Earlier this month, I sent out a call for comments on #Rank, a project created by artists William Powhida and Jennifer Dalton, who were the masterminds behind #Class (Winkleman Gallery, February 2010).

I attended each day of the four day event at the Seven Art Fair (though never more than two hours each visit) and was struck by how much it mimicked the chaos of the art fair and its many competing voices. Parked in a rather well trafficked location at a well-attended fair, #Rank was very unlike #Class in that it was also a magnet for activity and it had a lot to cover over a very short period of time. I felt like there was little (or no) time to reflect on the ideas and return with new thoughts to contribute to the discussion. But #Rank, for me, was more than the events and lectures, it was about the community. I attended #Rank to know what others were thinking and what concerned them. I met some people for the first time at #Rank, while I reconnected with others (some of whom I first met at #Class). At the end of the day, the whole series made me feel more informed about lives in the art world that don’t often get heard.

The following are the responses we received from across the country and around the world. Some are by event participants, while others from observers (both in Miami and remotely). They represent various perspectives on#Rank (with minimal editing and in no particular order).

Also, tonight there is a post-Miami #Rank discussion (6-9pm) at Winkleman Gallery for those who would like to continue the discussion.

A Facebook status update regarding #Rank by Peter Dobey:

#Rank was comforting, moderately productive, frustrating at times and actually quite fun. But most importantly it can’t be hung in a cubicle.

Joanie San Chirico:

#Rank was a “home base” for many of us. Even though logistics were crazy, it was good to know that I could always see a familiar face at #Rank. Because of all the other fairs however, I was not able to attend as many #Rank events as I would have liked.

Jen and Bill put a ton of time and effort into #Rank and I do think it’s extremely important to continue the conversation. I appreciate that they, along with Ed and Murat, gave us that platform, but because of the incredible amount of other distractions, #Class was more successful in that respect.

I hope that this is not the end of the project, much more needs to be said.

Andrew Ohanesian, whose “Mandie’s” art work/confessional bar [pictured above] was an integral part of #Rank:

“first one’s on the house…”

Man Bartlett:

Rhe #Rank-athon was as chaotic as all the fairs happening around it, yet at least 10 times as interesting. It helped that the space it was in was already alternative. #Rank felt like an alternative to the alternative. Being a part of #class, the main difference I found was that for #Class there were few other things competing for my time. #Rank was during literally hundreds of other events and fairs. That said, any time I was elsewhere I felt a pull back to the tables and discussions. I found myself following the @SEVENmiami account a lot to get a pulse of what was happening. One thing that might have been interesting would be to do #Rank the week after everyone gets back from Miami. I do feel that the quality of conversations (at least the ones I sat in on) had evolved from #Class and felt more productive.

Austin Thomas:

#Rank made Miami feel artist-friendly again. It was ok to be a “cow at the creamery,” or just a little artist catching some sun and some thoughtful sentences on everything from “Regionalism” (Christopher Ho’s talk), to a critics round table and I enjoyed making cocktails in the middle of a mini side fair with friends!

A fortune from Garric Simonsen’s project “Fortune 500” at #Rank events. (click for more info)

Mark River:

We laughed. We cried. We sent pizza. (link)

Maritza Ruiz Kim:

If Art Basel Miami Beach was the fabricated island retreat for a summery breeze in the winter-time, then #Rank was the mainland where artists returned to hash out the day to day reality of making art in the beast of the machine.

There was no hiding from the workings of the art market, backroom priorities, gender/age/location biases, critiques of art critique, or the overwhelming number of artists that keep producing … stuff. The experience was hardly pretty, but it was absolutely necessary. Kate Sutton for Artforum.com quoted a “BHQFer” (what? you’d have to read the article) at Art Basel Conversations as saying “We’re all in this dark abyss of trying to figure out what being an artist means, and maybe we just need to be in a room with other people who are trying to figure it out.” So, #Rank at Seven in the Wynwood District is where that happened. And if you were (un)lucky (kidding! I mean lucky!) enough to be there for a big chunk of time (as I did), the whole thing (gasp!), or even just for part of it, you had the chance to take a step back from the over-the-top Miami art fair experience. I flew from San Francisco to have a piece performed in this event without knowing a soul, and I returned home with my soul intact. It was totally worth it.
p.s. I’ve blogged other thoughts (although I’m not finished) at my website.

