(I forget which magazine this was first published in, but it’s still true)
I get this a lot at every Armory Show, and this year I got it three times, from two collectors and a curator:
"What are you doing here? Artists shouldn’t go to art fairs!"
Why not?—there’s lots of art, it’s conveniently heaped in one place, it’s free if you’re in the show…
"But," they say, "art fairs are so much about buying and selling." One of them says, "I mean, I eat sausages but I don’t want to see how they’re made…"
So he’s saying: sausages are money. And so the art is a pig. Which makes Pier 94, the location of this year’s Armory Show, like one of those hog-choked mazes of rust and blood-mist through which the four-legged raw materials of the modern pork industry stumble as they are funneled toward death. (And I suppose this mean that some of the work, the work that’s in the show but isn’t for sale, is like somebody’s pet pig, but whatever…)
Now, personally, I like to eat sausages and I’d say it’d be unethical of me to eat them if I wasn’t willing to watch a hog get stabbed in the neck after being shoved in a box and shocked with tongs. The mental image of artists held by those curators, critics, collectors and dealers who suggest artists should stay away from the Armory Show is apparently of a sensitive but useful hypocrite that likes, or at least needs, money, but goes all skittish and confused at the sight of commerce.
Which begs the question of just exactly what illusions they think we frail and imaginative creatures have about what happens to our stuff once we drop it off downtown: what exactly do they think we think they do all day? Do they think we imagine the work lies in well-lit state somewhere sending out aesthetic vibrations until generous patrons who have made their fortunes by feeding hungry Sri Lankans are inexplicably drawn to hail taxis and demand that the cab drivers follow the spiritual ache to its source? You have to wonder why they’d have any respect at all for art—it being the products of such painfully deluded minds. (All this is especially baffling considering that maybe 20 percent of all the work you see at any art fair self-consciously and explicitly comments on the commercialism of the art world in general and occasionally art fairs in particular.)
For the record, we actually imagine it goes like this: Hi! Kiss kiss! How’s the baby? How’s the renovation? I have a great new artist you have to see! Wonderful! You see he’s from bullshitbullshitbullshit and his work is based on bullshitbullshitbullshit. Oh really? Well lately I’ve been interested in bullshitbullshitTOTALbullshit. In that case, you should buy this, or maybe the bigger one over there. The big one? Do you think I should? Yes, I think you should! Sold! Sold! Sausages for everyone!
And professional artists have to decide to either be ok with that or else get another job and make much less art, just as carnivores have to decide to be ok with sticking-knives and sustained and horrible squealing or else eat tofu.
There is, I suppose, another possibility, and I find it almost touching: perhaps the patrons and presenters don’t fear the revelation of themselves as businessmen, but the diminishment of themselves as impressarios.
Have you ever heard a dealer or curator describe their space? “We’ve put in a new center wall running fifteen yards from here and we’ve just installed new lights from here to here and we’re showing a lot of female artists and artists of color and there’s a video projector here and…” It is cute. And the artist who is thinking about maybe showing there numbly nods and goes, “So it has a floor and a ceiling and walls, right?”
"Oh yes! Certainly! Wonderful floors…" "Fantastic. I’ll call you." "Ummm…do you want to see the space first?" "See it? Uh…why?"
Why? Because, hilariously, many of the art middlemen and middlewomen who caution artists to stay away from art fairs believe in context—that is, they believe that a Degas in their collection is different than the same Degas in their cousin’s collection, that a video projected on the wall of Luhring Augustine is different than the same video projected on the wall of the Guggenheim, that your art on a gallery wall is different than your art on a flimsy wall at a fair, and, of course, that a urinal in a bathroom is different than a urinal on a pedestal. They believe, in other words, that their job is necessary for some reason other than the basic realities of life between the gears of capitalism. And they think artists also believe this. Supercute.
Of course, there actually are artists who think like that, and they are well paid for it. In fact, many critics, collectors and curators are so flattered by artists who think and act just like them that the artists have managed to carve out a very sizable and cash-efficient subgenre of art by creating works which do nothing but criticize, curate or collect things that other people have made and seen long before. You can see how these cautious and conservative souls might be shy of gore and grunts and deathsqueals—maybe they despise the fact that their sublime re-captioning of a USA Today photo or the delicate charm of their display of precisely the right number of pictures of Sheryl Tiegs to match their age when they first masturbated to a picture of Sheryl Tiegs must compete for attention with something painted primary colors and dipped in resin and three guys on cells and a waiter asking you if you want a stuffed mushroom.
