Back in July this year Le Feuvre reviewed two publications associated with the Frieze and Zoo fairs in Art Monthly. She described art fairs as “no longer [being] simply about selling – they are about producing and critically engaging with culture”, and argued that “Frieze Projects make it possible to fill each day of the fair with activities that neatly bypass the endless stands of galleries selling their wares”.
Suchin responds with an out-and-out attack on the world of the art fair. Le Feuvre is wrong, he says, to argue “yes, there’s all that nasty commercial stuff at the fairs but, don’t worry, the really important work is high above all that” (his paraphrase). He insists “[a]rt fairs reduce complexity and diversity to sameness. They encourage vacuous glancing rather than extended consideration of art works, and they privilege marketing and money over artistic interests, conveying a status and importance to dealing, collecting and curating that these activities scarcely deserve.”
The power of the market is present at every juncture in the life-span of an artwork, argues Le Feuvre. But “to dismiss a possibility of critical art practice within this situation is to reject wholesale the notion that artistic practice and surrounding dialogues are capable of addressing these very forces that rightly need to be regarded with suspicion.” Robust artwork must be able to engage with the marketplace environment in which it inevitably (if regrettably) exists, and paradoxically the territory of the art fair is all the more innocuous because of its heavy-handedness – “propaganda should not look like propaganda if it is to be successful”.
“But neither all artists nor even all galleries are commercially minded,” returns Suchin, so artwork is not inevitably imbued with commercial culture. The fact that there are artists and galleries out there who operate outside “mercantilism” means it is possible, legitimate and necessary to step outside and critique the structure of the art fairs. In failing to do so Le Feuvre’s original review was “a model of avoidance of such question-raising, a smoke-screen obscuring some very deserving targets for critique”.
Sean Ashton intervenes to draw attention to the content of the actual publications Le Feuvre was reviewing in the first place, which he rightly argues have been rather sidestepped throughout the discussion. The association of The New Art with Zoo doesn’t necessarily make it propaganda, and the list of contributors with no connection to the fair should make it clear that “it is not the ‘promotional’ book that [Suchin’s] knee-jerk Marxist sensibility would like it to be”.
Suchin counters Ashton’s clarifications by citing Hans Haacke’s refusal to participate in art fairs at all. He asks why, when The New Art claims to be critically unbiased, does “the possibility of a Haacke-like blank refusal to be involved never even [come] up as a potential stance”? “It would be more honest,” he writes, “to admit to wanting a slice of the pie rather than feign acute critical independence or super-sly insubordination”. His conclusion: “If people didn’t confuse being seen in the ‘right’ places with being an artist (or a managerial variant thereof), the tedium implicit in the translation of art into business would be inversely echoed in the consequent decline of entrance ticket sales”.
Art Monthly have woven an event around the debate at the ICA next month.
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