Making of the Artists in the American University- Part II
- Contemporary Discovery I. Symposium
- - The Shaping of the Artist in the Institution -
DISCOVERING NEW ARTISTS: The Post-MFA Experience
Introduction by Mary-Kay Lombino:
For those of you who weren't here this morning, the panel members had a very lively discussion which dealt mostly with what is occurring inside art schools, both BFA and MFA programs. And this afternoon, during the panel called Discovering New Artists: The Post-MFA Experience, the panel members are going to address, "What happens after school?" There's again, some of the articles that have been written lately which deal a lot with what happens in school, also mention that there's been a movement to show younger and younger artists in both our galleries and museum systems. So, that's what we'll be talking about here. And I'll just introduce the panelists in the order.
Starting with Valerie Cassel, who is the former director of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Visiting Artists Program. She was also one of the co-curators of the Whitney Biennial this past year. And she's visiting us here now from Houston, where she's just taken a new job as the curator of the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston.
And then Susan Cahan, who's the curator here locally in Los Angeles for the Norton Collection, the Eileen and Peter Norton Collection which is based in Santa Monica. And Susan's also done some teaching and curating both here and in New York before coming here.
And Randy Sommer, who's one of the directors at ACME, which is a gallery in Los Angeles, which has become one of the premier galleries that isn't missed when people are visiting Los Angeles. And it started as much more of an artist-run space back in the days of Food House when it was over in Santa Monica. And lots of the artists who are showing at ACME you might recognize from some of the graduate programs. There's a show coming up in the fall, I think, of work by Stephanie Pryor. Kurt Kauper, who was on the morning panel, also a UCLA grad is showing at ACME, and a number of other wonderful artists.
And Lane Relyea, who is a faculty member at California Institute of the Arts, Cal Arts and also a visiting faculty member at the School of Fine Arts at USC, contributor to Artforum and Frieze and other art publications.
And Amy Myers, who graduated last year from the Art Institute of Chicago and after about a year moved to Los Angeles and is now having her first one-person show in L.A. at the UAM. Hopefully, you were able to see the show during the lunch break. And if not, the show will be there until the end of October. And there's also a catalogue that we did for the exhibition, where there's an interview between Amy and me, so you can get some more of Amy's perspective on her career and art school.
So, I will pass the mike on to Valerie. [applause]
Valerie Cassel: Good afternoon. On behalf of myself and the panelists, I'd like to say, thank you, Mary-Kay and Ilee, for inviting us here this afternoon. One of the things that we have been mandated to discuss is this term of Discovering New Artists: The Post-MFA Experience. And the first line from this discusses the impact the MFA programs have on the art market. And I'd like to just turn that around right now and say, I think what we'll be discussing this afternoon is the impact of the art market on the MFA experience. That's just the beginning! I think when you have a term "discovering new artists," it implies already this aspect of discovery. It implies already this notion of the marketplace. And so it is with that that I began my discussion. There is also something very interesting about the composition of this panel, in the sense that I am the only individual who is not L.A. based. And I am the facilitator and moderator. My colleagues are here as representing different aspects of the field that is happening right now in Los Angeles. And I'd like to say right now as a person coming outside of this particular area, that there is a particular phenomenon which is happening in L.A. right now. It is the relationship between the art schools and the art markets, which is quite unique to this region, although I think it is a template which we'll see over and over again that has reverberations and an impact that will radiate across this country. So, it's with that, that in conversation with each of the panelists, I've developed a loose frame which we'll move in and out of, and the process will be this. I will just introduce five areas of topics of discussion, which again have come from my conversations with Susan, and Randy, and Lane, as well as Amy. From that, each of the panelists will be given five to ten minutes to either respond in some way to those questions or to simply present themselves in greater depth, their role that they play within the field in this particular area and across the country. And then we'll move from that into a discussion amongst ourselves as panelists, and then eventually turn that discussion out toward you, to also become a part of this dialog.
So, given that, I'll just jump right into it.
The first issue: The issue of the art ecology today. Particularly since 1995, with the funding cuts with the NEA, how that has in fact impacted the field. The fact that there has been a continuation of the demise of the alternative space. And that within that vacuum has emerged the space of the commercial field and its direct linkage with young artists. Also, how this demise of the alternative space now gives rise to the discussion which we're having, which is this relationship between the art school and the art market. So that's the first issue that I'll throw out.
