At a time when the art world seems increasingly self-reflexive, eagerly fascinated by its own -ennials, art fairs, parties, openings, VIP lists, auctions and an eagerness to cozy up to the NetJets-set, a response to one-percent scenesterism is quietly emerging: Increasingly artists seem to be looking for — and finding — ways to inject their work into real world conversations, into the place in which a gavel dispenses something more than eight-figure paintings.
Over at Creative Time Reports, the new website launched by the eponymous New York-based non-profit, artists publish essays and reportage about what’s happening with elections or economies or whatever else in Kuwait, Georgia, Mexico or wherever else they are. (Sometimes they even show — publish? — their work about same.) On the Walker Art Center’s website, artists have been lining up to participate in Paul Schmelzer’s “Lowercase P: Artists & Politics,” a series of interviews about the intersection of artistic practice and (non-electoral) politics.
In the November Modern Painters, I look at another way in which artists are reaching beyond the bubble: Via major publications that don’t just show off their work, but that seek to put a spotlight on policy and human behavior too:
In two recent books artists reckon with the primacy of all things oil in our society via their work, pairing it with recent research into the impact of the oil industries on our lives, the effects of which we might not otherwise know. (Among the things I learned: Oil is used in making food-like products such as vanillin, a flavoring agent that’s probably in your favorite ice cream, and in artificial color additives such as FD&C Blue #1. You may not know FD&C Blue #1, but it’s in foods such as Easter candy and in cosmetics. Oh, one more thing: Vanillin is used in cosmetics too.)
The two artists/books I discuss (and I could have chosen more) are the Richard Misrach-Kate Orff joint production “Petrochemical America,” and Edward Burtynsky’s recent “Oil.” Neither is a traditional art book, and by that digression from the norm both are strikingly important, even imperative.
Of course, both are pricey, high-gloss books enabled by mid-career success: Amazon lists the Misrach-Orff book at $50 and the Burtynsky at $80. But next time I’m at Printed Matter or another artists’ books mecca, I’ll be looking to see how what Misrach and Burtynsky have made have impacted other artists.
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