Persona Non Grata

My divorce from the art world, like all divorces, is going through all the stages: disillusionment, hope for reconciliation, disappointment, and increasing separation. After 12+ years, I am ready to throw in the towel but with the utmost care to preserve that child of ours (CORAI). I have to say that from time to time, whenever I start thinking that whatever art-related-gig I am doing ‘is just a job’, something happens that proves that I still care enough to bristle. So what’s the latest?

Earlier this month a dear friend of mine connected me with a gallery owner from NYC who needed an art industry savvy person to help them take care of their booth at the New Art Dealers Association Art Fair™ (NADA) during Miami Art Week™. I was game for it, even if it meant staying in Miami for five days. I did not know anything about NADA but soon after it opened at 10am on December 6th, I started to learn a lot about it from gallerists and artists, new and old. For a moral relativist, I sometimes tend to feverishly hold people and institutions accountable to their espoused values like Big Mouth’s Shame Wizard -- using their own missions, visions, and values to make my condemning arguments.

According to NADA, they are “the definitive (why use this word?) non-profit arts organization dedicated to the cultivation, support, and advancement of new voices in contemporary art.”

Let’s break this down:

‘Definitive’ carries within it a confrontational spirit against the rest of the non-profit arts organizations that do similar things. Does not convey a collaborative spirit.

‘Dedication’ is not devotion for a reason… no, I am not being patronizing. I am being matronizing.

‘Cultivation’, like nourishment, has an implied spirit of understanding and tender care. I usually approve of this type of vocabulary. People that are being cultivated should not pay $200.00 for a single light bulb.

I like ‘Support’ as much as the next pair of sagging boobies, but it requires a lot of action, especially when navigating more difficult territories, e.g. guerilla art.

‘Advancement’ fits NADA like a glove. Almost like universities use the term advancement (read: courting the elites while pretending to be democratic).

So why am I focusing on NADA instead of Art Basel, insert city Biennale, the Seattle Art Fair, etc.? Because NADA’s leadership referred to themselves as being ‘the good guys’ in response to a critique about the integrity of their practice. At least the big fairs (a.k.a ‘the bad guys’) do not pretend to be Saint Theresa of Calcutta and are unapologetically pro-elitism. When someone or something brands itself as part of The Moral Good Side™, it signals to me that they are less likely to progress or grow. The ‘bad guys’ have their roles defined, the ‘good guys’ just have to be a little less ‘evil’.

An association that uses the words dedication, cultivation, and support, should not use regime tactics by ostracizing artists who dare critique them, even when they want to engage the organization in conversation and explicitly communicate they are not being confrontational. Isn’t NADA supposed to be on the side of free expression and support new voices in the arts? aren’t art organizations supposed to engage artists and their intentions?

I think shakers and movers need more serious support. The whole thing about artists that break boundaries is that they expose everything for what it truly is… everyone loves innovators, rebels, and people with moxie until they go beyond the system’s boundaries. And this is coming from a practical ISTJ chick who, of all possible methodologies in art history, chose to be an iconographer.

Look, this is not just about stirring the pot. People and the things they create are not just ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it depends. Everything exists in a spectrum. Condemning for the sake of condemning is not my cup of tea, otherwise we couldn’t possible learn and grow. I think NADA could use this as a lesson to learn from but they seem reticent about doing just that. And, I am just frustrated because I cannot get the art world to move quickly enough, make them walk their own talk. And this last incident with NADA is just one of the many nails in the coffin of my relationship with the art world… which was not my plan A anyway. This was my failed plan B, which I dedicated so much to, cultivated it with so much care, supported it as much as I could, but ultimately have to go beyond advancement and just transcend it completely.

Note: After writing this post, I read this article by Scott Indrisek for the Observer. The following quote also resonates with my experience: “If the art world sometimes seems like a cabal of the undeserving rich lustily slurping the blood of the creative class, from NADA’s vantage point in 2017 it looks more like an energetic mob of friends trying their plucky best to amuse and astound each other. In these dark American days, that’s achievement enough.”