Purple Magazine
— F/W 2014 issue 22


art fair

text by BOB NICKAS


The recent news that the Frieze Art Fair and The Gap are partnering to cross-promote their brands is just one more manicured nail in the glass-covered coffin that was Art, at least with a capital A. Because it’s exactly this sort of corporate — and corpulent — monkey business that has turned high art into a set of so many lowered expectations, which is art with a little a.

Like all such couplings, this is strictly non-frisky — nothing libidinal or sexy about it. As big a turn-on as an overweight art dealer in a pair of bland khaki pants, purchased in any Gap around the globe. (Have you noticed that as the fortunes of male artists and dealers rise, they begin to tip the scales, and not only of power?) These khakis can be yours for a mere $59.95. For the same price, and if you can fit into them, they also come in a camouflage pattern, the “lived-in slim camo pant,” which the marketing department at The Gap must surely consider “cutting edge.” But even Andy Warhol wouldn’t have worn these. He would have seen them for what they are: a cheapo rip-off of Stephen Sprouse — 25 years after the fact. We really have to stop blaming Andy for the numbing commercialization of art. From the very beginning of his career, Warhol implicated himself within
a system where not only is the art for sale, but so is the artist. And so he became the CEO. But the Factory that he ran wasn’t exactly a sweatshop in Bangladesh, where workers endure 15-hour shifts and are paid pennies. While it’s common to blame Warhol for creating the monster that is the business-artist, he remains one of the only non-hypocrites in our very compromised world.

This little-a “art world” is not one at all. It’s more like ye olde medieval village, with its idiots and town criers, a turreted castle in the misty distance, princes and paupers rubbing shoulders at jousting tournaments, where knights are trained and vie for the lord’s purse, the field arrayed with festive tents and banners aflutter, the peasantry entertained free of charge. If we are, for a moment, reminded of the grand white tents that Frieze erects on Randall’s Island in New York and in Regent’s Park in London, and of the spectacle that unfolds within, there are parallels beyond the circus-like atmosphere. Most readily we can hear, above the fanfare of trumpets, a particular phrase: “To be in the lists.” In the Middle Ages, this indicated that a knight was competing in the tournament. In our time, this could mean that collectors have been placed in wait for a coveted work by a “hot” artist (which hopefully arrives in their storage before the temperature drops), that the artist him- or herself has landed on the curatorial laundry list that’s shared by the many biennial wardens, or has been short-listed for a provincial prize — the Turner, the Duchamp. Why are there prizes in art? It doesn’t get more medieval than that.

Before the Frieze Art Fair, there was Frieze magazine. You can’t help but wonder how such a major conflict of interest was allowed to happen: an art magazine — and one with a respectable critical voice — presenting an art fair, aiding and abetting the mercantile and mercenary buying and selling of art, and most assuredly its subsequent resale? A modern-day fusing of political economies and feudalism? With so many of the galleries that advertise in its pages then spending even greater piles of money to rent booths under the Big Top? How did this come to pass? There would never, for example, be an Artforum art fair. This is one publication that stands by its long history and reputation, neither of which are ready to be branded so crassly. You would have expected a sell-out from Flash Art — the Flash Art Fair! — and they must be utterly miserable for not having thought of it first. But not to worry, there’s still time. Of course our vote for the most ridiculously sublime art fair hosted by a journal would be Texte Zur Kunst. Such an event might be unashamedly unfair — to galleries, to their artists and collectors, to critics and curators, to consultants and their clients, to all the carneys at the carnival. But wait, this means they would mirror the biggest and baddest fairs of all. It could be a huge success. Imagine that. Isabelle Graw and Jeff Koons, side-by-side, lowering the drawbridge at the private view, so those select, the cream of the little a-list, could cross the moat and be lordly abused.

Back at The Gap — whose founders, Don and Doris Fisher, were themselves art collectors, and world class (think Calder, Kiefer, Lichtenstein, Warhol, and Richter) — the profits have gotten slimmer. This is surely a moment to re-bolster the brand, and what better route to take than art. Though one wonders how hip The Gap can be made to appear in its proximity to the parade of the fair, where buyers are still enraptured by unpainted dirty dishrags. And why does almost everyone seem to march in lockstep? Branding wasn’t just for cattle. Apparently it’s also for sheep. To be branded, of course, is to be “blanded,” which explains the bored appearance of so much of this self- satisfied art, and which exhausts us all. But there shall be no taxation without representation. And as for the blandly malleable and well-behaved abstraction, its days are surely numbered.

Art and life will go on, and the metaphorical gap between them will not be closed with t-shirts designed by Alex Katz, Yoko Ono, and Richard Phillips. It will not be drawn closer with skateboards, sneakers, and beach towels created by artists. Its closing will be incremental, a millimeter at a time, like a gaping wound that heals to a bloody scab, or the “origin of the world” after the baby has popped. But it is closing, and thanks to the intersection of the primary and secondary markets — in these endless art fairs — we will never again have to hear the words, as we sometimes do when The Gap marks down: “All sales are final.”

Bob Nickas, who lives in New York, has curated over 80 art exhibitions and written countless essays on art.
His latest book is Painting Abstraction.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2014 issue 22

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON





purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple SEX

purple NIGHT

purple STORY


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