As art fairs boom and galleries struggle, is there hope for artists (and the art geeks who love them)?
But gathering together seems to present its own risks, too. Superstorm Sandy served an ominous warning about the geographic and physical contingency of the architectures where art is both sold and guarded. This year we witnessed the mass wipeout of both artworks and small galleries caused by a single (albeit badass) storm, literally swamping the world's highest concentration of art dealers and contemporary artworks in the hemisphere's most important art neighborhood. Many of those galleries and artworks will not resurface. For every one David Zwirner, with his stable of well-insured, blue chip artworks, there are a dozen small galleries each with emerging artists who just lost entire seasons of work and rent.
And I can't not mention the January suicide of Mike Kelley, a hero to me and most artists I know. His death was a somber reminder that the art world is still inhabited by, and is shelter for, troubled hearts who sometimes can't outrun their own demons, no matter how successful or beloved they become.
Yet there's hope too. I saw some great shows this year, in museums, in galleries and, yes, at Burning Man, where Matthew Schultz' breathtaking Pier 2, a 250-foot, full-size pier complete with shipwrecked Spanish galleon, hit the perfect note of surreality and absolute joy. Both the Jean Paul Gaultier show at the de Young and Cindy Sherman show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art reminded us that institutions can dazzle when they set their minds to it, and Ben Kinmont at SFMOMA demonstrated that even if you're stuffed into the mezzanine reading room, you can still pack a conceptual wallop. I also loved Mark Benson's show at Ever Gold, Liam Everett at Altman Siegel, and Brent Green at Steven Wolf, to name just a few.
Where art making intersects the public there were bright spots, too. I mean, sure it's a publicity gimmick that's in practice all over the country, but somehow Oakland Art Murmur became a thing this year, an authentically energetic collection point that now draws thousands of people to Uptown Oakland each month. And tech continues to make inroads into the decidedly old school art machine: Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Paddle8, Art.sy, and a slew of other web tools made following, researching, and funding creative projects more democratically accessible. Indeed, I'm increasingly hopeful that from tech somewhere we'll see an antidote to the increasingly oligarchical practices that sustain the current art market. *