The second issue is: The art markets themselves, and the complexities of those markets. In fact that they're not modeled, they're not all blue-chip galleries. That in fact we are individuals coming out of art schools with Masters of Arts or Bachelors of Arts, who are either trained in studio, or trained in history or theory, who are going out and also creating new commercial spaces which are young gallants, and how they also play into this post-MFA experience. For those artists who are trained specifically in art practice.
The third issue is about commercialization. And it's again tacking upon what drives the pedagogy. Does the commercial role of the art market drive the pedagogy?
And the fourth is again the notion of discovery. It's unlike the days of Christopher Columbus, where you discovered something, and whether you eradicated the individuals there or not, you continued a relationship. So, what are the responsibilities between those that discover with those who are discovered? And how does that relationship continue?
And fifth, but not the last, is: What defines success in a post-MFA world? And what is established in the MFA programs that creates those expectations? Also, the changing nature of these art institutions themselves.
So, that's a lot to chew on, and I'm sure you're formulating the responses out there, as well. But we'll start with Susan, and move from there.
Susan Cahan: I think I'm going to stand at the podium, because I have slides to show. You can leave the lights up for a little while. I'll let you know when I'm ready to get started. And also, if the lights could be left sort of semi-dim, and not totally dark, because it gets kind of sleepy after lunch in the total darkness. [laughter]
As Mary-Kay said, I'm currently the curator for the Collection of Eileen and Peter Norton in Santa Monica. That's not the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, which is a mistake many people often make. The Collection of Eileen and Peter is a collection of contemporary art. And they began collecting in the mid-80s and continued to collect artists-some of whom are very young-as well as collecting work by artists who they've been interested in for a very long time. I also come from a museum background. Prior to joining the Nortons in 1996, I was the Deputy Director at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, which is a non-collecting institution and which gave me yet a very different perspective on the art world from a not-for-profit institution. And I've also had teaching experience, both here at UCLA this last semester and at the Center for Territorial Studies at Bard College. At UCLA, I worked primarily with graduate students and within that group, primarily MFAs. At Bard, I work with young curators, people who are training to get into the curatorial field. And I think the professionalization of the curatorial field right now is paralleling-although at a much earlier stage-the development that we're talking about now in terms of the professionalization of the training of artists.
All that to say, that in the discussion, I will be delighted to answer any questions or to discuss any issues that people are interested in with respect to the Norton Collection. But in my presentation, I'm going to focus on a very specific project that I worked on at UCLA in 1998 before I began teaching there that touches on some of the issues that Howard Singerman mentioned this morning, and hopefully provides a sort of "case study" in ways in which this interrelationship between the art market and the training of artists play themselves out.
What I'd like to do is to tell you the story of an exhibition that I was invited to jury at UCLA. This was the annual undergraduate art show. Now, granted, not the graduate show, but my fellow panelists, and the moderator assure me, that we can extrapolate from my experience there with the undergraduates to the graduate situation. And in fact, perhaps the things that I perceive in my experience with the undergraduates would be even more pronounced with students at the graduate level. I was invited to jury a show that UCLA has every single year. They always invite an outside curator. And typically what happens is that all the students who are in interested in being in the show bring their work to Wight Gallery. And usually it's like two or three hundred people. And the juror comes and looks at the objects and sort of points and a little student assistant comes and puts some stuff on one pile and some stuff in another pile. You point at what you want in the show, and then you figure out how to hang it in a way that makes sense. And typically, the juror does not get to meet any of the students. You don't get any information about who they are, or what they're interested in. It's zip. And I thought that was really bizarre. And when I talked to the students about it, they told me, "Well, our professors told us that this is the real world. You know, this is what it's like when you're out there competing in the marketplace. The art has to speak for itself. And so that's why we handle the show this way." But I thought that that was just not a kind of healthy way of operating within an academic environment particularly with young people who are really at the beginning of their training. I mean, we're talking about students who were 19, 20, 21 years old. So I approached my role as a juror of this exhibition with some trepidation. Juried shows, of course, are usually essentially contests, in which the juror makes choices based on cold viewing of one or two works by artists who he or she knows nothing about. And in a university setting, in an educational setting, I felt that the whole concept of the juried show was even more problematic, because it rendered invisible the most important aspect of the learning environment, which is its focus on research and experimentation, and on process. So in preparing to jury the show, I decided that I would tour the classrooms and the studios to get a feel for how the teaching and learning situation takes place there, and to find inspiration for approaching the show in a new way. And I saw that the students were doing some really interesting things: approaching aesthetic problems from multiple standpoints; experimenting with different styles, different materials, different techniques; working in various media simultaneously. Some of the students were doing class assignments, but had a concurrent body of work that they were working on that had nothing to do with the assignments that the teachers giving them, but really were explorations of their interests, that were self-directed and self-initiated. And what I found especially vital were individual studios. At UCLA, even some of the undergraduates get individual studios. These are the people who I guess, in Francesco's universe, would be the ones that are presumed to have extra talent, so they get studios. And I felt that what was going on in the studios really captured the essence of what the learning environment was all about.
