Welcome to our second special Friday Tabs. Today, Kyle Chayka is here to fill us in on the world of the arts. Kyle is a freelance writer for places like Businessweek and The New Republic, and he started a journalist co-working space called Study Hall, which you should definitely check out if you’re a freelancer in NY, or maybe anywhere.
“Dear friend, please read more media to increase your capacity for self-loathing and inaction!”
— William (@Powhida) December 10, 2015
Every December the art world gathers in Miami for a bacchanal of capitalism called Art Basel Miami Beach, which is not just one art fair, but a metastasizing crowd of them, with more tents than a souk. Over the past few years, the commercial art world kept it fairly quiet, while auction prices at Christie’s and Sotheby’s escalated. This year, however, the enthusiasm has bubbled over. Miami 2015 was marked, ‘80s-style, by “people openly doing lines of cocaine in the bathroom,” according to Artnet.
Like any large gathering of people today, Art Basel is slowly being overwhelmed by brands, transcending “fine art” and approaching the broad cultural singularity of “creativity.” WeWork held an event with the Andy Warhol Museum! Target sponsored a bunch of Target-branded art! Adrien Brody had an exhibition!
Then, a woman was brutally stabbed by an Upper East Side architecture student with a X-Acto knife in the main fair tent. The incident was inexplicable, the injuries weren’t life-threatening, and no one else was hurt. But it took on a strange sheen as onlookers mistook the attack for art: “A guy walked up to me and said, ‘I thought I saw a performance, and I thought it was fake blood, but it was real blood,’” one dealer told The Miami Herald.
It’s hard not to take the surreal stabbing as a metaphor, or a Franzen-worthy (Franzenian? Franzenesque? Birdlike?) event rife with obvious symbolism, so who am I to resist? The celebrity-brand-art bubble will pop. The crop of young artists whose prices have blown up under collectors like Stefan Simchowitz will deflate. Miami will shrink, and the Museum of Modern Art will fail to build its glittering tower. Meanwhile, Damien Hirst is straining to retain any shred of credibility by opening his own gallery, but then when wasn’t he trying too hard? And Shia LeBeouf is still trying to attract the art world’s attention by doing bad riffs on Marina Abramovic, whose art also consists of doing bad riffs on Marina Abramovic, so maybe Shia is just being authentic after all.
If you want to go see some art in New York City over the holidays, I would suggest Picasso’s sculptures at the Museum of Modern Art or Jim Shaw’s explosion of pop-cultural cynicism at the New Museum. Oh yeah, and an NYPD sketch artist has a show up too.
While media companies were busy engineering new levees around the raging streams of venture capital this year, some pretty weird things have also happened in art media. Art in America magazine, founded in 1913, was sold to ARTnews magazine, founded 1902. Is there any media more heritage? The ARTnews-AiA conglomerate will be listed on the Polish stock exchange and owned by Sergey Skaterschikov, the Russian CEO of art market advisory company called Skate’s, who once attempted a hostile takeover of Artnet, an auction data company and news site. And you thought VoxBCUniversalFeed was complicated. (It gets worse when you realize that these are most of the major industry publications covering the art world as “news.”)
But if you’d like to read some good recent art writing, Ben Davis wrote on Greece’s art scene in crisis for Frieze. Orit Gat investigated whether the Internet has changed art criticism: “Criticism generates cultural capital, which in turn is translated into capital.” Teju Cole’s ongoing New York Times Magazine column “On Photography” is a major bright spot in mainstream publications, which have either forgotten they have had the same art critic for decades, or have abandoned art criticism completely.
The main feeling I have about “the Arts” lately, or maybe about everything, is that they are composed of an ever-contracting loop of hype and commerce and hot takes with little room left for sincere appreciation. That’s why Dayna Evans’s meditation on what the DSM might someday call Content Exhaustion feels so relevant. “A digital loop-the-loop,” indeed.
My survival strategy for this cultural excess is to embrace boredom—the absence of engaging content rather than its Twitter-fed omnipresence. To that end I’ve been reading a three-volume history of the Byzantine empire, which is about as boring a reading experience as you can get (outside of My Struggle, am I right, LOL!). But there’s someone in the granular historical narrative I found myself identifying with. The 10th-century Italian Bishop of Cremona, Liudtprand, traveled to Constantinople to arrange a royal marriage between the Byzantine and Roman courts, but he wasn’t exactly successful, and left Constantinople in a huff. The parting words he left in his travelogue communicate a kind of urbane urban disgust that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever contemplated Saying Goodbye to All That in New York, or San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or Miami, perhaps after getting shanked in an art gallery, or having your writing not go viral enough:
I boarded my vessel and left the city that was once so rich and prosperous and is now such a starveling, a city full of lies, tricks, perjury, and greed, a city rapacious, avaricious, and vainglorious.
Same. He would’ve been so good on Twitter.
~Lurking in the tabs, Hollywood superstar Shia Labeouf~
Thanks Kyle! I think I speak for everyone in the #content industry when I say: it’s reassuring to think that if I get stabbed at work, my coworkers will probably not assume it’s a performance. Today in Tabs will be back next week on Fast Company and in your email. Until then, keep it avant-garde kids.