ART IS ALWAYS LONELY

Text and pictures by Despina Stokou

Art is always lonely. It is lonely in its conception because you need to quiet the voices in your head. It is lonely in its process because you left it too long, and now you have to finish the damn show. It is lonely in its social context because it is ( ideally) always new, always awkward, always kind of an outlier. It is lonely in its success because everyone wants something from you, but. No one. Wants. You.

Art knows lonely.

So why has everyone been acting like a lunatic? Let's just all just take a long breath, alright. What is all that. The minute, the second the shelter at home orders altered our realities (forever?) invitations to zoom activities and live streams from seemingly every gallery and art star on the planet started attacking us relentlessly. You can chat with Johann König (do not send any portfolios though, please) and listen to a Martin Creed concert, Blum & Poe's Broadcasts, Hauser Wirth's Dispatches, David Zwirner's Platform ( which I heard is good), you can have a digital residency at Hauser & Wirth's new art lab exploring virtual reality technologies because we sure as hell are going to need them. No, you can't, it is by invite only. Let's stay real.

Our Fast Paced Lives
I am not quite sure what this whole zoom mania is trying to avoid. Empty space? The inevitable conclusion that our lives will never be the same? The nagging feeling that this is just a preview of a series of environmental crises to come? That the new normal will be adapting to always different and more limited living conditions? If you haven't been having similar thoughts, then your amount of privilege is way way too high, and you should share some of that cocaine stash for sure. In their round email canceling their (infamous) summer show, aka an excuse to flock to a Greek island for 24h, a prominent collection in Greece ( it was Deste Foundation, ok, there is only ONE prominent collection in Greece) ended with something along the lines – sooner or later this crisis will pass, and we will all be able to go back to our fast-paced lives.  Our fast-paced lives. These words stuck with me like chewing gum in hair. As a single mom of a child under 3, there is not much that is fast or paced in my life. Try getting a toddler out the door. But still… I fly to New York for shows, I fly to Europe to see my family and friends at least twice a year, and I chose to live in a place thousands of miles away from my work or my family just because I could. I don't know if this lifestyle is sustainable in a post-Corona world.

The Artworld Experience
And I guess that is the core of the fear everyone is trying to overcompensate for. How the FUCK do you sell art without experiencing it. That is a lie, of course. In actuality, the question is, how do you sell art without being able to sell an experience. How do you sell art without the hobnobbing? Because, as we all know, the art world has very little to do with art and everything to do with everything else. The lifestyle. The VIP of it all. The private parties, the private islands, the private collections, the private tours, all very publicly personal... The hotel suites. The jet setting. The drinks. The art world experience. The "exclusive access" to a world reserved just for you and people of your status. There is not much that can be "exclusive" online. And even a digital private viewing room set to run for a limited time with "exclusive access" is, after all, just a website, we all know that right.

Art is Always Lonely
Jerry Saltz may be getting a lot of things wrong – including his coffee order- but he does have a point[1]. Art does not necessarily suffer in a crisis. I mean, assuming you have some space to work, money to pay the rent, and your time is not spent in child care. But in theory (= in privilege), art does feed on chaos and disruptions in the system. On a good day, art IS a disruption. A lot of the elements of the current crisis are constant in art-making: fear, isolation. In many ways, art-making is the artist's curated effort to crash fear: the fear of having nothing to say, fear of failing to say it, fear of death, fear of self, fear of desire, fear of change. Artists are not foreigners to isolation either. Hello, darkness, my old friend. Isolation is a given in art-making, either self-imposed isolation to get your personality disorders straight every day or market-imposed isolation because you haven't quite figured out the path from the studio to the public.

The Way From The Studio To The Public
In many ways, the way from the studio to the public has not been interrupted either. How many people did really visit gallery shows IRL after all. Your friends, your collectors, a few art journalists, the neighborhood rando. But we all kind of keep up with each other's work online. Many sales take place online too. See auctions, art fair pre-sales, etc. The discussion about the sustainability of the gallery as a physical space has been ongoing, and the attempts for alternative models have been constant in the last ten years. Artsy is maybe the most successful example, Paddle 8, and whatever Simchowitz is doing. Instagram is perhaps the most comprehensive art platform at present that influences the format of the artwork and the terminology of art reviews. The platform has allegedly allowed some artists to take charge of their sales and skip the middleman, although I have yet to meet anyone who earns a living that way. There are plenty of ways to show art in quarantine conditions. Of course, public art remains unaffected, assuming there are funds, art occupying advertisement space, art in vitrines, hell, and even graffiti. A museum in Germany offers its current show To Go, on a loan agreement. There are ways. Is there a will, though.

The Art Market
What has been interrupted, however, is the cash flow towards artists and art workers. The art market shut down faster than a vagina getting an unexpected shoulder massage. "Within a week, talking to collectors about buying work went from fruitless to tasteless." Says Marc Glimcer Pace CEO reflecting on his CoronaVirus illness and the impact this crisis has had in the gallery system[2]. It is true. It is considered tasteless to be talking about money in the art world. It is even more tasteless to be needing money. Gross. So there we are, tight-lipped and kind of on hold. Art can go on; the market won't. Glimcer continues "at the moment, we have no choice but to reconsider the viability of certain unsustainable practices: the pricing, the overpromotion, the travel, the relentless catering to the lowest instincts of speculators, the ballooning overheads, the mutually destructive competition, the engineered auction records, and the desperate search for capital to burn, just to prove that you can burn it". 

And maybe that is a good thing? Could we use this opportunity to get rid of the excess and finally truly democratize art sales? Democratize ?? I know. What could that mean for an industry based on the luxury of original objects as status symbols of the 1%? A sector that, whatever the pretense of socialist discourse in our society at large, remains quite unabashedly a conservative plutocracy. Can the art market transform and become more sustainable in the future, more eco-friendly, and crisis-proof. And hey, become more art-friendly in the process too? What all the attempts above to open up access to art online ( that is capitalist for = find more buyers) have not addressed so far is what has been the cornerstone of the art market since its inception, a cornerstone and kind of an anchor—the idea of art as a product of artistic genius, a masterpiece available to the selected few. Maybe we should focus less on the objects and more on the art labor. 


Art is always lonely. And now, so are we.











 





[2] "At the moment, we have no choice but to reconsider the viability of certain unsustainable practices: the pricing, the overpromotion, the travel, the relentless catering to the lowest instincts of speculators, the ballooning overheads, the mutually destructive competition, the engineered auction records, and the desperate search for capital to burn, just to prove that you can burn it".  Marc Glimcer Pace CEO, April 2020, ArtNews.org

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