So, what I decided to do was to ask the students . . . Well, I thought that the show had to have three important criteria. That it would have to present the process of art making as much as the finished products. That it would have to actively involve the students in the actual configuration and installation of the show. And third, that it would have to be self-reflexive. That is, it would have to respond to the specific context of UCLA's learning environment.
Now, this was in January 1998. And as Howard mentioned this morning, Dennis Cooper's article, "Too Cool for School" had come out the prior summer, 1997. And the students that I encountered, both the undergraduates and the graduates, had been very influenced by that article. They so conscious of the spotlight that was being shined on them, that everyone I talked to brought it up. And even the 18-year-olds. The 19-year-olds, really felt like they were the living embodiment of everything that Dennis had described. Let me show you what I ended up . . . Well, first let me say that I also decided as part of my preparation for the exhibition that I would give the students a questionnaire. And part of the reason was I felt, well maybe some of the text might be interesting to put in a flyer, you know, what have you. I asked the students, why they decided to study art. I asked them, what has been most meaningful to them about their experiences at UCLA. And I asked them, what qualities they think make a good art teacher. And the responses that I got were so fascinating, that I decided to incorporate textual material into the exhibition itself. So when I show you the slides, you'll see that their texts kind of punctuate the installation, and are drawn from the responses of the students.
So, can we have the slides now, please? And again, the lights not too low, although the slides are a little dim. I took them myself. (It's a result of not having gone to art school. [laughter]) Okay, great.
This is the first wall that you saw as you walked into the exhibition, and it presented a work by an artist named Isaac Chelland. Isaac had done a series of drawings called "The Pros and Cons of Art School" that were hysterically funny. And I don't know if you can really read them, but I will just recount to you one of his cartoon drawings. One of the "pros" of art school: you get to be creative thinkers. And there's a drawing of student at an easel, and there's a thought bubble coming out of his head, and it says, "This is the best idea I've ever had." One of the "cons" of art school: the converse of this is, that we think everything we do is creative. And there's the same easel, it's got a square drawn on it, and the thought bubble says, "No one has ever done a square before."
The exhibition was basically a replica of some of the learning environments and art-making environments that I saw on my tour upstairs. The first gallery was a re-staging of Chris Bergen's classroom, using it as a backdrop for some of the projects that had been done in Chris's new genres class. The room was designed and installed by a team of students led by Leslie Davis, who was a student in the class. And this is just a detail of one of the projects. It's this bacterial culture that one of the students did where she went around kissing other students and then spit into Petrie dishes and cultivated the bacteria. And the texts are the documentation of what it was like to experience the kiss. [laughter]
This is one of the texts, which I transcribed in order to read to you, because it was one of the most poignant texts, and it responded to the question of, "What has been most meaningful to you about your experience at UCLA?" The student wrote, "I've had to learn for myself what it means to be a good artist. Some people insist that being good means having a hot new show at Dan Bernier's gallery-ha-ha-ha." (For any of you who know, Dan Bernier no longer has a gallery-you can tell the art world does have its ups and downs.) "Being good means having a hot new show at Dan Bernier's gallery, means having an article in Artforum, means partying with famous artists . . ." I edited that one, it really says it means doing coke in the bathroom at parties. I didn't think the faculty would appreciate having students' texts say, "being an artist means doing coke in the bathroom." But it gives you an idea of like where the student is coming from. Okay, it means "having an article in Artforum, means partying with famous artists, . . . the hardest thing is figuring out what it truly means to feel good, how to feel good and strong about what I make."
