Artists' Peer Assessments

Artists' Peer Assessments

Postby CAP » Thu Nov 14, 2013 7:45 am

Today I’m getting hot under the collar about the recurring issue of supposed artists’ peer assessment, or artists as talent scouts for other artists. This is something I remember Saatchi said some time ago about spotting talent. Rather than ask dealers, who often only took the word of their most trusted or successful artists, an ambitious collector was better off just asking artists directly. Cut out the middle man – save on time and commissions! At the time I thought this pretty naïve but let it pass along with a warehouse-full of other objections to his methods. Then, Modern Painters pulled something similar at the end of last year with their list of ‘Young Artists to Watch’ where they asked for up-and-comers from their list of court favourites. The list was reprinted by Blouin Artinfo, grumbled about by Ed Winkleman more recently and eventually set me grumbling here. The flaws in Modern Painters only amplified Saatchi’s misplaced faith.

The problem is really which artists does a collector or magazine editor ask? What reliable sample is truly in touch with the undiscovered and thoroughly deserving? Where? How and When? Modern Painters asked 25 artists (well actually some of them are more like curators, but Modern Painters is so blithe in these matters of marketability it hardly bothers with such a pesky distinction). It asked Rita Ackermann, Dike Blair, Sarah Cain, Anne Collier, N. Dash, Thomas Demand, Natalie Frank, Coco Fusco, Samara Golden, Susan Hefuna, Adam Helms, Glenn Kaino, Ali Kazma, Sam Moyer, Lisa Oppenheim, Erik Parker, Tal R, Kirstine Roepstorff, Tino Sehgal, Katrin Sigurdardottir, Fiona Tan, Nari Ward, Jonas Wood, Erwin Wurm and Erik Wysocan but offer no real justification why this group should be particularly in touch, or with which realms within the art world they might be particularly knowledgeable about or why 25 and not 35, 10, 15 or 50 for that matter, or what their relation to the nominated parties is? If you were an artist in Argentina, New Zealand, Thailand or Russia last year, for example, you lucked out this time. In short, the whole exercise is arbitrary, deeply misleading when not plainly dishonest and a waste of time.

True, artists will know more about some aspects of art than collectors or editors. This is because artists are to some extent specialists, if they know about painting or printing intimately, they probably won’t know as much about video or performance, will be less acute about sculpture, installation or sound works for instance, even less so about theatre or literature. So asking someone from some particular area, supposes that it is already a hotspot, in terms of market demand. If you happened to work with textiles or mosaics, public murals or web projects, you also lucked out this time around. And obviously the kind of art that appeals to talent scout/artists is going to have a strong bearing upon their own work. That only stands to reason. They like work that complements or supports their own. But artists can also be jealous or negative about work that threatens their own position, about petty personal differences. In this sense they are the last people to ask. There is a danger of being too close to the trees to see the forest. It might make some sense to me if Modern Painters had asked their panel of talent scouts to all rank the same list of artists – then we might get some sense of a consensus at least - we could get into some fancy factor analysis even! – multi-dimensional scaling, hierarchical clustering… But where they’re all just cherry picking their favourites because they were cherry picked as favourites, gets us nowhere.

Predictably, the resulting list is all pretty lame. The stuff is twee and gimmicky, because the judges are not particularly sophisticated, experienced or bold in the first place. But beyond the stifling conservatism and complacency that is Modern Painters, there is something fundamentally wrong with the assumption that art proceeds by smooth successions of market pets. That next year’s product is there for the preview. This robs art of an essential unpredictability and excitement, although no doubt allays fears about substantial investment in some line therein. I’m not going to launch into a tirade about why I don’t think it’s a good idea for artists to stay in art schools until the market is ready for them, endlessly chasing more degrees – although this is a related point – but I will conclude by saying I don’t think it’s a good idea for art magazines to replace criticism with press releases or public relations bulletins. That problem is not confined to Modern Painters of course, but this childish exercise in top tens is not getting the job done either. Art Review is even worse actually, but there the problem is they just don’t have any brains or options. They suck because that’s all they know how to. Modern Painters has other resources, although apparently not readership.

I got more depressed about this point, reading a review on Art Critical by Jonathan Goodman about the scene in Beijing. There all published comment on exhibitions is paid for by the artist, not even the gallery. Even supposed ‘public’ galleries are really rental spaces and as one local confided to Goodman “It’s just not possible to make a living from being an art critic”. The situation here is hardly any better. One suspects China sets a dangerous precedent in culture, just as it has in industry. :cry:
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