Contemporary Tornado

Contempoary art is in dialog with the architecture that houses it, the people that amplify and criticize it, and the world condition. It is through both harmony and discord that art is able to move forward, to challenge the status quo, and to keep growing in complexity. In reading “What is Contemporary Art ” Smith shows the trajectory that pushes art in certain directions. Artists by nature question and provoke their surroundings. Questioning what art is, where it should be seen, who makes determinations on its value, and why it exists leads to a compilation of artists that seek out these answers with a variety of different motives and agendas. As Smith states in the preface and acknowledgments ,“ artist, critic, curator, educator, merchant, collector,student, art lover- whatever one’s engagement with art, it will always be, at root an entanglement within art’s questioning. Contemporary art begins…from there”

It is within these criticisms that we begin to see the evolution of art…as museums lose their relevance in the late 20th century, stakes become high and businesses struggle to compete and adapt to accommodate new definitions of art that no longer belongs in traditional spaces. Smith states “ while major art institutions will always attempt to serve more than one simple purpose, and indeed are often energized by contradiction, they need constantly to orient what they do in ways that are precisely calibrated to their circumstances.” Begging the question, who is the art institution for? Tensions between collectors and museum curators arise as both try to survive in an art economy that is constantly shifting. Charles Saatchi challenged the design of the museum space stating that “ many in the artworld, artists included, feel contemporary art can only be seen properly in a perfect white space. It’s a revelation to break out of the white cube” With the success of the Tate Modern, Saatchi’s remarks reveal an underlying agenda to survive in the growing art market. The cutthroat nature of the art market raises important questions about the relationship between art and money. Within the competition between art collectors, museum curators, to collectors like Saatchi, contemporary art became a game of numbers, sensationalism and marketing strategies. While reading about celebrity artists, I can’t help but call to mind artists like 9 year old Aelita Andre, who sold out a New York show in under a week and had her first gallery show at age 22 months. These types of controversies in the art world raise important questions about motives. Is this 9-year old an art prodigy or a product of pressure and greed? I am reminded of Bankys “Exit through the Giftshop”, Mr. Brainwash, a novice graffiti artist eventually embarks on a marketing campaign with the help of Bansky and Shepard Fairy, taping up huge billboards with their quotes, creating hype and ultimately ending up on the cover of L.A. Weekly. At the same time artists such as Tracy Emin, criticize the art market with pieces like “ I’ve got it all.” The push back from artists and architects change the landscape of contemporary art. While some motivations revolve around money, others reject the market and use their art as a platform for rebellion

Frank Gehry’s Bilbao was itself a work of art. It’s design determined by the artwork it housed. For example, the “gargantuan features of Claes Oldenburg and Coosjevan Bruggen’s soft sculptures” call for a space of equal scope. Smith states, “the symbiosis between a type of art and a kind of museum is a delicate one, and it is a two way street.” Richard Serra’s “snake” uncoils through the gallery that is designed precisely for the piece.

Matthew Barney’s work really accentuates the tensions of the contemporary art movement. As Smith describes “ for an artwork that took as its trope the muscle that governs the chromosome switch from female to male and then controls testicular contraction, such a heavily invested enterprise seemed more than over the top” In Barney’s work we see both the “enterprise” which cost a fortune and attracted a record number of people, as well as a greatly complex and layered work that is masterfully thought out. It embodies both the depth of complication that is exceedingly becoming a definition of the contemporary, and also embodies the sensationalism, cult-like celebrity following and scale of the competitive contemporary market.

Through the tangle of value, scale, commodity, global awarness, political activism, personal necessity and authentic expression I often times find myself responding to the web of the art world through performance pieces that erupt into chaos. As an artist in this contemporary moment, I feel the pressures of standing out, of “bigger is better“, of marketing and branding, while I also feel and the inner desire to create for myself, to stay true to my intuitions regardless of any outside pressure. The result, is usually a chaotic  mix of materials, ideas and tensions. To me, this is the contemporary moment that we are in now, a tornado of a movement that is open to anything and everything.

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The dire conditions of our world with global warming on the horizon makes me question what art will look like with the possibility of no future. How will artists respond to that?


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