The rest of us, however, got into this business in the hope of seeing exotic and desirable new things, and, as of the early Zeroess, have long ago become impatient enough to ignore pretty much any kind of lunacy, including wading waist-deep in doomed hogs, to do it. In fact, most artists I know consider art fairs to be, given the options, the best way to see contemporary art. It beats randomly doing galleries—tottering through stairwells and elevator shafts for eight hours and realizing on the subway ride home that you saw about ten artists total and didn’t like any. And it beats big museum surveys—which are pretty much like the Armory only with less to see and the constant, looming threat of explanatory wall text.
Granted, we prefer our own work to be displayed in solo shows or in museums, because we know this generates an underlying assumption that people who control large rooms think our work is worth looking at and therefore keeps us fed, but in order to honestly judge people’s art, we like to see it at its worst. Pamphlet-free, curatorial-strategy-free, context-free. To the viewer grown suitably desperate, the good stuff bats its lashes like a smart piggy going through the last gate—Please look at me before I’m bacon!
And aside from the delights of pure and unfiltered volume, art fairs offer, like any confrontation with reality, healthy reminders and object lessons for anyone bent on making very good art. You need to know that that guy will make up a story about your father dying in order to sell the work, you need to know that no-one recognizes the celebrity you painted, you need to know that they’ll walk by without looking, you need to know that they’ll look and keep walking, you need to know that his show happened because his mother was on the board, you need to know they’re putting it in the nursery, you need to know they’re sending it straight to the warehouse, you need to know that the dominant tone in art this year is a sort of aggressive mildness or indecisiveness epitomized by huge objects in beige or light grey, you need to know that they wanted their money back when they heard it was done by computer, you need to know that they wanted their money back when they heard it wasn’t, you need to know your drawing will be mistaken for a collage, you need to know your sculpture will be possessed carnally by small dogs, you need to know that the person who bought it owns a small dog, you need to know that the people who like it still don’t get it, you need to know that the people who get it still think it’s stupid, you need to know people who say they get it keep buying things strongly implying that they don’t get it (and for more money), you need to know things were like this long before you showed up, you need to know things will be like this after you’re dead. You need to know because artists need to know that whatever the things they make are supposed to do, they must be things that can be done under these conditions.
So when the show comes to town, go see the show. See the pigs while you still can—they are headed elsewhere.
You’re going to hear a lot in the upcoming season. Some of it will be about you, a lot more will pretend to be but—secretly—will actually be about using you as an example of someone’s cranky thesis about the Whitney Biennial or the State Of The Art World or The Meaning of America In A Post-Scarcity Creative Economy or whatever.
None of the second group of things is worth listening to. The writers are, like you, engaged in an endless propaganda war whose object is to prove to someone with money that they, the writer or author or blogger or student, deserve better than to die in a ditch without health care—just as your weapons are your works and whatever words you manage to slip under the wire, their weapons are the ferocity of their stance on the Art Issues Of The Day. They need their ferocity—everyone knows, as always, Something Must Be Done and, as always, nobody agrees what that is.
Anyway, have sympathy for them but don’t believe them: you’re not part of a thing and, more generally, you’re not a thing. Or, rather, you’re only a thing if you’ve made the conscious decision to do bad art that’s dumb—in which case stop reading now, this isn’t for you (take heart: lots of other things are).
The Biennial might feel like a slick-walled pit filled with a million reasons to compromise—but then so is every other place and every other time anyone has ever seen art.
Do your thing and then when it’s done do it again better, over and over forever until you’re dead. In the end some of the good you do will be noticed, some won’t and it’ll all be totally arbitrary and hopefully you’ll get something out of it and the world will continue to be terrible, with some consolations. Be one of them.
Hi, Zak. Two questions. 1. I'm looking to get my work into shows and into a gallery. Do you have any advice, especially when it comes to smaller cartoonish works on paper, which is what some of your work seems to be. 2. What kind of substrate do you prefer to use... ie what kind of paper, etc.. and have you tried Yupo?
Hi Squoose 1. Hang around other artists you like until one with more power than you decides they like you enough to help you have a show. If that doesn’t work—get creative. It’s 2014, there’s the internet, there are no rules anymore.