So, after Chris's classroom, there were (these slides are bad, I'm really sorry) . . . there was another series of rooms that re-created the working environments of six of the students: Chris Hauk, Sayu Mitsuishi, Jonathan Molvick, Jason Monroe, Minn Pac, and Anne Wang. And this is JP's studio, or re-creation of it. And these environments were intended to capture the flavor, if not the true configuration of the students. This is a detail from JP's studio showing the kinds of books that he was reading, and sort of ideas that were influencing the art that he was making.
This is the studio of Minn Pac and Chris Hauk. They shared a studio. This is a view looking from out of their re-created studio to the gallery.
There also was a section that presented the work of an additional fifteen or so students in a more conventional type of hanging in order to amplify the number of students who could be represented in the show, but who didn't necessarily have studios upstairs.
This is Anne Wang's work. I'm just basically walking you through. Okay, and that's the last slide.
What I discovered was that the kind of attitude that Howard quoted from the Spin article this morning, like the quote from Lari Pittman, "We don't want to think of you as students. You're artists who happen to be in school." You know, I don't know if Lari ever said that, really. I know that some of the faculty members at UCLA were very unhappy with the article, and felt that it misrepresented what they were doing. But what I can tell you is that the article itself really influenced the way the students thought about themselves. And this permeated all the way down to the undergraduate level. The show that I ended up doing was an outrage and a disappointment to many, many of the undergraduate students because they felt that they were artists. And that I had not presented their work with a level of dignity that it would have been presented in a more conventional environment. That I had somehow debased their work by presenting them as students, and fore-fronting the issue of teaching and learning in the exhibition itself.
You know, I would suggest that there is a way in which the mythology of what art school is has really permeated students' own notions of their identity. And it's given the students myths to live by. And these myths are really against the idea of pedagogy. They are against the idea that there is anything specific and substantial that can be gained in a learning environment. And I believe that there is a lot that can be substantial and significant to gain in a learning environment. This attitude that learning isn't really possible when you're an artist is of course a very nostalgic notion. It's a holdover from a modernist notion that artists are sprung from the head of Zeus, or born from the womb of their mother, or what have you. And now the word we use to describe it is the "slapper attitude" -you know, "Too Cool for School." I truly believe that there is something very significant to gain from art education, and from MFA programs in particular.
Now, is it better to try and construct a pure learning environment, a learning environment that doesn't have any contact with the art market? That really dissociates itself from commercialization and from the whole nexus of galleries, collectors, magazines? Again, I don't know if this is totally true, but I have been told, that at Cal Arts, collectors and dealers are unwelcome! That the school does not allow collectors and dealers to make studio visits with the graduate students because in a complete 180-degree shift from UCLA, Cal Arts is trying to create an environment in which, you know, learning can take place without the performance anxiety and the pressures that the art market places on artists. And I believe that this is equally nonsensical, because contemporary art we all know is not divorced from the marketplace. It would be naive to imagine that it is. This is one of sites in which it operates. And it has also been-you know, the whole idea of art and commerce, the relationship between art and commerce, has been an important topic of exploration for artists in the very contents of their work. You know, most vividly in the work of many conceptual artists from the 1970s. So all of this discussion begs the larger question, "What does it mean to be an artist?" But the answer to this question is not one thing. We have a name for artists who don't go to art school. They're called "self-taught," or "outsider artists." But even their work has a market. Even they engage in the very structures that we're talking about with respect to MFA programs. You know, we live in a capitalist society, and it's naive to ignore that. So the question for me is, how do you engage with the terms that define your situation, and how do educators handle that situation responsibly?
I think that it's essential to engage these questions within the pedagogical environment because if we don't do that, I think that the students that we work with tend to internalize the myths with which they're surrounded. Whether it's the myth of the artist totally removed from commercialism, or the myth of the artist as being a pure commodity. And so, that's what I think, and there you go! [laughter, then applause]
Randy Sommer: At this point, I just want to say about myself, whatever I'm talking about, or addressing or get involved with, what you should know about me if you don't already is that I was trained as an artist my whole life. I have a BFA in printmaking and an MFA in painting. So I don't have a degree in business. I know nothing about business. It's amazing that my gallery is still in business! And my partner is the same way. He was an artist, and less formally educated than myself, even. So we've both kind of come out of what Valerie was outlining in the last ten years. Both of us coming out of economically down-turned times, alternative spaces, angry artists' reactions to affluent, fluid, high-end of art markets, and now I'm at a point where I'm realizing . . . Valerie and I were talking, everything's always changing. And I'm suddenly becoming the establishment. I'm becoming what I used to fight against, just because I've been in business long enough now. It's what's happening. I've become more and more of a traditional gallery. And whatever dialogue I get involved with here, I think it's important that you know that about me. I'm not a traditional dealer-gallerist. Although I've had to learn to be that way in many respects. So I think at this point that's all I will say about myself.
