Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

The merits (or not) of the 10-year career survey

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At what point in an artist’s career is a career-length survey useful and revealing? Ten years in? Twenty?

It seems to me — I have no data to support this — that the trend is for commercially successful artists to attract curatorial interest earlier and earlier. As a result, there’s been something of a curatorial rush to perceived market quality.

I thought of this issue yesterday as I started to put together my list of interesting, try-to-see fall exhibitions. “Dana Schutz: If the Face Had Wheels,” a “ten-year survey” of Dana Schutz’s paintings and drawings, will open at the Neuberger Museum of Art on September 25th. It is curated by the Neuberger’s Helaine Posner and will travel to Denver and Miami. [Image: Schutz, Swimming, Smoking, Crying, 2009. Collection of Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, Kansas.]

Is that too soon for an exhibition to be scholarly, contextualizing or, well, meaningful? Late last year the Wexner Center for the Arts and curator Christopher Bedford launched a traveling Mark Bradford survey. That show is now at the MCA Chicago. I started thinking about the whole ‘too soon?’ question in my first post on that show.

Related: That post was the first of my several-post Bradford review. Part two examined Bradford’s rarely seen Crow. Part three looked at the exhibition in total.

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  1. Stephen says:

    I’ve never understood what people see in Dana Schutz to start with, but in general I think 20 years is best. Not every artist grows at a fast rate, and 20 years gives time to see how tropes develop in an artists work.

  2. Alan Drue says:

    Historically speaking, yes, ten years is too soon to determine an artist’s merit. I think if we could see into the future, we would notice that much of what we deem culturally significant has fallen to the wayside. The inverse, of course, is that some things we didn’t expect will have risen to the fore, as Manet did. I suspect much of the perceived rush is market-driven these days, a result of the collective shift from collecting modern art to contemporary. All that said, that Schutz image is nice!

  3. Chris says:

    Of course we’re talking about an artist who already had a 4-year retrospective at the Rose Museum.

  4. Peteykins says:

    “Is that too soon for an exhibition to be scholarly, contextualizing or, well, meaningful?”

    Yes, obviously.

  5. Chris says:

    The Whitney Museum staged exhibitions by Bruce Nauman in 1972 and by Donald Judd in 1968 when the artists had fewer than ten years under their belts. Warhol was having surveys during those years too. I don’t think surveys for folks like Dana Schutz or Laurel Nakadate are all that unusual or objectionable. I’m sure we could find dozens of more examples with quick research (my examples are obvious ones).

    As far as an artist’s relative age or perceived market hotness–claims like that often lack historical perspective. Both are issues that now date fifty years plus–yet we discuss them like they’re recent phenomena. Historical amnesia on these topics is a hindrance to substantive discussion about them, such as, “Do they even matter all that much?”

    On a side note, scan old issues of the major New York-based art magazines from the mid- to late 1960s, for example, and you’ll find plenty to read about the “crisis of criticism” and loss of critics’ power. Yawn. To get back on topic, I wonder: what do people mean by scholarly? A ten-year retrospective seems to call for writing with smart, insightful interpretations and contextual analyses (setting aside the approval of texts by artists). Catalogue essays need not always include scholarly writing or rigorous art-historical research to justify mounting an exhibition.

    I’m looking forward to the Schutz exhibition, and to the Jenny Saville survey in Florida in a few months (if I can make it). Saville recently hit 40 yet her work is vastly underconsidered in the United States.

  6. James says:

    Who really cares if its 10 years or EVEN about merit! The show is exhibiting 10 years of the artist’s career! Dana Schutz is one of the most important artists of the decade, so this IS going to be an important show regardless of her age! She has made a good name for herself and you know we all know her work if you are in the art world. Her paintings are unique and fresh, I’m excited to see what will be next for her. We are lucky to have a show like this going up to see these paintings again in person at a museum like the Neuberger. People can think what they want about a 10 year survey but we should be talking about her work, not her age. I would MUCH rather see a Schutz show than Saville anytime. I would say its about time she has a show like this and we will see her at the New Museum or the Whitney soon. Dana Schutz will always have a place in the art world. Lets talk about James Franco at Gagosian!

  7. Justin says:

    Yes, there is merit in a ten year survey, in Schutz’ case. In general, the question of a ten year survey having merit (or not), is case to case. I found myself looking at the dates of the paintings in the show. I thought about her progression. Ten years gave me something and being familiar with her work filled in the gaps. In my humble opinion, Schutz is deserving. It could take some people 10 years just to figure out what she is doing. A survey makes it easier.

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