Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Flight to Quality, and a Flight from NYC

Recommended reading: a very timely article by the New York Times about the boom-bust cycle in the art market and the impact of the recent correction:

"The Boom Is Over. Long Live the Art!"

I share the author's relief that the over-hyped art market is experiencing a correction, and that this is resulting in a "flight to quality," defined as skill-based figurative art. However, I don't share the author's view that the resurgence in realistic painting is due to the fact that paintings are easy to sell: the New York Times is betraying its conceptual bias here. The resurgence of painting in the past 15 years was driven by underground reactionaries who were bucking dominant tastes, and the movement to re-connect with traditional painting practices was discouraged by both critics (with cries of "kitsch") and galleries that prefer to sell "factory" conceptual art which is easier to produce quickly in large format. It is far more cost effective for a gallery to exhibit a "found art" plastic bag installation stapled to the wall alongside a pretentious essay (I'm not making this up, by the way) than it is to invest 150 hours over 2 months on the "slow art" process of making an 18x24 inch oil painting.

NYC Studios: Casualties of the Downturn

That being said, artists are really suffering right now and leaving the city in droves as studio rents and maintenance costs have remained high while art sales vaporize. The anecdotal evidence is accelerating: next Saturday I'm invited to attend the going-away party for a hyper-talented New York Academy of Art Postgraduate Fellow who is moving to Maryland on a permanent "sabbatical."

For those who care about the grass roots of NYC's cultural ecosystem, it's time to think globally and act locally: I'm organizing a regular salon event with the legendary celebrity fine art photographer Gilles Larrain to raise consciousness about this issue and engage people in the studio community. Here's the press release and web site, spread the word!


Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Upset: Young Contemporary Art

Gestalten has just published a survey of the resurgence of figurative realism that is now overturning the art world, spotlighting the torrent of young contemporary artists who view late 20th century Modernism as a dead-end movement that has reached its logical conclusion and exhausted itself. This new avant-garde is pulling off a come-from-behind "upset" as they turn their backs on the conceptual conceits of the art establishment by adopting the skillful execution last seen in 17th and 19th century painting.

In the late 1990s, Classical Realist ateliers perfected their archaeological recovery effort, and now young artists are reaping the rewards by pointing their bazooka-sized skill sets at contemporary subject matter inspired by science fiction, comic book illustration, street art, and other sources. The Upset offers a who's-who of this broad movement with interviews, biographies and beautifully photographed artwork.

Taking the art world by storm, artists of The Upset like David Kassan and Mark Ryden (who draws inspiration from post-modernism's whipping boys Bruegel, Ingres and Bouguereau) are running circles around the current generation of institutional elites who took great pleasure in declaring the death of painting in the 1960s and '70s.

It seems that the dustbin of history has been flipped over unexpectedly, and if the trends documented in The Upset continue on their current trajectory, in twenty years we may find ourselves looking back on late Modernism as an odd interruption in the continuing two-thousand-year historical narrative of Western painting.