Purple Magazine
— F/W 2015 issue 24


are you serious?


Are you serious? “Seriousness” has become the art world’s new criterion. A warning to artists, curators, and galleries: be careful about having too much fun, looking too stylish, and associating too closely with popular culture unless you are being “critical.” And absolutely avoid misbehaving in public. No public drunkenness or flirtatiousness. Dress all in black and try not to laugh or gesture too expressively in conversation. Most importantly, make every effort to conform. Try to look, act, speak, and make art in the approved manner.

Drink too much at a museum opening? You will not be invited back, and if you are an artist, you might be off the agenda at the next acquisition committee meeting. Talk about fashion designers and pop stars at a gallery dinner? Unless they are the approved “serious” designers and performers with art-world cred, the other guests will move to the other side of the room. Pose for party pictures on the Purple Diary too many times? Forget about being invited to Documenta.

I remember the disappointment of my first art-world Halloween, in 1975. I was anticipating a wild party with everyone in outrageous costumes. I prepared an elaborate Squeaky Fromme costume, inspired by the girl dressed in a handmade Little Red Riding Hood outfit who had tried to assassinate President Ford. I was embarrassed to find that I was the only person at the party to arrive in costume except for Diego Cortez, who was dancing in a fur hat. Everyone else, male and female, was wearing a variant of the standard cool artist uniform of black t-shirt and black jeans with construction boots. As the bleak mood of the ’70s turned toward the exuberance of the early ’80s, a scene emerged around the Mudd Club, Area, the Fun Gallery, and other venues where the artistic enterprise was fused with the energy from other creative fields. You could join a discussion of semiotics in a corner of the Mudd Club at 4 AM. There was no contradiction between being fucked up and being brilliant. Creativity had, for a time, conquered conformity.

Fast forward to 2015, and how did today’s art world end up like an honors high school, where everyone is expected to adhere to a strict behavior code? One of the reasons that I wanted to get involved with art was to get away from the conformity and obsession with status that characterized American suburban culture. Yesterday, I heard that one of the most exciting new galleries decided that they had to change their distinctive name to something more conventional, so that they can get admitted to art fairs. Artists are advised to avoid galleries or other artists who are seen to have even the slightest taint of controversy.

I attended an awards dinner about 25 years ago, when Robert Rauschenberg was being honored. He drunkenly staggered onstage, held the podium for balance, and declared, “I still think that art can change the world!” The entire room stood up and cheered. At a recent awards dinner, an artist friend of mine who also had enjoyed more than a few drinks strode up to the podium to accept his award with a hilarious speech laced with profanity. I watched a powerful art critic at the next table look at him with total disdain. His next review of the artist’s work will not be good.

We have gotten to a point where getting involved with the right gallery or the right circle of curators is like getting admitted to a prestigious university or an exclusive country club. If you do not follow the rules, you are not admitted. If your art does not conform to exhibition requirements of an art fair, you will have a hard time being invited to join the game, or you will be relegated to the murky status of a “biennial artist,” and that means the Shanzhai Biennial, not Venice.

There are still many aspiring artists (and curators and gallerists, too) who are making and showing art with a belief that it can improve the world. They would prefer not to join the great game in which the critical establishment and the art market collude to create a hierarchy of esteem and value. But artists and others who want to join the inside circle of the art world are afraid to make gestures that the establishment might not find acceptable and that might hurt their chances of being admitted to the club.

As a result, some of the most radical contributions to visual culture are not being made by artists who have come through the professional training programs of art schools, but from other creative fields where disruption is more readily embraced. Ironically, progressive popular culture and radical technology may be positioned to create more artistic innovation than the established art world.

We need artists, curators, and gallerists who are not afraid to offend. I am waiting for artists who are serious in their commitment to the power of art, rather than merely acting serious to gain admission to the art establishment. Radical art and a defiance of social conventions often go together. Let’s hope that the neo-conservatism of today’s art world can be transcended so that we can have fun making, writing about, and presenting some serious art.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2015 issue 24

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON





purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple TRAVEL


purple SEX

purple NIGHT

purple STORY


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