Last night, many students in FIT’s art market program and a few cynical members of the art press gathered in the school’s amphitheater for “Size Matters,” a panel discussion on the importance of scale and spectacle in today’s art market (the livetweets from the event have been Storified here).
It largely was not about the art market, but the grand spectacles of the art world — the Met’s Big Bambú, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s larger-than-the-Giza-pyramid Abu Dhabi sculpture, anything that fits in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall — which are mostly institutional projects. The exception to this in the discussion was Urs Fischer’s giant hole, which panelist Gavin Brown hosted in his gallery in 2007 (it is now owned by collector Peter Brant). The real meaning of the evening, however, ended up being the exploration of the roles that we play — as artists, dealers, critics, observers — within the art world, and how often we are so consumed by our own tiny corner of the sprawling enterprise that we forget to think about the big picture.
The audience collectively chuckled when Brown mentioned that he hardly thinks about art outside what he shows at his own gallery and the works he sees when he’s showing at an art fair. There was a similar snicker when popular street artist KAWS said that he thought what kids care about these days is art and commerce. The other panelists, New York Times critic Roberta Smith and artist Peter Halley, did most of the work of contextualizing contemporary art — and its spectacles — within the larger art history narrative.
The takeaway, for me at least, was that succeeding in the art world means ceasing to think about how everything fits together (and thus how to fit yourself in) and narrowing your focus to what art means to your very specific audience: for Smith, it’s very much about whether the art and the gallery space work together aesthetically. For Brown, it’s about whether he can fill his gallery space (and whether his clients want to buy what’s in that space). For Halley, it’s about where his work fits into art history. For KAWS, it’s about how to reach his mass audience.
This near-sightedness is perhaps why the panel didn’t talk enough about the questions I had hoped they would tackle: how the preoccupation with size affects the young and struggling artists who would really like to sell something that pays the rent. However, it’s also possible that this theory is entirely wrong and KAWS and Gavin Brown are just the totally ridiculous people they seemed to be last night.
— Shane Ferro
(Image: Olafur Eliasson’s “Weather” at the Tate’s Turbine Hall/Dan Chung)