Book re­view:

Who Runs the Art­world,

Artist Profile - - CONTENTS - by Ann Fine­gan

IN THIS COL­LEC­TION OF ES­SAYS, edi­tors Brad Buck­ley and John Conomos have as­sem­bled an im­pres­sive set of au­thors, in­clud­ing Amelia Jones, John Welch­man, Bruce Bar­ber and Gre­gory Sho­lette.

The front cover fea­tures a per­for­mance protest by Lib­er­ate Tate against Bri­tish Petroleum’s spon­sor­ship of the Tate Bri­tain, ‘Hu­man Cost’, in which a fe­male fig­ure in a foetal po­si­tion lays in a sim­u­lated pool of oil in the in­te­rior of the gallery. This provoca­tive im­age sets the agenda for the themes inside and, in this re­spect, Who Runs the Art­world may be con­sid­ered a par­al­lel tome to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Ev­ery­thing (2014). Col­lec­tively, the re­sponse to the ques­tion, “who runs the art­world?” takes a de­cid­edly ac­tivist bent.

The book is or­gan­ised into three sec­tions un­der the head­ings of Money, Power and Ethics. Un­der Part I: Money, Gre­gory Sho­lette, au­thor of the in­flu­en­tial Dark Mat­ter: Art and Pol­i­tics in the Age of En­ter­prise Cul­ture (2010), reprises Carol Dun­can’s 1983 es­say, from which the book takes its ti­tle. Pay­ing homage to Dun­can, and other crit­i­cal thinkers, Lucy Lip­pard and artist-critic Hans Haacke, Sho­lette tracks how their in­sights into art­world in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and con­trol paved the way for his own con­cept of artis­tic “dark mat­ter” – a flip­ping of Dun­can’s con­cern for the “waste of thou­sands of failed artists” into the pos­i­tive con­cept of a cre­ative pool of ex­cess en­ergy sup­port­ing al­ter­na­tive art cir­cuits from a base of dark or in­for­mal economies.

Also in the sec­tion on Money, Bruce Bar­ber’s es­say mod­els the art­world on the Wall Street lo­gis­tics of a giant Ponzi scheme, sup­ported at its base by an un­der­class of vol­un­teer artists and un­der­paid art work­ers.

Coun­ter­ing with an al­ter­na­tive eco­nomic model to Wall Street, John Welch­man draws on re­bate pol­i­tics and Mauss’ the­o­ries of the gift through a fo­cus on two key art­works: Mike Kel­ley’s ‘More Love Hours That Can Ever Be Re­paid’ (1987) and the Art Re­bate project (by Louis Hock, El­iz­a­beth Sisco and David Ava­los, an un­ti­tled group of artists). Welch­man de­votes con­sid­er­able analysis to the 1993 ex­hi­bi­tion La Fron­tera/The Bor­der, for which the Art Re­bate artists re­dis­tributed $4500 of their $5000 project grant money from the Cen­tro Cul­tural Raza and the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art, San Diego, to un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant work­ers in the form of 450 10-dol­lar bills signed by the artists.

High­lights of Part II: Power, in­clude Juli Car­son’s “Libid­i­nal Economies”, which re­flects on “art in the age of bull mar­kets”. This in­cludes an analysis of artist col­lec­tive Strike Debt, which in­ter­vened di­rectly into the Wall Street mar­kets by pur­chas­ing bad debt in the se­condary debt mar­ket in or­der to ab­solve de­faulted debtors. Their ac­tion ex­posed the mar­ket prac­tice whereby bad debt is sold for pen­nies to ra­pa­cious debt col­lec­tors who, in turn, ex­tract even more in­ter­est and costs from hap­less de­fault­ers. Car­son de­scribes Strike Debt’s aim of break­ing the cy­cle whereby “one per­son’s debt is an­other per­son’s profit”.

