*Rachel Ruysch, Fruit and Insects, 1711
I have written several versions of this article each juxtaposing a different palette of issues. What they have all boiled down to is this: The problem for those trying to pay attention to today’s art world is that there are numerous institutional problems plaguing the art world, and enough outreach programs, innovation centers, and experimental exhibitions to match. A state of flux which seems to lead towards improvement is nothing to write an article about. Well, at least not an article with this ominous tone. What is worth writing an article about, what is worth going through several drafts of several versions of an article about, what is worth this ominous tone is the seemingly disingenuous nature of these progressive actions.
It is hard to tell what is driving the train of progressivity barreling through the art world today. In many instances, it seems reactionary. The Guggenheim just hired their first full-time black curator after being criticised by an artist they brought in to curate a special show. One of the board members at the Whitney was asked to step down because a company he owned produced non-lethal weapons being used to perpetrate less-than-humane crowd control, after The Whitney’s staff wrote an indicting and artists pulled out of the biennial. Employees at The New Museum received a new wage structure and new workplace security measures at the museum after unionizing, protesting, and voting to authorize a strike.
There are deeply rooted, institutional problems facing the art world. The boards of major museums are still woefully homogenous. Major auction houses are still raking in money hand over fist by selling the works of artists like Tschabalala Self without giving her a cent. The Elgin Marbles are still in England. There is also more transparency, freedom to express critical opinions of institutions, and opportunities than ever before. Hans Haacke built his career on digging up dirt iconic institutions tried to hide. He now has a major retrospective. The Whitney responded to their Safariland scandal by having Forensic Architecture make a critical piece and placing it in their biennial. There are numerous nation-wide programs like Arts for LA’s Emerging Museum Education Fellowship program seeking to bring diverse voices into the curatorial field.
Whether the decision is problematic or positive there is a spectre of suspicion hovering over every institutional decision made in the art world today. Actions must be evaluated so that progressive artifice and appeasement can be separated from earnest attempts at affecting change. It is the time to ask questions. It is the time to second guess. It is the time to conduct institutional biopsy, to exhume, examine, and finally elevate the global artistic body.