-based artist Jeff Eisenberg whose drawings and sound installations address issues associated with the built environment and architecture; fringe communities, niche cultures and marginal systems; utopian strategies and superstitious forebodings.
Finally, I’m very excited to announce that ...might be good’s big-brother, testsite, is having an opening on Saturday, May 5th for New York-based artist Tamy Ben-Tor and writer and curator Noah Simblist. Be there.
As you wind down from a busy art weekend, either on a ferry from Randall’s Island, a bicycle ride home from an opening, or in a car with your friends consider sharing your thoughts with us. We can be reached anytime at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.
1. Peter Schjeldahl’s article, ‘All Is Fairs,’ in the of the May 7, 2012 issue of The New Yorker is worth a read in regards to this sentiment.
2. David Toop. Haunted Weather: Music, Silence and Memory (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2004): 107.