What is the Art World?


If you read the mainstream press, you might conclude that the art world consists of only a handful of high-rolling names—big collectors, megabucks art dealers, painters and sculptors and performance artists who now mingle with socialites, fashion people, and Hollywood. But in more than two decades of reporting, I’ve come to see that there are myriad art worlds, from the energetic creative frenzy of Bushwick (and I will have a podcast on that soon) to the rarefied worlds of museum curators and scholars to the hundreds, probably thousands, of artists who make their homes and livings far from the New York scene.

It often seems to me as though the contemporary art world in many ways mirrors the economy at large. There is an upper one percent that realizes extravagant sums in sales, enjoys an expensive lifestyle, circulates at Met costume galas, and makes regular appearances in the style sections of the press (and it matters not a jot if the critics don’t support the work).

Then there is an uneasy “middle class” of artists. Some years are boom years—inclusion in the Whitney or other biennials, prizes, healthy sales, museum interest, good reviews, interested collectors. But many years are just a matter of slogging away in the studio, showing as regularly as possible, and maybe finding time to network, nurture friendships, and tend to a family. Into this category falls an artist like my friend Karin F. Giusti, whose recent installation at Smack Mellon in Brooklyn was a haunting memorial to her partner, a fireman who died from the fallout of working at Ground Zero after 9/11. Karin’s work is highly labor intensive, and so her installations have been few (but memorable) over the years. Nonetheless, she has maintained studios in Brooklyn and upstate New York, shown in biennials, enjoys a large circle of friends and extended family, and has taught at Brooklyn College as a tenured professor for many years.

That is what I call a hugely successful life as an artist, possibly a great deal more rewarding than those of Messrs. Hirst and Koons, because it was unsupported by buckets of cash and a cadre of high-end collectors.

And then there is great bottom tier of “working-class artists,” every bit as dedicated to their calling but perhaps having a harder time making ends meet, so they work as art handlers or gallery assistants, bartenders or wait staff, or—God forbid!–sometimes as writers.

But even for the gainfully rewarded of this art world, and in spite of an explosion of art fairs and interest in art, times are nonetheless precarious. I hear of galleries closing every day, and the 2008 “Great Recession” seems by no means over for many. Teaching posts are harder to come by, studio space in major metropolitan areas—especially New York—keeps getting more expensive, and the art press continues to consolidate or disappear.

This is part of why I founded Vasari21—there is too little information out there for aspiring and established artists, too many artists who fall “under the radar,” and not many places to connect in an increasingly virtual world. But bear in mind that this is also your site, as I will emphasize over and over, and I need your feedback in comments and letters to me to know what people you’d like me to interview, what topics I should be covering, and where your interests lie.

Thanks again and again for your interest and support.


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