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The new year is always a time of idealism. We want to improve ourselves, lose weight, find success in a new career: everyone has high aspirations. Why shouldn’t we do the same for the art world? Here’s a list of resolutions I have for the contemporary art community in 2011. There are some suggestions, some criticisms and some predictions, but what they all have in common is a desire to foster a better public artistic dialogue, free of some of the snares we encountered over this past year.
1. Museums should stop catering to special interests
From the New Museum Skin Fruit fluff show to questionable policies at the Metropolitan, I’m definitely tired of the collector-retrospective as museum exhibition. It’s morally compromised, not to mention bad. Lately, we’ve also had museums shirking their public duties by focusing in on the reactions of a small group of people, with the Wojnarowicz scandal in particular. 2011 should be the year that museums start remembering their core audiences.
2. Artists will take greater control over the presentation of their work
The internet and new media have enabled artists to take an ever more active role in how their own work is perceived. Often a tumblr, twitter or blog is enough to give artists a newly powerful voice in the larger artistic dialogue, and gives artists far greater access to their audiences. This year, that dialogue should expand even further with more artist-driven conversation and crowd-funding initiatives for artists’ projects.
3. Either everyone can be a critic, or no one can
Going along with that last one, now that everyone has a voice online, we should all learn how to use it, and use it responsibly. Anyone can comment on a blogpost or publish something trashing an artist’s work, but we have to be aware of the internet as a medium for criticism with its own boundaries, rules of propriety and etiquette. If we can’t set up a community that allows everyone to express themselves safely, then no one will really be able to be a critic. Dialogue is either open or it’s nothing.
4. Stop confusing celebrity for quality
This one goes for Jeffrey Deitch at LA MoCA as much as it does for the conflation of celebrity backing and museum “sexiness”. Celebrities don’t make great museums; great curators and researchers and administrators do. Sexiness is all well and good, and it helps attract funding, but what we really need is high quality exhibitions with real, original thought behind them.
5. Curtail the star curator trend
Look, didn’t we go through this with starchitects? The term simultaneously created and destroyed a generation of architects that began to look too big for their elaborately sculptured britches. We don’t need the same fame bubble to kill off intelligent curating. The best curators are never going to be the exhibition auteurs who travel the world dipping into different art scenes (I’m looking at you, HUO), they are the scholars who take enough time to think through as well as feel out the art they’re showing. Let’s not let star curators take over the museum world as well as the overheated biennial circuit.
6. Stop equating auction prices with success
Everyone remember the hullabaloo that followed the first auction price returns of this past year? The prices skyrocketed again, and maybe the art market’s back, at least for those blue-chippers, but that doesn’t mean we’re back on stable ground. Accusations of price-fixing followed the Philips de Pury sale of Andy Warhol’s “Men in Her Life” for $63 million and Artinfo ran an investigative expose on what might have driven the astronomical sales of emerging artist Jacob Kassay at auction. High auction prices don’t immediately imply success, nor can we even really trust them as economic indicators with all these games going on.
7. Commercial galleries will embrace museum-quality shows
Gagosian gallery proved that commercial art spaces can pull off museum-style exhibitions without sacrificing credibility, insight or public benefit. The late Picasso show of March-June 2009 and this year’s Rauschenberg combines exhibition were two decisive gestures that proved galleries could stand up to museum’s seriousness. This development also means that museums should step up to the gauntlet thrown down by galleries. Be more daring: we, the viewing public, actually enjoy it. We like drama, we like punch, and we like shows that take the work and its audience seriously. These commercial exhibitions provided a visceral experience with art and artists often missing from overly didactic museum exhibitions.
8. Make sure the Whitney transition goes well
The Whitney is finally making a decision to move downtown to keep company with the High Line, but the question remains what will happen to the original Breuer building. This will probably be the most enduring museum story of 2011 and is doubtless one of the most important things happening in the NYC museum world. Here’s to hoping that the gradual development of the plan to move goes without any huge hitches (or scandals) and that a good use is found for the older space.
9. Stop censorship before it snowballs
This new year, let’s not have any oblivious museum overlords removing pieces from shows just because someone suggested that controversial art might offend. Great art often offends, and museums exist to make sure that though some might disagree with art or artists’ importance, they remains well-protected for the future. In the case of the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly,” everything went wrong that could have gone wrong. In 2011, let’s see Smithsonian secretary Clough speak up about his decision, and structures put into place to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
10. Avoid another culture war
Also see above. If the path of the last few months is any indication, we are in for some fighting over art in 2011. While keeping up the good fight to keep art in the public dialogue, we must remember that there is more at stake than the legacies of artists or the careers of curators. The preservation art’s importance will determine the future of art in our communities and our history. Let’s make sure that whatever happens, the art world doesn’t lose its head, become reactionary, or forget the end goal: to reaffirm art’s relevance in public discourse.