2. Yupo doesn’t work I can’t remember why it was ages ago. I use illustration board or matte plastic-coated paper. Pressure-treated wood painted panels also work
“JS: Are you playing with narrative? Obviously images don’t have time but they’re part of a series. Are you toying with movement through time or interconnectedness? ZS: It’s something like that but it doesn’t have a name. We’re use to the idea of narrative in the context of art because when we see a picture in real life, for any reason, it’s attached to a story, because they are used in the traffic signs, news, and advertising to tell us information. If you look at a picture and what you primarily see is the story then the picture sucks. Pictures should look good. Any asshole can tell a story. But there is something else, which is just looking at things for a long time for something that is internal to the piece of art, abstract or otherwise. We don’t have a name for it, but it exists. It doesn’t unfold in time. It’s more like a sandbox than a story. Instead of event one, two, three, there are a million events, like pieces of sand, all existing at the same time and in the same place. Where do you start? It’s like Disney World. You don’t go in a certain order. You pick and experience parts of it. It’s like tourism in a certain sense.”—Curbside Splendor | We Did An Interview (via madinkbeard)
JS: It seems that you’re actively participating in two traditional painting genres: female nudes and still lifes. But you mash them together in an interesting way. There will be the female nude as the center of the canvas but she is surrounded by all this stuff.
So paradise, it turns out, is a real place, just south of a shop that sells brown bread and doughnuts and they don’t like you unless you give them money, and even then, they don’t like you enough. Men come out of it drunk and needy, looking anemic .
If you’re one of them you step into the dark and they take your coat, not smiling, and ask if you want a drink. You got the show most men want to see most; but it ends all wrong—because it’s a show. The show shows about where the limits of shows are.
It has—all around—tons of women: girls in and out of thongs, mounting each another, little miracles swiveling in lace and silicone wracked by faked convulsions and sometimes cocaine, posing against their reflections like geckos in a tank, examining eyeliner—theirs and yours, taking bills and doing floorwork, and humping toys and doing pole stunts, and they’re hopelessly ogled over green bottles and spilled foam in the blacklight and a cold neon.
The women, armored in their nothing, bring in men who come to them the way they used to approach magic or churches—with overwhelming desire and the knowledge that that desire makes them unworthy of the thing desired: with a sinking in their gut and needing a drink…
Paradise is what people have instead of Paradise and it looks like amazing asses, it looks like stretched hamstrings, lapdances, ice in glasses, lemons wedged onto drinks like moons, like ruined backs, ruined slacks, patent leather, lack of impulse control, numb avarice, open wallets, football on the tv wall, a long bar smeared over the floorplan like a complicated mustache fronting a caged universe of colored lights in a glass metropolis of liquor bottles, the rheumy eyes of men at the rail and on the bills they’re holding, it looks like glitter and platforms, like crawling, like cigarettes of all nations, and peoples’ limitations, like girly cake and candyflake, creme de menthe and cushions, like lavender, Lilac, Lana, Lisette, Vixen, Vania, Nikki, Natasha, Sasha, Monika, Dominika, Katya, Kasia and immigrants like Autumn and Echo, like gleaming glossy rails and transparent polyurethane heels and pink and stripes and ribbons and lips and smiling and asking and inadequate tips and lipgloss, like excess, nipples, situations, frustrations, like continuous heartbreak on an industrial scale, fuck faces and fuckfaces, like tits—real or fake, in missile, teardrop or massive—tattooed in angelscript with dead babies’ names, like pierced lips, wide hips and diamonded earlobes, dissolution, fishnets, resentment, suppressed contempt, matte-black speakers, mesh tops, constant inebriation, disco balls, stubbled husbands and drab dads, like itself over and over every night, like the illusion of universal and omnidirectional love delivered in the form of immediate and unconditional pussy—like the illusion that God cared.
No-one wanted it demolished: it was nice to know you lived in a universe that was capable of beauty and under a god who was sometimes moved to provide it, even if never to you. And from the rented red comfort of a booth, cool to the touch and snug as a titfuck you knew: the city outside was even much more complicated and worse.
The world is ugly, and beauty is always an exception. If beauty was everywhere we wouldn’t chase it and die for it, we’d still want it but we’d make it compete—it would be like friday night in the Paradise where beauty challenged beauty for the attention of ugly and money. And ugly values the privilege of its short and inverted hours in the backward world. Across the colored dust and lotion on the mirrorfaces, you can even see a land across a segmented pane where a left-handed waitress brings your drink from the right, or look up and see a reverse you in an antivgrav chair, and a girl on your lap with inverted hair.
Fuck no. I don’t have time for that shit and no real artist does. Pretty is far too harsh a mistress to dick around with cutting the crusts off your peanut butter sandwiches or praying to the four winds or lighting a candle to the ghost of Frida Kahlo—you get up, get the headphones on, make sure you have enough to drink and sit down and put in the hours. Rituals are for rich kids who are more in love with being an artist than making the art.