Lane Relyea: What I want to do is, having worked in Los Angeles for a while now, as both a teacher and a critic, I want to try to put criticism as an issue on the table, and also link it with art schools. Both criticism and art schools are typically presumed to have some distance from the art market. Schools would come before entering that market, and criticism would have to have some critical distance from that market in order to retain its integrity, its validity. And I mean these aren't just myths. There are things like conflict of interest issues with criticism and also . . . You know, current battles or debates, wars, over tenure as a mechanism to ensure integrity of scholarship and research, and things like that. So, distance is crucial in some ways. At least a lot of our perceptions of criticism and schools. And this distance is supposed to have a lot to do with criticism and schools being able to nurture or protect what could be called "the higher aspirations" or the "better sides" of things like artworks, and artists. It somehow facilitates or again protects artists and art works to engage with higher aspirations above and beyond self-interest and sales, and success, and the seeking after these objects for status and privilege, and so on and so forth.
The thing about today that I think is an issue is that this distance has seemingly collapsed, for both art schools and criticism. Both now get remarked upon. Both get talked about as having no distance any more from the market. You know, I think it still shocks a lot of people when they hear . . . And I know that at UCLA the faculty is somewhat upset by the Dennis Cooper article because of the constant imagery in that article. I don't know if any of you have read it, but there's this constant imagery of collectors, curators, dealers, walking through . . . that's even too mild of a word . . . stampeding, raiding, pillaging. The Warner Studios, I mean, with checkbooks out, with date books out. It becomes like the salon of late 18th century France, realized in Culver City.
Anyway, that's going on with art schools, and I think it still shocks people. I think it still shocks people to find out that Jason Rhoades had a dealer, Rosamund Felson, attended his first graduate review, or his first faculty review when he entered graduate school at UCLA. This is a three-year program, I think. So, it's the first of three years, and a dealer already there. He participated in two group shows while he was still there. And if you look at Jason Rhodes's catalogue that he did for a show in Germany a few years ago, called "Volume" and he turned it into like his own catalogue-resume at age, whatever, 34. But a third of those works catalogued in this survey of his whole body of works are made at UCLA. I mean, art school was not distanced from his "real world" career. It was the beginning of his real world career. His career started in school. And also it still shocks us somewhat to find out that Toba Khedoori had her graduation show, her UCLA graduation show, at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York. So to the degree that it's shocking, this is an issue, that the distance has collapsed. And it's maybe less shocking that this distance is collapsing criticism. But we still get this really grinding resentment or accusation leveled at criticism for not having maintained its distance. I mean, working on a catalogue essay for this show that Howard's helping organize at the Museum of Contemporary Art that will be opening in March, called Public Offerings. It's kind of a survey of artists who broke through in the 90s, both here, London, and New York, Berlin, and Tokyo-artists who broke through in the 90s, very shortly after coming out of school. Just got uplinked into this international art circuit almost immediately. But researching the LA artists included in that show, it's just, for me, incredibly depressing how many times you come across descriptions of criticism as nothing but PR. Art magazines, as nothing but trade journals. It is a dominantly held opinion now. And you even hear it from critics themselves. They applaud art works for being anti-discursive, and so on. And this is fairly new. This hasn't always been the case with criticism. It's good to remember that back in the early 70s, Robert Pinkus Whitten . . . or actually it came out in '77. But this article from the early issue of October in the later 70s, are Robert Pinkus Whitten. He recalls an afternoon when he was in the editorial offices at Artforum and a young artist came in to visit and I forget who was in the room, but at the time, the editors of Artforum were Michael Fried, Rosalind Kraus, Annette Michaelson, Lawrence Halloway, Robert Pinkus Whitten himself, and this young artist tells the editors present that, you know, it's almost impossible for us to make art any more because of the advanced state of criticism. This criticism is so out in front of what we're doing.
