Who Is Art For?

Posted 4/13/2011 by smartblackboy in Labels: , , , , , ,

I go to gallery openings the way some people go to the movies. The fact that I have the opportunity to see some of the freshest, most interesting, and beautiful art objects and ideas – several times a month is a true luxury and pleasure of living in a vibrant metropolitan city.

I’ve gone to 10-12 art openings a month for the last two years in Dallas. Sometimes the opening is at a person’s home, sometimes via a nonprofit, sometimes in Deep Ellum or Expo Park, other times in the Design District. However, what most gallery openings, especially those in the Design District, have in common is that I will see no one who looks like me.

Namely, sometimes I am by far the youngest person in attendance (although with a recent 25th birthday that will soon no longer be the case). Often I am by far the blackest person in attendance (although occasionally there are some other friendly brown faces I run into). Almost always I am the only young black male for miles and miles around.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with this. An art gallery is not a non-profit. It is a business who has a defined market and limited resources. As such there is no obligation for an art gallery to “serve the community”. However, this raises a very important question: Who Is Art For?

Contemporary art is often for rich people. In the past art was for the church, nobility, the Dutch merchant class, and now anyone who can afford the art. However, unlike music with the vinyl turn tape turn cd turn mp3 (turn free?) for the most part art never figured out how to become small, cheap, and easily replicable. So, it has stayed elite. In fact, even more so than wine, there is a certain amount of knowledge that is necessary to appreciate a lot of contemporary art, or even know what is going on. This is one reason sports are more popular than contemporary art – I might not know the rules but I can see people in different colored jerseys and someone can tell me the score.

The score in visual art is much less intuitive but there is a score – contemporary art is competitive. First there is the simple question of how many galleries can be supported by a finite collector base. Then there is which artists those galleries choose to exhibit in the finite amount of shows they can have per year. Then there are the competing ideas about what art should be (which often includes an answer to who is art for) and what art matters. Curators, critics, collectors, gallery directors, auction houses, schools, and museums all have their say – they all pick winners and losers.

And there are people who believe that art should exist outside of all of these factors – and that is but another competing idea.

I want the art I show to be for anyone with a sense of upward mobility. In the words of Dave Hickey, I believe art is for those who still have hopes of moving from food service to cocktail. The art that most excites me right now utilizes new technologies, incorporates modern ideas, but roots them back into a physical object or an image that is startling and beautiful. I think any media is capable of this – but artists working in mixed media, installations, new media, and event/performance art tend to be arriving at more interesting solutions for the age-old questions of how best to express our hopes, desires, feelings, spirituality, and reality.

1111 Gallery will do additional programming outside of the normal coordinated Design District walks that will focus on getting a younger market to not just look at the art, but to become art patrons. Because although I don’t believe it is an art galleries purpose to serve a community – I do believe that galleries work best when they can create a community.

And that is the beautiful thing about creating a community – you can do it, and you can do it now. Although 1111 won’t necessarily be a revolution or art by democracy – we will be intentional about creating an environment that is appealing to a wide breadth of intellectually curious individuals. And we will also be intentional on figuring out how a wider range of people can financially have a stake in this game we call contemporary art.

Why You? Because there is no one better. Why Now? Because tomorrow isn’t good enough.

I hope you join us on our journey.

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