Adam Geczy tracks the his­tor­i­cal rise of cu­ra­tors as a new hy­brid of scholar, cat­a­loguer and cre­ator of cul­tural knowl­edge, in­clud­ing a re­flec­tion on the “soft pol­i­tics” of con­tem­po­rary cu­ra­to­rial prac­tices in our era of “High Art Lite”. En­gag­ing the think­ing of Ni­et­szche and La­can to ar­gue the eth­i­cal case for cu­ra­to­rial sub­ver­sion – the “cu­ra­to­rial delin­quency” pro­posed by Buck­ley and Conomos – he analy­ses the disin­gen­u­ous dou­ble plays of con­tem­po­rary cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship, and re­calls the rev­o­lu­tion­ary and gen­uinely crit­i­cal modes of cu­ra­tor­ship of the 1930s, when Al­fred Barr Jr, found­ing direc­tor of the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in New York, cre­ated the crit­i­cally pro­duc­tive “lab­o­ra­tory ethic” of early modernism.

One of the strengths of this col­lec­tion is that it is not shy of call­ing its own to ac­count. In Part III: Ethics, Amelia Jones re­vis­its her ear­lier think­ing on the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the artist as fetish, with a cri­tique of the eco­nomic sub­strate masked by per­for­mance art, in­clud­ing Ma­rina Abramovic’s con­tem­po­rary reen­act­ments of her ear­lier per­for­mances. Her ar­gu­ments extend to other high-pro­file per­for­mance artists, Bar­ney, Emin, Kusama and Beecroft.

In one of the most provoca­tive es­says, Ian McLean chal­lenges Nige­rian-born Ok­wui En­we­zor’s lack of in­clu­sion of con­tem­po­rary Indige­nous art of the Pa­cific into the many high-pro­file in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tions he has cu­rated. Ac­knowl­edg­ing En­we­zor’s enor­mous con­tri­bu­tion in bro­ker­ing con­tem­po­rary African art onto the world stage in the 1990s, and the im­por­tance of En­we­zor’s cri­tique of Western­ism, McLean is none­the­less dis­turbed by En­we­zor’s over­sight of Indige­nous art.

Trac­ing En­we­zor’s per­sonal jour­ney “from colonised Indige­nous to post­colo­nial na­tional ci­ti­zen to transnational cos­mopoli­tan”, McLean makes a clear and sym­pa­thetic ap­praisal of what he views as En­we­zor’s po­lit­i­cal turn from the per­ceived colo­nial­ist prim­i­tivism of pre-World War Two Indige­nous African art to African modernism and, cur­rently, to global tran­scul­tur­al­ism. How­ever, as McLean con­vinc­ingly ar­gues, this has left En­we­zor with a sus­pi­cion to­wards the con­tem­po­rary Indige­nous art of the set­tler na­tions of the Pa­cific – Aus­tralia, New Zealand and Canada – a se­ri­ous cu­ra­to­rial over­sight.

Over­all, this col­lec­tion of es­says is highly rec­om­mend­able for its chart­ing of the ac­tions of for­ward-think­ing ac­tivist artists and art col­lec­tives within the broad con­text of ne­olib­er­al­ism’s per­va­sive eco­nomic in­flu­ence and, fur­ther, for sit­u­at­ing these prac­tices within ex­tended the­o­ret­i­cal de­bates that draw on mod­ernist art history, con­tem­po­rary art the­o­rists, and sem­i­nal philoso­phers, such as Marx, Ni­et­zsche, Ben­jamin, Adorno, Mauss, Ly­otard and Žižek.

Edited by Brad Buck­ley and John Conomos Ox­ford­shire: Libri Pub­lish­ing, 2017

WHO RUNS THE ART­WORLD: M O N E Y, P O W E R A N D E T H I C S 01 Richard Bell, Bell’s The­o­rem, 2002, acrylic on 25 can­vas boards, 173 x 127cm, cour­tesy the artist & Mi­lani Gallery 02 Mal­colm Mor­ley, Beach Scene, 1968, acrylic on can­vas, 279.4 x 229.6cm, cour­tesy the artist and Sper­one West­wa­ter, New York 03 Ian Fair­weather out­side his stu­dio and liv­ing quar­ters at Bri­bie Is­land, 7 June 1972, pho­tog­ra­pher Bob Barnes / Newspix 04 Bruce Bar­ber, Ponzi Art Scheme, 2008, dig­i­tal print, 30 × 20cm, cour­tesy the artist

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