Anyway, it's a very far distance now traveled from that point to the present. I think that you read a lot now, or at least in the 90s, it seems to me very familiar to hear about recollections of criticism in the 80s, and how powerful it was then. I mean this was supposedly the decade when PC art came to the fore and that there was a tyranny of French post-structuralist theory in criticism and in art work itself. But these accounts from the 90s, recalling back to that point, characterize the presence of theory in art and criticism during the 80s as not theoretical, as again just a part of the market, it's a market move, it's a market ploy. I brought in a quote from a critic named Robert C. Morgan. This is something that he wrote in 1992 about the 80s.
"One way of succeeding within the game (one way of artists succeeding within the game) was to be adopted by a writer or a magazine, preferably both, with the 'right' art world credentials, who would quote Enyamine, Adorno, and the five famous French post-structuralists and thus to . . . legitimate one's position in the mainstream. An important aspect of the new game was to find a writer or an artist functioning as a writer or a well-connected critic functioning as a theorist in order to transmit the parameters of the newest trend by endorsing certain artists who fit the network of social sawings, and dealt with those signs effectively in terms of their worth."
And here criticism-even the most highfaluting criticism-is just seen as a void and unfair business practice. Right? It's what artists do when they try to pull off a power-grab. They appeal to some higher authority in order to advance their private interests, their private position. This, I think, is a 90s view of criticism. It's again, about the collapse of difference.
And so, one thing I want to say about that is that despite all the descriptions of the scene today, and the pleas for what we should do today that we even were in luck to hear it this morning for pluralism, for including Henry James and Elizabeth Bishop, along with Dairydon, and so on. Or, you know, all these things about letting as many flowers bloom, and everybody following their bliss, there's a sense that despite all this diversity and pluralism, the system is incredibly compressed. It's very well integrated. If there's no distance from these two typical sights, it means that the economy has been able to stretch out and incorporate, but also enfold within its tightly bound structures, its tightly bound workings, places formerly thought to be somewhat apart.
I wanted to say one other thing, or maybe two other things about all that, which is that somebody asked earlier this morning what effect this has had on the look of work? And I'll suggest maybe the beginnings of an answer to that. I don't know if this really holds water. But I think that the combination of artists' sensing this tightening of the art system, and also with their loss of faith in discourse, and the ability of discourse to redeem or elevate art and our thinking about art above the market, or the brute mechanisms of the art system, I've also taken this (along with the sense of a tightening of the whole system) has left artists to maybe privilege, an avoidance of language, an avoidance of language in the sense of avoiding, first of all, anti-PC art, which was a big fad in the early 90s. As a matter of fact, it's a bigger fad than PC art. I only really started to become aware of something called "PC art" through anti-PC art. And I always think that anti-PC art was actually just anti-pedagogy. It was anti- this alignment between art schools and the art world and criticism. With this loss of distance that I've been talking about, the fact that by the early 90s the book titles and course titles in school translated into hot topics in the salable items in galleries. And also advanced critics' careers. There's the phenomenon of anti-PC art, which is basically anti-pedagogy, anti-folk lists and footnotes. The other thing is an avoidance of categories, interdisciplinary art. Trying to do not just painting, but painting and installation, painting and drawing an installation, like with Kidori. Actually being not just an artist, but a collector, designer, architect, curator, DJ, and so on and so forth. Not filling the roles that Howard put it: Harold Rosenberg collecting in the 50s-that you become the painter, and so on. To be real authentic, or just yourself, and not be in this system is to avoid roles, also to avoid the abstractions of theory and deal with the realness of whatever gallery or my friends, or what I eat for dinner today, or the music I listen, and so on and so forth. And just also just to avoid text.
The last thing is that although there's all this avoidance of language, it all happens in public. Like somebody said this morning, people don't expect to graduate from school and paint in their closet, to be the closeted artist. They expect to shout. In fact, in school, they're taught to shout. Their studios are open in public. They're constantly invaded by a stream of visiting artists and faculty, and so on and so forth. And so what you get is a very, very public art that is trying not to say anything for fear of becoming all the more integrated. [applause]
Amy Myers: I did my BFA at the Kansas City Art Institute in May of '95. I took two years off between my BFA and my MFA to make a decision whether I was going to pursue an MFA. I decided to do so at the Chicago Art Institute. I completed that in May of '99, and remained in Chicago for about nine months, and moved to Los Angeles recently. I've been here for about six and a half months. So, I'm a transplant from Chicago. And my work is currently at the University Museum.
Valerie Cassel: Do you want to talk to us about transplanting here and what your experience in L.A. has been?
