On the Eighth Day They Critiqued the Ethnography
Sarah Thornton came full circle Tuesday, offering her take on the art world in CalArts room F200, the site of chapter two and Michael Asher’s infamous critique class. (The class is so mythic, that the twelve-hour critique Thornton sat in on and described in the book morphed to fifteen hours in the lecture).
Last night the room was being used for the visiting artist lecture series, and in the back of the room next to the video camera that records the presentation, were remnants of the previous iteration of Post Studio Art.
Most interesting was the focus on validation in each of the overlapping magesteria depicted in the book. Besides California Institute of the Arts' classroom, other chapters focused on a meeting between MOCA and Blum & Poe at Murakami’s studio, the Venice Biennale, the Turner Prize and the like. In the case of the commercial spaces, validation can take the form of pounds sterling; in the case of Artforum, caché (and a premium) comes with ads placed in the first 30% of the magazine.
What seems evident to me—though not explicitly referenced in the book—is the anxiety that is the evil twin of validation. For the auction houses, it can come form setting the estimates too high and having work bought in. For gallerists it can come from selecting a stable that isn’t picked for biennials or awards, and from being pushed down the rungs in the art-fair-satellite hierarchy.
While Thornton did speak of this anxiety among collectors, my sense is that in the most opinionated curator or magazine editor is a poker player unsure enough of her hand that she’s forced to play her poker face. If Artfoum sees a risk in putting a younger artist on the cover, then it seems they’re more comfortable seconding than nominating. And if—according to Rhonda Lieberman—Artforum is an amalgam of upscale tastemakers and windbags, the former should obviate the need for bloviators if the makers of taste believed in the own credibility.
There were several “days” missing from Seven Days in the Art World: notably, not-for-profit spaces and Thornton herself. It might bee seen that the Paul Brach Visiting Artist Lecture Series was an attempt by Thornton to insert herself in the CalArts critique machine, and by emerging relatively unscathed, receive her own gold star of validation.
On my way out I stopped to briefly look at the artwork left from Michael Asher’s last class. The piece was the simulacra of a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that seemed to describe the hazards of the sheet itself along with the vitrine in which it was encased.
Full circle indeed.