My first solo show with Charlie James Gallery has been getting some amazing press over the last week, starting with Leah Ollman’s excellent review in the LA Times. Her analysis of the narrative structure of my work is what really stands out for me as the ‘maker’ of the show. She draws clear distinctions between the narrator, the character, and my role as an artist with different agendas and different voices.
Also, Catherine Taft just published another sharp and insightful review of the show on Artforum.com. She notes the importance of looking at the site-specific nature of the work. The common thread, though, between both reviews and the current controversy surrounding my New Museum drawing is social satire. Both writers refer to Honore Daumier whose cartoons piqued French society. As the New Museum controversy rages on, Jeffery Deitch recently waded in to defend Dakis, people are responding not only to the ethical issues, but how vast the divide between the wealthy elite of the art world and the rest of it. While the Daumier reference is apt for my work and position, it is also unnerving that the economic and class divisions also parallel pre-revolutionary France. James Wagner half-jokingly said the same thing in a recent blog post.
Class divisions and wealth in the art world became more of a focus in my work as the market ballooned from 2002 until 2007. In 2006, when I took my first trip to Miami for Basel and the satellite fairs, the atmosphere was one of congratulatory celebration; ‘witness our collective brilliance and the triumph of Capitalism’. Very few people I interviewed that weekend for a long-neglected performance were critical of the wealth and power associated with contemporary art that transformed Miami. The economy appeared stable and few people had reason to raise any complaints. That was before the Dow nearly halved itself and unemployment rose about 10%.
Now, when Mira Rubell is photographed licking a chocolate Jeff Koons’ Rabbit during the ‘feast’ for Performa 09, the decadence looks ugly and the mega rich completely out of touch. While I have been addressing the discrepancy between the egalitarian promise of the art world and the elite circle of wealth that supports it in my work, I think the division is far more clear now at the end of 2009. That clarity has brought some unwelcome attention for the wealthiest and most powerful figures in the art world, which they have little control over. Unfortunately for the Rubells and the Joannous there are many more people on the outside than the inside of the art world. Fortunately for me and the broader art world is that the establishment may be rigidly ordered, but it is not monolithic. There are people on the inside who have a self-awareness of their positions of power and do not engage in vulgar displays of that privilege. Some of them also recognize my critique and quietly tell me “You just say what we’re all thinking.” Clearly not all, but hopefully enough who recognize that it’s not 2006 and your wealth looks a little obscene.