9.5 Theses: Art and Its Audiences – Chapters Nine and Ten

Temporary Art Review is pleased to announce a new column on our site: BOOK CLUB.

For the first edition of BOOK CLUB we will review Ben Davis’s 9.5 Theses on Art and Class. Starting in October, a new post will be published every two weeks focused on each section of the book. For each section, Temporary contributors will initiate a discussion through the comments in the post and anyone may continue the discussion by contributing their own comments and observations on the text.








About the Book
In 9.5 Theses on Art and Class, Ben Davis takes on a broad array of contemporary art’s most persistent debates: How does creative labor fit into the economy? Is art merging with fashion and entertainment? What can we expect from political art? Davis argues that returning class to the center of discussion can play a vital role in tackling the challenges that visual art faces today, including the biggest challenge of all—how to maintain faith in art itself in a dysfunctional world.

9.5 Theses on Art and Class may be purchased directly from the nonprofit publisher Haymarket Books, a project of the Center for Economic Research and Social Change.

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BOOK CLUB Schedule
October 7: Art and Class – Chapters One and Two
October 21: Art and Politics – Chapters Three, Four and Five
November 4: Art and Its Audiences – Chapters Six, Seven and Eight
November 18: Art and Its Audiences – Chapters Nine and Ten
December 2: Art and Theory – Chapters Eleven through Fourteen
December 16: Conclusions – Chapters Fifteen and Sixteen

We look forward to the discussions!


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  1. Netta Sadovsky

    Off the bat I’d like to mention as a woman and a youngster I’m glad to start the conversation on these two chapters.

    Chapter 9: White Walls, Glass Ceiling

    In which Davis, like the Gorilla Girls, uses various stats to illuminate rampant sexism in the visual arts.

    One dominant point is that although efforts to call attention to gender inequality in the arts have been present and urgent since the mid 80s, effects have stagnated. In fact, the percentage of solo shows by women has decreased to 18.7% since the 90’s 23.9%. The implication is that efforts in the 80s to call attention to inequality caused change that then dissipated and died off.

    Questions that came to my mind:

    Do we buy the argument that collector’s interests are pushing gallerists to return to mainstream aesthetics, thereby pushing women back out of the galleries?

    Davis argues that a move away from popular protest and political rallying explains the stalled progress of feminism. Why have we moved away from active political protest? What does political gathering of voices do that lobbying politicians doesn’t?

    What is the best strategy for tipping the balance back towards female artists? (Seems like Davis’ story suggests, buying female artists work for millions of dollars in auction houses would do it)

    Do ladies in the arts feel that art scenes are a gentleman’s club?

    Chapter 10: Hipster Aesthetics

    This is a pretty confrontational chapter. Davis criticizes an aesthetic that offers art-school-like media and concept experimentation as a long term strategy.

    Davis contextualizes the work at the PS1 “Greater New York” show by blaming a new stage in human development in American culture: Emerging Adulthood. Emerging adults have graduated from college, but still have several years to go before they settle down into any long term plan regarding career, location, family. Therefore these young adults are characterized by their:

    identity exploration, instability, self-focus, transitional feelings, and possibilities

    By framing the work in “Greater New York” in light of a stage human development, Davis implies that the artists’ style of working is temporary. Importantly, the implication is that the style is temporary for each artist (rather than just a temporary fad in the art world). I found that condescending. Thoughts?

    Davis doesn’t merely dismiss the work as immature, he also forms an argument against it in reference to its political potential. The crux of Davis’ criticism lies in the lightness with which “Greater New York” artists engage with political themes. He creates some one to one comparisons: For example, that unlike Robert Gober’s pointed psychosexual installations, Dominic Nurre’s Objection Room is playful and coy but not polemic.

    The chapter culminates in a discussion of the “hipster,” calling out artists in the Greater New York show and other young artists like Nurre, Kerstin Bratsch and Adele Roder, David Benjamin Sherry, Ryan McGinley, Cory Arcangel, and Ryan Trecartin as basically making hipster art.

    Davis argues that the work is dystopic, but presents itself as powerless. Davis champions a political program as an antidote to hipsterism.

    Are these artists spinning their wheels? Does the work deny politic power through its committed relationship with experimentation?

  2. Jessica

    Netta, your questions are poignant, and I completely relate to them.

    I am mostly responding to your question of whether I feel that art scenes are a gentlemen’s club. As was recently pointed out at a talk at Regina Rex Gallery (Queens, NY) in which Katy Siegel spoke with Lane Relyea about his new book YOUR EVERYDAY ART WORLD, the art world in that room is a very different art world than that of the Christie’s Auction house or Gagosian Gallery. The art world I choose to live/work in is full of incredibly talented, intelligent, ambitious, and supportive women and men. And, of those men and women, I think many of them consider themselves to be “allies.” In using the term, ally, I am referencing this brilliant lecture given by Dr. Jones in which she lays out the 6 Rules for Allies – that even though you might not be disenfranchised, you can still act in support of and for positive behavioral change towards those who are. http://sharonbridgforth.com/s/inspiration/dr-jones-gives-6-rules-for-allies/ (watch this! it is WORTH IT)

    This of course doesn’t mean that I ignore the statistics he lays out, but something in me wants to believe that if we can all become ALLIES, that perhaps there may be a shift in the paradigm. As W.A.G.E. calls out for artists and institutions alike to pledge to uphold a sustainable model for paying artists for their labor, perhaps what may also be necessary is for artists and institutions to pledge to consciously make choices which effect real change in discriminatory choices.

