Art Beyond the Art World

Joachim Pissarro with David Carrier
CAA, New York
February 2011

The process of growth and transformation of the modern art world from the 18th century to the present offers analogies with that of a living organism : it goes through successive cycles of expansion and contraction. This talk will begin to map some of the paradoxes inherent in this.Expansion: at the closing of the ancien régime the art world in Europe and America opens up to the pressures of budding democracies and begins to be available to all. The creation of the museum system is paradigmatic of this shift: comes the notion that the arts belong to the nations. One of the premises of the modern art world as it enters the public sphere is that art is for all, and soon, by all.

In parallel to the art world becoming public, art schools and academies began to loosen up as time-honored axiological rules and systems became obsolete. Against plummeting canons, individual studios become the fulcrum of real and sincere creativity. The art world seemed set to absorb vast creative vectors from outside the traditional academic boundaries of the art establishment. This was not so simple.

Contraction: Whereas in theory all individuals appear able to claim their share in this newly open art public sphere, the modern art world, paradoxically, became the preserve of all but few individuals, detached from the crowds, identifying themselves by their refusals to belong to mainstream taste, and vulgarity.

Modernism capped this paradoxical double edge move by instating a full-fledge ideological teleological structure that justified and defended the ‘progress’ and values of the modern ‘avant-gardes.’

The irrelevance of this now secular paradox (liberalism and publicity vs. elitism and exclusivity) has never been so apparent as today: we are focusing on the impossibility to ignore the aesthetic and artistic validity claims of unfathomable numbers of art makers whose productions can never be seen within the fairly well defined perimeters of our art world.

How are we to address this plethora of art constellations contiguous to ours, yet largely ignored, and traditionally excluded from the art establishment?