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"Art Groupie"
...An Art Addict's View

no. 2, november 11th 2001


I hate to mention the World Trade Center. The event that transpired on September 11th was horrifying, to say the least. New Yorkers are already bombarded with disgusting images and stories, which only promote a false-sense of pride and nationalism. We will make a brand new day of it, New York...

Well, I went to a symposium last week, sponsored by Contents Magazine. The symposium was titled: Style and Culture After. Contents Magazine assembled a panel of contemporary cultural "icons," or what I refer to as an attempt by the magazine, to enlist any artist and/or celebrity willing to devote an hour to a discussion of the event. The symposium was geared to lowly college students, i.e. the cultural "icons" of the future. The moderator was writer, actor, and performer Spalding Gray and the others included photographer Larry Fink, artist and art historian Ross Bleckner, fashion mogul Diane Von Furstenberg, musician Moby and actress Susan Sarandon. In an effort to fuel the young artist community, the panelists talked for an hour about how they felt after the event. In essence, the young artists can gain insight from those who have successfully achieved notoriety in their respective artistic endeavors. A disaster of this magnitude necessitates an artist forum, right?
Amongst the celebrity hungry socialites, cameramen and media people were the few members of the audience who were actually interested in what the panelists had to say. The celebrity panelists should not have been held in such high esteem, since they didn't shed any light on the status of this society after the event. Once the initial enthusiasm of the celebrity sightings died down, the show became quite boring. As a result, a bulk of the audience left in the middle while the others were doodling in their notebooks. I was transported back to my high school assembly hall. Those who were able to tolerate the generic speeches, benefited from some (very few and far between) insightful moments. After September 11th, renowned photographer Larry Fink was contacted by the New York times and they asked him to photograph the site, focusing on the mass death and destruction. He quickly refused. Then, People magazine called and they wanted an expose on the cadets of West Point at the annual graduation ceremony. Fink would only accept if he could photograph the Arab members of the ceremony and audience. Here is Fink's rationale: he does not like the idea of glorifying the site, but he his willing to, in his art, challenge the public' reaction of the event. I question whether or not, Fink's desire to capture the Arab community isn't glorifying a far more sensitive issue than the site itself.
Hence, the major gripe of all the panelists on stage. They do not appreciate the governments' efforts to censor the artist community.

Moby ( the most down to earth panelist) expressed his frustration with the politicians' agenda, to keep the public uninformed. We, as a state, can rebuild our spirit, when we forget about everything that happened and allow the government to handle the difficult stuff. All we need to do is support our state, buy flags, and go to the theatre. We were attacked and the best means of retaliation is collectivism, right? I don't know the final tally of deaths, do you? Nevertheless, these artists want to capitalize on a perfect opportunity to create provocative material in reaction to the event. They advise young artists to do the same. The powers that be, are urging them to keep quiet. Well, even if they were given a chance, would the viewing public benefit? As I said, the panelists seems to regurgitate everything that I have already heard on the endless news broadcasts. However, there is no reason that artists should be discouraged from doing what they do, especially since the severity of the event warrants public discourse. If artists are gagged, the public will be in an perpetual fantasy land, unaware of the daily disturbances that arise as a result of the event. We might be happy now, but, if we remain uninvolved, the lasting effect of this event will surface once again and we won't be prepared to cope with it. All in all, I agree with the panelists, but, I wish they were more successful in translating their feelings to a room of students, willing to follow their lead and speak out. As I said, most of the audience was uninspired.

So, the art world is stagnant. Not many people are creating art, which doesn't quite matter, because not many people are buying art either. I recently discussed the event with a gallery owner in Chelsea. In terms of commercialism, art is a product. I don't mean to state the obvious but, in order to maintain a vital art market, art needs to be sold. After the event, commercialism is dead, no exceptions. I thought that people weren't going to the malls anymore, but the economic lull extends to high-end products, such as art, etc. I guess the government feels as if an ignorant community is also a community that will spend money, and eventually, everything can be normal again.
Artists want to speak and the government says NO. If they do, will New Yorkers have to face the horror of the event, and above all else, will the economy suffer? I know that I sound superficial, but money makes the world go round. Artists want to produce provocative material but there is no market for it. I propose a compromise, there should be a certain grace period granted to rebuilding efforts. Once the shock of September 11th dwindles a bit, the art galleries will open their spaces and art collectors will open their wallets to the "controversial" art that has yet to hit the "scene."

by Melissa Smith
for Popportraits.com


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