    In terms of what is marketable, cool, hot, important, etc etc (whatever term is used to determine the value of art in the art world/market), one must consider where these values come from. The point that the Lucy Lippard passage was making about explaining away discriminatory choices by masking it with discriminating taste, seems really valid here. By whose rules are “they” deciding what is good or has value? I wonder if I can even trust my own taste when I take into consideration my education. :/

  3. Netta Sadovsky

    That video is great– “Allies believe the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”

    I also wonder about taste-making and whether I should trust my opinions. Then I think that it’s paralyzing to fundamentally doubt your own perspective, and not being paralyzed is more important. We do have some access to why we prefer certain things–after the initial feeling of excitement or apathy we can analyze the probable roots of our connection or disconnection. For example I went to see Magritte at Moma and felt so excited and energized by the feeling of being around something very famous, with all the viewers in awe together. But the simplistic nature of my recognition of fame in this case–basic art history textbooks; the popularity of the show–put a bad taste in my mouth which also affected the way I saw the work.

    My experience at undergrad art school felt like a gentleman’s club in a few little ways. Teachers seemed to prefer the guys, and for whatever reason their work seemed generally better. Sometimes when struggling in studio I pretended to be a boy in order to take my work more seriously…. hah

  4. Sarrita Hunn

    It is hard to follow up this great and candid point Netta – the idea that imagining yourself as a boy to take your work more seriously could even been conceived as an exercise – is entirely the point.

    Points that stood out to me in Chapter 9 had to do with finding the “mechanics” of this “gap” including the “persistent “wealth gap” between men and women” in general and continued income discrepancies “female artists report just 81 cents of income for every dollar their male counterparts take in”(110).

    But “the key kink in the system” he says happens for women between art school (where they are more often than not in the majority) and gallery representation.(111)

    He goes on to explain that a feminist backlash in the arts may be a reflection of what is happen in society at large and affecting this larger arena is where we should put our energies. “Focusing narrowly on changing attitudes within the “art world” is a case of tilting at ideological windmills, unless it is self-consciously linked to the larger issues facing women in general.”(114)

    Earlier in the essay, Davis suggests the income gap could “perhaps have something to do with the burdens of raising children, which still disproportionately fall on women.”(111) I am not sure there is a direct correlation there, but I do think that support for families and children, in the form of accessible, quality day care, etc. in general would help with gender equality. And art institutions (exhibition venues, residencies, etc.) could certainly play a role in leading this cause – but that is general far from the case.

    Bonnie Fortune and Brett Bloom have done a great job highlighting this discussion through a Parent Artist Series on their blog Mythological Quarter. Here is their first post in the series on Andrea Francke’s project INVISIBLE SPACES OF PARENTHOOD: http://www.mythologicalquarter.net/mythological-quarter/2012/12/11/invisible-spaces-of-parenthood

    “Is it possible at this stage to posit that parenthood is invisible because women are? Whether we like to admit it or not it is very much still ‘women and children’ and, in a way, the invisibility of women. From here on, it is the usual feminist rant. However, it might be important to acknowledge that parenthood’s invisibility is an indicator of something else.”
    — Lamis Bayar

  5. Sarrita Hunn

    A Short Life of Trouble: Forty Years in the New York Art World by Marcia Tucker

    Tune In,Turn On, Drop Out: The Rejection of Lee Lozano by Helen Molesworth

    First Riot Grrrl Exhibition Explores The Lasting Impact Of The Punk Feminist Movement

    New research on equality in the arts by Christine Wong Yap

  6. "Michael" Cunningham

    I once read an anecdote about an artist that had an apartment with no shower. I believe the story was about Rauschenberg, but it may have been Johns or another contemporary. When he was at someone else’s place, he would ask the usual, “May I use your bathroom,” and then he’d interpret their affirmative widely and go use their shower. I believe this same artist also had a pet kinkajou. Crazy lifestyles-of-artists stories are common and an in-flux adulthood has long been a trope of the artist’s life. “On the Road” is another great example.

    Even I, a middle-ager with a wife and an 8-year old son who has been working at the same company for over 15 years, usually feels like I have the life skills of a 26-year old (old enough to have been out on my own for a while, but not old enough feel confident at it.) And this may be because I’ve never felt truly settled in this life since I self-identify as an artist and am always trying to figure out what I’m *really* going to do with my life.

    Oftentimes, being an artist is seen as impractical and unrealistic, it simply isn’t seen as being part of the real world – the adult world. Davis lays out the statistics to demonstrate a change over time, but it seems less that “emerging adulthood” is a new spot on the map and more that new folks are moving in and “emerging adulthood” has been gentrified.

  7. Anuradha Vikram

    Davis examines the networks that support men’s higher profiles in contemporary art in a useful way, but he spends little of his attention on the broader context of art workers (such as critics and curators) who are still overwhelmingly men. He does address the role that women play as curators and dealers in perpetuating masculine preferences in art. For example, great dealers like Paula Cooper and Andrea Rosen, who despite their considerable clout in the field are still primarily associated with pushing male artists? It seems our professional roles continue to be cast as caregivers rather than innovators within the field.

    I think we could dig a lot deeper though. Why, for example, does Davis himself have a higher profile in his mid-30s than his women peers who are also producing art criticism and advancing feminist debates? Why does Jerry Saltz rival Roberta Smith for influence when the latter’s credentials and capabilities are arguably much greater? How can women hope to gain parity – not just in the market, but in the history books – when the circumstances that Linda Nochlin described (the need to date famous men to get ahead, the discounting of women’s art as “feminine”) largely persist? How does the intersection of race, class, and gender further complicate things in an age where white women and gay white men of higher social classes are frequently put forward as harbingers of greater inclusivity and increasingly multi-racial global audiences become disinvested in art?

    As for the question of gender bias in art school, I can only say that being the only one of seven women in a class of 10 to speak up in classes with male professors won me no friends of either gender.

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