Reactor

Art-World Cliques

by Kyle Chayka on September 14, 2012

Each taste appears to have their own universe of flavor. (from Vintage Confections’ Etsy shop, via Colossal)

In an essay just published on his blog, gallerist Ed Winkleman writes about “the dialogue” in the context of the art world, a murky concept that seems to encompass everything from critical conversations of aesthetics to growing currents in contemporary art to the ongoing filtration of the art community into a disparate set of cliques each united by their own niche interests. It’s this last facet that most piqued my interest.

“The dialogue,” Winkleman writes, “means different things to different people.” He continues,

“There are, for example, dialogues that are international in scope, regional, national, and local; dialogues that are medium-based; dialogues that are conceptually based; and on and on to the point that you might be forgiven for concluding “the dialogue” is a useless term in discussing practical matters.”

The gallerist, who is known for uncovering some of the behind-the-scenes action of being a dealer through his blog, is insightful when he describes the utility of the term when it comes to determining whether a particular gallery will gain entrance into a commercial fair or not. He writes that if “Gallery X” can’t get into “trendy Art Fair Y,” it’s probably because the gallery’s program “falls outside ‘the dialogue.’” In other words, that gallery’s niche, or brand, doesn’t match the niche or brand that the fair occupies (the “dialogue” they’re involved in), which is established by the galleries that already participate.

Let’s unpack that a little bit. If a gallery isn’t a good fit for a fair, it won’t get in — that’s a recognizable fact. Winkleman doesn’t present this as a good or a bad thing; it’s just reality. As Winkleman has advised artists to be aware of a gallery’s program before submitting their work, he says that galleries must be aware of what their programs are and how they fit into a greater picture when asking to join a fair. Otherwise, a rejection is that much more likely. Each artist, gallery, and fair is participating in their own dialogues, and the more those match up, the more effective the partnership will be.

The consequences of this reality are that as the art world grows larger, with ever more artists and ever more galleries joining an already-huge number of exhibitions, fairs, and biennales, the community as a whole is becoming increasingly segregated into a collection of different dialogues, or niches. We might as well call them “cliques” or “scenes” — circles around certain types of art, certain levels of industry, or certain social tribes. Winkleman dances around the social organization of the art world, preferring to assign the “dialogues” aesthetic boundaries. But there’s an insider-outsider power structure to all of our dealings in the art world that we can all perceive. What we now have, however, are more circles to be inside.

These cliques occur simultaneously, sometimes intersecting, sometimes not. There’s the painting clique, the internet art clique, and the new media clique (one that has historically had a very difficult time reaching the mainstream art-world dialogue, and continues to set itself apart, for better or worse). There’s a blue-chip clique, a lo-fi hipster clique, a Lower-East-Side clique, in fact, there are dozens. Like planets in the explosion following the Big Bang, as the art world grows the cliques both grow in size and grow farther apart.

Winkleman compares the ebb and flow of dialogues in the art world to weather, with bigger artists causing metaphorical “hurricanes” in the global system. I would prefer to think of it in terms of gravitational systems, with cliques warping the areas around them, pulling in the fringes and turning into inescapable forces. We’re all concerned with the gravity of our own planets, because the pull of others doesn’t really impact us.

“Dialogues,” “cliques,” or “gravity;” no matter what term you use, the situation doesn’t sound like a recipe for a more holistic, comprehensive, or open dialogue. Maybe that’s just the brand-conscious moment we orbit in.

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  • http://twitter.com/derrick_q Derrick Quevedo

    The art world is pretty much a big high school. That’s the perfect metaphor.

    • http://www.chrismillerwebsite.wordpress.com/ ChristopherM

      HIGH SCHOOL
      IS
      OVER!
      if you want it:)

    • http://www.chrismillerwebsite.wordpress.com/ ChristopherM

      @twitter-23821599:disqus My comment above isn’t a rebuttal to yours, btw … just a pro-independence slogan riff I couldn’t resist. The social/gravitational business in Kyle’s article – especially the “inescapable” and some of the warping bits – can be nasty, though. Tricky stuff.

      • http://twitter.com/derrick_q Derrick Quevedo

        No offense taken, man!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kim-Matthews/586667086 Kim Matthews

    Is the art world really that different from what it was before, or do we just notice it more because of the increase in artists, dealers, and media? Do we really need a more holistic, comprehensive, open dialog? Maybe the good news is we’re finally going to start thinking in terms of art worldS, and stop holding our breaths, praying to get into the right galleries, trying to land that career-making museum show or to defeat the elitism that has defined “the art world” from the very beginning. I just want to earn a living and get my work to people whose lives will be enriched by it; I don’t necessarily need the blessing of the art establishment to feel successful.

    • http://twitter.com/chaykak Kyle Chayka

      Maybe thinking about ‘art worlds’ instead of one art world is good. I definitely think that’s the case with the new media community, where the current model is so much different from what’s happening in the commercial gallery scene. They are getting their work out there to people already, without the necessary support of the establishment.

    • http://www.chrismillerwebsite.wordpress.com/ ChristopherM

      I really like the “art worldS” thing, Kim. I agree, i think it has always been that way in reality. Maybe some day, that plurality idea will be so acceptable that the strict reverence for some of the lines between things will fade a bit, for both artists and audiences. Not to eliminate the real differences – which would suck, in my opinion – just to encourage casual crossover + curiousity all around. I like a bit of rock, a bit of hip hop, old blues, folk, etc … I feel no need to make my different tastes jive with each other as one comprehensive and holistic taste (let the marketing people sweat that baloney), or force them into a final authoritative competition over which genre form itself is the most valuable and important (devotion to one-stop shopping is fun and convenient for a select group of sellers + shoppers with tired feet … but it can involve unfortunate omissions), or demand a singular product that is a perfect rock/hip hop/blues/folk/etc hybrid either (but I might be curious to hear it).

      I’m a big fan of a more open dialogue, though. Especially worthwhile ones, among whoever wants to participate in them.

      It’s a win-win for everyone but those with a vested interest in a capitalized and centralized Art World. Which, I believe, is nearly everyone on Earth when you look at the numbers. Actually I haven’t seen any numbers like that, and I could be wrong, but an attitude among the general public – as well as artists, even the ‘Art World’ – that is closer to the diversity of opinions/perspectives on the ground might be more popular all around. Certainly better if not more ‘popular’, in my opinion. That would be cool.

  • http://jdsiazon.wordpress.com/ JD Siazon

    Whatever vague and whimsical dialogues exist among the denizens of the various so-called art worlds has obviously more to do with shameless obsequiousness to the intellectual status quo for means of gross social self-preservation than poetry. Nobody’s measly opinions are worth squat unless they come in the concrete shape of modern literature which if truly insightful is by nature magnanimous and irreproachable.

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