Jesse Lambert:

My response is pretty specific because I only experienced half of Greg Allen’s “Gala as Art,” 20 minutes or so of the critic’s round table, and Lisa Levy’s ego analysis. Appreciated Allen’s presentation. It was very informative and liked his accessible presentation. Had trouble getting up to speed with the critics round table since I missed so much, but was surprised by how much everyone disagreed. Really enjoyed Lisa Levy’s project. Before hand I thought it was pretty simplistic, but when I walked around Basel with my ego evaluation card hanging from my neck, the subversiveness of it hit home. I was surprised by how many people stooped to read my card, trying to figure out my credentials only to walk away mystified. That’s when I realized that the “fake” ID card really exposed all the issues of status and privilege at art fairs that are so tangible yet unspoken. I felt pretty uncomfortable wearing it because of the reactions it elicited, but felt compelled to keep it on until I left Basel. It was a weird experience, because I felt like I was kind of manipulating people, but in the end it seemed like a good experiment because those with open minds didn’t seem to mind the joke and those that did I was glad to be rid of.

Sharon Butler:

I decided not to go to Miami because I’m working a some new paintings and I didn’t want the work to get sidetracked. As I worked, I watched bits of the #Rank via video feed and tweeted regular updates of my progress to the #Rank feed — proving that you can be both a recluse and an exhibitionist at the same time.

Secrets being shared at #Rank.

Kianga Ellis:

The main reason I was dying to go to Miami this year was because I wanted to be there for #Rank. #Class was a very important experience for me for a lot of reasons. I was able to go to Miami on behalf of a client, which then ironically meant I could not much attend or follow #Rank even though I was in Miami. I would not have missed it if I had not been there. Isn’t that strange?

Michelle Vaughn:

I could not view the chalk board or any projections. Mostly the sound was OK (unless it was round table talks), so I could hear better than see. But I can give a general observation –

I liked the concept of #Rank because while the shit-show of VIP parties and opulence took place for Art Basel, Bill, and Jen were able to cultivate a group of artists who questioned the hierarchy and ridiculous underbelly of the industry and the fair. On Friday, the unemployment report for November was released and was increased to 9.8%, meanwhile dealers in Miami pronounced “the art market is back.” Galleries were selling out. Reading blogs/reports regarding the extreme excess, and the parties in particular, was nauseating. Obvs. not against art sales (hell no!), but from what I could glean the work sold was rich artists getting richer. I suppose it always is, but the spirit of #Rank seemed spot on, feet on the ground.

The #Rank program held up the mirror to the circus and the industry. It was an outlet for artists and writers to address the how absurd their position (or rank) in the art world is, and how the art world (and those who fuel it) does not operate like any other industry. So as an artist watching via the web, it was interesting to hear stories (rejection letters were hilarious) and observations from different points of view, giving me, at least, a wider perspective. I hope the point was not to moan or complain about the hard knocks of being an artist in the big bad art world, but to deconstruct and reexamine the insane system which surrounds art.

Artists spend a lot of time isolated, so it was cool to be involved and share information, responding with tweets while following the twitter feed and watching it stream live. I even powered up my laptop and put on my headphones inside MOMA for Greg Allen’s  presentation, [which] was excellent.

My only real complaint was the lack of bandwidth and better technical equipment. If #Rank had an extra tech to help all weekend and more sophisticated equipment, I bet Jen and Bill would have been able to generate a larger web audience. But resources were limited and the building didn’t have internet, which was unfortunate.

I hope the highlights will be properly documented and will get posted on YouTube and on websites for further viewing. Sorry Hrag, wish I could give you more juicy-juice, but it’s hard to be properly critical when I could only absorb bits and pieces. I was also totally focused on the David Wojnarowicz situation at the NPG, so that became a giant brain suck.

Emily Auchincloss:

Just a humble presenter’s opinion: something like this needs to be ongoing, needs to be given life and venues and money and support. Thank god it’s being given press!

Why we need it: because few question what the “art world” is, and very, very few within the art world want to listen to the answers. The “system,” from artist to curator to dealer to critic to collector, is uncritical towards itself and has had no opposing or at least challenging voice for quite some time. Apathy reigns. #Rank, through humor, ridiculousness, and total seriousness, pokes at the white, hairy (or in this case perhaps tanned and hairless) underbelly of the system. May it grow into a movement.

Hear hear for #rank!

