How The Rural Could Save Modern Art
I went to Venice, and I came back worried. Every two years, the central attraction of the Biennale is a kind of State of the Art World show. This year’s, called “Illuminations,” has its share of high points and artistic intensity. (Frances Stark’s animated video of her online masturbatory tryst with a younger man hooked me; Christian Marclay’s The Clock, which captivated New York earlier this year, rightly won the Gold Lion Prize for Best Artist.) Yet many times over—too many times for comfort—I saw the same thing, a highly recognizable generic institutional style whose manifestations are by now extremely familiar. Neo-Structuralist film with overlapping geometric colors, photographs about photographs, projectors screening loops of grainy black-and-white archival footage, abstraction that’s supposed to be referencing other abstraction—it was all there, all straight out of the seventies, all dead in the water. It’s work stuck in a cul-de-sac of aesthetic regress, where everyone is deconstructing the same elements.
First, between the ebullience of the art fair and the dark financial clouds roiling over Europe, where states teeter on the edge of insolvency and people are taking to the streets. There is a yawning chasm right now between the revived luxury spending boom and the malaise that grips the bottom ninety-eight percent. The subject kept coming up, quietly but persistently, at parties around town.
Second, during an Art Basel Conversation I moderated on the future of museum collecting, a London-based curator from Bangladesh pressed the assembled directors, and in particular Chris Dercon of the Tate Modern, when and how they will genuinely engage his community and others like it—not just through occasionally showcasing artists, but in a deep way. All agreed that, good intentions and planned initiatives notwithstanding, we’re a long way from making art institutions truly inclusive.
But who are they, these people? I would genuinely like to know. The popular assumption seems to be that today’s art collectors are “Russian oligarchs”. Certainly the spectacle of Roman Abramovich’s yacht drew attention to the oligarchic presence at this year’s Venice Biennale. One thing is certain – the big-time buyers of art are people in the financial sector who are weathering our troubled times a lot better than high street businesses, nations picked on by Standard & Poor’s, or public sector workers.
And yet, for the last couple of decades, contemporary art has flourished through an alliance of the rich and the not-so-rich. It is the same educated, probably public-sector-employed middle class (many of whom marched this week) that enthusiastically visit galleries and art fairs. It is these fans of modern art who have helped, by their acclaim, to generate the charisma that makes it apparently worth so many millions.
Of course, we’re already seeing an urban, university-educated, DIY arts movement that is helping to provide the response to these writers’ concerns; this DIY culture, which is beginning to make inroads to rural artists and organizations, carries an aesthetic and a sense of empowerment that we all should observe and then integrate into our work. Further, as advocates for rural arts and culture, we should consider what we can bring to broader discussions like those above–and not cultivate an anti-modern art, anti-intellectual stance that only denigrates urban and rural audiences alike.
After reading these pieces, and after an inspiring roundtable discussion, I take away two beliefs. First, by including to a greater extent the voices of rural arts and rural groups within our contemporary arts dialogue, we will make all of the Arts more healthy–and more relevant to more people. And, lastly, the rural can save modern art in much the same way that modern art can come to the service of the rural: by working across those rural-urban lines and recognizing our shared responsibility to each other.
Modern (Rural) Art: You Can’t Make That Here
Contexts: Flooding, Farms, and Modern Art
Richard Saxton’s Vernacular Landscapes
The Rural Avant-Garde
Chris Sauter’s Rural Installations
The M12: A New Vision For The High Plains
James Magee And The Hill
Jetsonorama And Wheat Paste Art On The Rez
New Art From Jetsonorama’s Rez
In Memory of Mark Linkous
Rural Poetry Series: Lorine Niedecker