I wanna be famous but only for five minutes. Just long enough to confirm how awful it seems from down here among the little people.
This week I published a review in an international art magazine. The paintings were fine. Not the most exciting things in the world but competently constructed and successful in the narrow goals they were engineered to accomplish. The more memorable or lasting impression of the twenty minutes I spent in the blue chip gallery where they hung was everything but the art itself.
The nervous gallerinas and gallerinos flitting about in their fashionably ill-fitting garb, the installers taking their sweet time, the antiseptic white cube atmosphere. But more than anything else, I’ll remember the prices. None of the eight pieces on show were under 400k.
What was it within these handcrafted grids, triangles, and parallel lines was worth half a million dollars?
The artist has paid his dues. He’s not a kid. Been at it for decades and now it’s his moment. These prices are a reflection of his remarked-upon showing in the Whitney Biennial and the glowing profile in New York Times Magazine. I wonder what he feels about it. He has to know it’s a little ridiculous. His work is now like NFTs—priced astronomically in order to allow the ultra-rich to avoid paying taxes.
In my corner of the art world the stakes are different. A local teacher is running for alderman and asked me to decorate her campaign office. I brought two walls-ful over on my bike. These pieces are also for sale. But none will fetch even a noticeable fraction of what I saw in the West Loop.
Does this mean that these are four hundred times worse than those? i don’t think so. It’s just a different game we’re playing.
This weekend I spent two days sitting and smiling at people in an art center in Oak Park. My fellow vendors sold scarves, hand-thrown pots, little scones in star shapes, and chess sets crafted out of what look like twist-ties—I didn’t come up close enough to know for sure. The shoppers and vendors were friendly and at least acted like they were happy to be there. They were celebrating the holiday season and catching up with old friends.
I didn’t go to the opening of the show of half-million dollar art but doubt it could’ve matched the convivial atmosphere. That’s a world of status-seeking and deal-making rather than community.
I was happy to be there just long enough to soak in the vibe for my article. Any longer and it might’ve become contagious.
—Framed a few more collages and put them up in the store and the limited-edition t-shirt I designed for Constellation Chicago is now available.
—Listen to Annie Howard talk to me about paint-by-numbers at Pilsen Community Books and/or to Mallory and I discussing the unnerving new Soft & Quiet.
—If you’re in Milwaukee on Saturday come hear me talk about paint-by-numbers at the Lion’s Tooth.