Debbie Ainscoe:

I didn’t go, in hindsight I wish I had gone!  Reasons: Specifically for #Rank. Explanation below:

Absorbed through my monitor in chilly UK, for me the #Rank discussions and events, highlighted, by its very being there, the large Art Fair market-bias in bold relief: An antithesis sitting against the backdrop of Art Basel Miami; The next party, The event, The Art (all, I imagine to be mentally-mapped within 30 seconds of landing by some form of clique-osmosis). With the peripheral gestures of the not so errrrm *The* Art giving The Fair complimentary authenticity. Not that there isn’t GOOD art plus fantastic backdrops for it … I guess though it is a sort of Cannes of the art world? but with more emphasis on Block-Buster, than World-Indie. So It’s the #Rank idea; the time to join the dots up thing, that I believe is what they aimed to point out here. By showing and discussing the lottery like ethos, purported by these overwhelmingly large fairs toward art and artists aspiration. I am amazed that #Rank got this over in live debate as the practical trips and switches of short term space sharing are never easy. But The Seven space looked The Biz, like you could immerse yourself and drift through or at least go at your own pace (plus a healthy lack of x-ray eyed sales people assessing your credit rating at 20 paces). No need to troll around with the crowds in an IKEA like stupor through vast thorough fares and booths with increasing signs of ADHD. Either way the Fair seems a lot to take in critically. It must be a definite buzz – but also a colossal – and yet time restrict atmosphere of get-it-while-you-can, a posh Supermarket Sweep.  Within all this the #Rank space showed that these are still very necessary things to point out. The high-art, low-art, emperor’s new clothes, star rated this and star rated that. Alongside the fact that artist’s moneyed-recompense are not mutually exclusive – that they are all part of the wider equation that needs discussing. And what better place for #Rank to set up their stall and get to grips with that!

Stephen Truax:

Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida’s #Rank analyzed, deconstructed, and proposed solutions to the current state of the art world from myriad points-of-view.  The art market and the orgy of fashion, money and social status that is Miami Art Basel and satellite fairs was the perfect staging point.  They basically transported the Bushwick art scene along with our very own portable bar, and innumerable Twitter/blogosphere sympathizers — to Miami to talk — seriously, earnestly — while surrounding us was this incredible orgy.  Being away from SEVEN, you felt alienated, alone, awash in a sea of capitalist, consumerist insanity, not a part of the art world.  When sitting at that table of #Rank, by god, you are the real fuckin’ thing.  People sat down to listen to what you had to say.  And there was a curious gnawing feeling while you were sitting at the table, at least for me, one of the most junior artists present, that I was missing some of the spectacle …

Laura Isaac, whose “Where do YOU #Rank” was part of #Rank (illustrated above):

#Rank was an incredible way to dive into the art fair world. It brought artists from all over, with disparate points of view, experiences, and goals together (literally & virtually). I didn’t agree with everyone. I was distinctly annoyed by some, I created lasting friendships with others, and fell somewhere in between with everyone else. Yes, there was not enough time to adequately work through most discussions. No, we were not pretty. Yes, it was awkward. No, it was not #Class. I don’t necessarily think these are problems. #Rank needs to be approached without preconceived notions of what it should be. Jen Dalton & Bill Powhida can guide it along (which they actually did a fantastic job of), but ultimately it will be what it needs to be. #Rank still feels necessary. Miami felt like the practicum portion of our training, the grit and gore. Now it’s time to do the autopsy and process everything that was dredged up those 4 wild days.

I also covered various projects from #Rank in my Miami “summary” blog posts:

Post 1 had “Art Assault” by Paul Steen Blake & “Mandies” by Andrew Ohanesian.

Post 2 had “Interview” by Maritza Ruiz Kim, “Gender, Age, & Location Bias in the Art Market” by Joanie, Rebecca, & Laelia, and “Project Present” by Stephen Truax.

Post 3 had “Building Backbones” by Diedra Krieger, the Creative Capital discussion, and Bernard Klevickas’s talk “Labor Class.”

Post 4 had “Post Traumatic Art Disorder” by Emily Auchincloss and the Critics’ Round Table.

I think aside from Jen & Bill I ended up at the most #Rank events. I didn’t write about all of them but ended up with a pretty comprehensive look at #Rank. I have not written about my own project yet. I was hoping to do that self-crit next week.

Jason Andrew, who is pictured above at Austin Thomas’s “A Legend In Your Own Mind” event (second from right) lecture :

William Powhida + Jen Dalton’s #RANK plays a critical role in furthering the artist’s own interest in the past, current, and future world of art.  These discussions, not unlike those of The Club of the 1950s, fills a an enormous void in the art world where artist is a commodity, their products sold and traded. #RANK’s spontaneous discussions, just like the historic Club, challenge the artist to suggest and discuss their lives, their ideas, their work, their place outside the studio. All this with a object to brace the artist’s integrity and break the grasp of tradition. Powhida + Dalton, along with the many cast of brilliant artists have punctured a hole the the art establishment where the artist has the power.

John Pyper:

It was a blast to get to sit on a round table with everyone at #Rank. I was the most jr. person there by a long shot, but I’m glad we all got to share our experiences and explore the issue that is criticism equally.

Pyper also sent along a tongue-in-cheek report on the fairs here.

All photos in this post are by the author.

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

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