Amy Myers: Sure. My last semester of grad school at Chicago, the question started to float around the studios, "Are you moving to L.A. or New York?" And since I do have family members out here, and knowing that I would be working with Mary-Kay on this show, I opted for LA. And it's been interesting.
VC: "In what way?"
AM: Well, in comparison to Chicago, the structure of the art scene is a little bit different. There was a density, and accessibility, I felt, in Chicago, that I'm kind of re-learning here in LA. It's really kind of spread out. It isn't like there's like really a center for the galleries. So it makes it a little more challenging to kind of negotiate that area.
Valerie Cassel: All right. Now I guess is a good time for the panelists to address anything that they have heard spoken or to further elaborate on their own positions. And so I'll just throw that out if any of the panelists has any response to what has been said.
Susan Cahan: I'd just like to ask Lane to elaborate a little bit further about what you were saying about the relationship between art and criticism in the marketplace, because it seems to me that there have long been close relationships between critics and artists. And you know, critics who've become champions of particular artists' work and acted in a sense of PR agents. And of course, Greenberg and Pollock come to mind as the most famous recent pair, but both Laire and Manet, you know, going back to the 19th Century. But what seems to me to be quite different about the situation today is that art magazines as vehicles for art criticism also have a certain relationship to the galleries who place ads in them, and one of the things that I find a little bit frustrating is the reluctance of . . . that the absence of writing that's strongly opinionated and the absence of writing that is interestingly critical of art work. And I wonder if you think that there is a way in which art magazines (because they are beholden to their advertisers) are culprits in this process?
Lane Relyea: That's a pretty constant refrain, too. I'll try to elaborate, but not too much. Got to understand that for twenty years, I've been dealing with trying to justify my being a critic. So that my skin is kind of thinned. But I think that one thing that's definitely true is that criticism was born with the public spear in the 18th Century. It was always . . . judgments . . . Talking about taste, talking about opinion and the aesthetic experience was always done in public, to an audience, amongst people. And it was also born with little pamphlets that would also sell things. Or pamphlets that were invented for buyers, collectors. So Dietereau's famous criticism of the salons in the late 1700s was not really . . . You know, they were all sent to a small subscriber ship of people who wanted to know what to buy, basically. Because they couldn't go to Paris to see the work. So it's always had a difficult, but also interesting, and if you want to push a dialectical tension between advancing opinions and advancing careers. But I think that that's great. One of the things that worries me about the current state of art magazines and art publishing is that if you take a magazine like Artforum, it seems like contemporary criticism has a bit fissured in that magazine. And a lot of critics talking about art works gets pushed into the reviews, somewhat marginalized there. The middle part is art historians talking about retrospectives, older art, and artists doing something that seems incredibly demeaning, like a thousand words. Like, we'll cut the mike after a thousand words. Because we know how those artists are . . . This is definitely different from the 60s when artists would write, critics would write, and art historians would write, and there was no distinguishing by the magazine between who was who and what was what.
Susan: Or in the 80s.
Lane Relyea: Yeah, even the 80s, right. So having little soap boxes, an artist's 1,000 words now, and having a different frame like that just seems kind of ludicrous. But it's part of (a) the kind of separating out of functions within that magazine. It templates the magazine very much. And you get in that templating, in other words, you have a scheme that just gets different contents slotted into the scheme every month. That leads to the sense of an "integration efficiency of the whole system. Plus this all happens, . . . this all came about, . . . all these changes took place in Artforum right at the time ten years ago that they started running more product advertising for mints, clothing, liquor, you name it, glasses. They never used to have product advertising before. And it leads to all sorts of conspiracy theories, or problems of perception, or problems of belief in the credibility of the magazine. And I think there's something to the fact that a lot of contemporary criticism now just happens in the reviews. And the reviews are the most conspicuous place for talking about art as linked to duplicity with the market.
Valerie Cassel: I want to jump in here with two comments. Well, a comment and a question. One is that I think we live in a moment of excess. And the question is whether the ethics excess. And they permeate and revolve outward. Because we see this a lot within the sphere of sports. We see young athletes being taken directly out of high schools, and before the completion of college, and given one million to 2.5 million dollar contracts. And then we bemoan the fact of their behavior in the sport. So, my sense is, how does this also impact the field? Because we are talking about young artists being ripped away from their studios before they've even completed their MFA or even their BFA programs, having money thrown at them. In a way it's like, what becomes the life line for these artists? And that was my comment earlier about the responsibilities of the person who discovers to the person who is discovered, and how you continue on those relationships, and not suddenly abandon that artist, or the next hot new thing, and discard them as if they are a commodity.
