Dear Rachel Wetzler
11 March 2011

Dear Rachel Wetzler,

Just a few thoughts about your critique of “I Like the Art World and the Art World Likes Me”, which I found to be excellent.  It’s refreshing to encounter strong analysis.

“here is an implicit populism to the exhibition, a trumpeting of each artist’s outsider status, or at least a sense of frustration with the art world’s perceived exclusivity, but a great deal of the work hinges on the viewer’s ability to pick up on insider-only references, exacerbated by the exhibition’s lack of sufficient explanatory texts for conceptual projects.”

“is likely to be unintelligible to anyone unfamiliar with the coterie depicted, raising questions about the genuine potential of this sort of work as social commentary.”

These feel like straw man arguments in so much as Minimalism remains unintelligible to anyone unfamiliar with theory and the history of Modernism.  The old refrain “My kid could do that,” comes to mind.  We can always find things most people don’t understand about art, and anyone who can find the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts already knows something about the artworld.  I think it’s a disservice to the audience to  assume what they don’t know or that they are not capable of learning anything more about the subject if they are engaged and curious about the art work. Most art, and not just “Hooverville”, require some education and knowledge for deeper appreciation, and it is possible to learn from and about a work of art.  I hope my collaboration with Jade, specifically, might provide points of entry for those with less specific knowledge of the players in the art world and the class issues that cause my own ambivalence about participating in it.  I can’t believe it completely excludes people who haven’t read ArtReview’s Power 100 or been to Chelsea at some point.

Even without specific knowledge of exactly who is being depicted in ‘Hooverville’, I think the casual viewer may still relate to the situations being presented from whoring oneself to popular revolt.  The potential for broader social commentary is probably the easiest to identify considering the ongoing revolutions in the Middle East and the protests spreading out of Wisconsin over labor rights. (Conversely, conservatives understand whatever it is the Tea Party rallies about).  These are serious issues, affecting far more people than art, which is part of the point of the drawing.  As Ben Davis points out the art world is not separate from society. It is a false separation used to justify its own elitism and phenomenal prices.

As for outsider status, in a star system, the vast majority of artists in society are on the ‘outside’.  I think it’s one of the implicit subjects of the show, but the term ‘outsider’ conflates a number of issues from academic training, geography, to an artist’s individual track record.  During the panel discussion, neither Jen Dalton, Loren Monk, or myself claimed to be outsiders, and if we are, it’s not by choice.

“The “established art world” is treated as a fixed entity towards which an attack might be levied, allowing Doeringer and many of his chosen artists to avoid actually offering an exploration of what it constitutes.”

The established art world includes ‘established’, ‘mid-career’, and ’emerging’ artists, art fairs, commercial galleries, museums, non-profit art centers, widely-read critics, theorists, academia, and publications to name a few aspects. I think most of these are addressed throughout the show in some manner, although academia seemed to get off the hook.  Michael Waugh’s CAA thesis abstract mash-ups would have been an excellent inclusion.  He randomly edited over fifty of them together and they still sounded perfectly plausible.

In the catalog, Doeringer classified the artists by their dominant mode of practice; Appropriators, Documentarians, and Critics.  I don’t think Doeringer intended the show to only be about critique, but to also include those artists using it as material.  It seems your primary criticism of the show is built on an assumption that it only about institutional critique, not subject or source material for an artist’s practice.  That is no more solipsistic than Modernist painters making art about its own formal limitations.

“The exhibition offers a compelling, if chaotic, look at artists’ own insights into the world they occupy and what it means to be an artist today, but fails to cohere into a convincing critical statement–or to present an idea of what a better art world might truly look like.”

I’d turn that last statement back on you, Rachel.  What do you think a better art world might truly look like?  Jen and I asked ourselves that question after Miami in 2009, and we developed a problem statement for #class.  We then spent a month along with a few hundred people discussing it, but I feel #class only achieved the first half of your final sentence. I was allowed to peer into the chaotic art worlds many people occupy and learned perhaps more than I’d liked of what it meant for them to be artists, unknowns, mothers, uninsureds, art handlers, dealers, collectors, critics, friends, enemies…  What I ultimately learned from #class is that people can’t even articulate what the problem or problems are, let alone agree on them in order to even think about what the solutions might be despite the clarity of Jen Dalton’s work, many other feminist artists, and the entire school of institutional critique.  I am also paraphrasing an economist I heard on WBAI a few weeks ago who was talking about how the general public can’t begin to grasp the magnitude of the mortgage crisis, the bailouts, or the fact that 80% of the population control only 15% of the country’s net worth.  These are also problems that require complex answers, that most people do not have the specialized knowledge to address, yet continue to adversely affect the majority of our country.

This requires that people educate themselves, which is unfortunately, a lot of work.  Thankfully, we have books like “Griftopia” and films like “Inside Job” to help make that easier (I’m being serious).  I don’t think it Eric’s responsibility to produce solutions anymore than the individual artists.  Some are responding emotionally or intuitively, while Jen Dalton tackles it analytically allowing the data to speak for itself, which is damning enough.  She doesn’t even need to editorialize the results.  The viewer just needs to take it in and the conclusions justify her inquiry into questions that “put a bee in her bonnet”.  She poses no solutions herself, leaving that responsibility to the viewer.  While the results of her inquiry into gender inequality, which you confirmed via another study, clearly shows a problem we have been well-aware of it persists despite the opening of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for feminist art at the Brooklyn Museum.  This persistence of class, gender, racial, and economic disparities are visible in all aspects of society, not just the field of art. Left with this dismal analysis, one might want to do something about it.  I make drawings, that’s how I feel useful when I’m not teaching.  What the show makes clear after you have assessed the data and identified some problems, we are left still looking for ways to prompt action through provocation, debate, discussion in hopes that enough people might arrive at some tentative agreement to work towards solutions.  This is why I think the show may leave you less than satisfied, because while the problems may seem self-evident, the established art world carries on if they aren’t.  Most of its stars are busy cozying up with fashion houses, selling expensive trophies, or hosting the Oscars.  Fuck them.

Best,

William Powhida

WILLIAM POWHIDA
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