The second thing that I want to talk about, or have you talk about or address, is who attends art schools? And the sort of lack of diversity, if you will. I mean, who has access to the marketplace if the art school is the feeder to that? So, I'll throw those two out there.
Randy Sommers: Susan, when you were talking, before we came in, about the statistics of, say, the number of men versus women that in the graduate school. I think that's a good place to start.
Susan Cahan: Well, that's a slightly different issue than the one that Valerie mentioned. But before we came in, during lunch, I remembered a statistic that I once heard, and you can confirm if this is true or nor, that 60 percent of people in MFA programs are women. But, as we all know, thanks to the guerilla girls, etc., only a very small percentage of artists who show in galleries and in museums are women. And so, when we talk about the relationship between MFA programs and the marketplace, we really need to remember that there's a gender differential. And I actually wondered if, Howard, you could speak to that a little bit.
Howard Singerman: Over the course of the century, . . . In fact, 60 percent is about the lowest percentage. When the School of Art opened at Yale in 1860-something or other, within ten years, it was 75 percent women. This is 1870-something. And you may remember that Yale College didn't allow women until 1968 or '69. So that there's been in American education, a direct kind of ideological linkage between art and women. When Syracuse was founded as a co-ed university, and it built an art school, it was called The Syracuse School of Fine Arts. Fifteen years later, a wealthy businessman in the town of Syracuse said, "I want to give Syracuse a women's college." And they said, "We're a co-ed university!" He said, "No. I want to give you money to build a women's college." So what they did was they renamed the College of Fine Arts, The Krause College for Women. So again, there's this kind of direct relationship between . . . an ideological relationship between art and femininity in the American system. One of the things that the MFA has set out to do maybe beginning back in the 1940s and '50s, was to separate the training of artists from art teachers; and to segregate women into programs in art teaching, and not into the fine arts program; to "professionalize" the making of artists. So the MFA is structurally and historically a kind of gender production machine.
Valerie Cassel: And that's not even addressing other issues of diversity! [laughter] Does anyone want to address the responsibility of the discoverer/the discoveree?
Randy Sommer: I would say, in the ten years I've been wearing this hat of so-called dealer, one of the big shifts that occurred from gallerist's point of view is . . . which is interesting to me, because I went through an MFA program and Howard's exactly right. Even as an undergraduate at California College of Arts and Crafts, I got put in different classes and rooms because I went, "No, I want to be an artist, I'm going to be a professional artist." And all my women friends who actually were from families with a lot of money, I never saw them again, until at night. Because they went into other English classes or Shakespeare classes, or even studio art classes. It's like, they didn't have to get as dirty as we had to get. And they had more academic pressure on them than we did. We got away with murder because we were "studio artists." So, as almost an outgrowth of that, being all cleaned up, and cutting my hair, and no beard, now I can interface with the public, selling art. One of the interesting things to me in the last ten years from when I started in the late '80s here in L.A. during a very active time with the art market, the artist now has more power than ever before-with the galleries, with the curators, with the writers-to the point of I think a whole lot of new sets of problems have come up. Because the . . . I'd almost reverse that question, maybe, that I'm supposed to be answering about what allegiance do I owe someone if I discover them, and what do they owe me? There's more dealers now terrified that the people they discovered are going to leave them, because it's a stepping stone. It's like someone will meet at ACME, if they can get married to David Zwerner in New York, screw ACME, let's go to New York! No matter what I did, or I introduced them to Susan, or whatever. It's just, well, they don't even apologize. It's more of, "This is a career move! It's like I need to move up to a CEO position, so I'm going to go. Bye! They're giving me health benefits and a trip to Majorca, and all this." And so we're left there. I mean, no one's (knock on wood) left my gallery yet, and I don't really worry about it, but if we were all dealers up here addressing this, there would be a lot to debate and talk about, because it's really a growing fear. And a lot of it . . . not coming from the old artists, not coming from the Nick Kraras, it's coming from the kids tumbling out of graduate school. They're doing it. Within two years, they're hopscotching and jumping around. Because what's happening is, the old adage of, if you move around from gallery to gallery, you're sort of a slut, you're a whore. It's a bad reputation. That doesn't hold so much any more. It's reversed. It's more like, "Wow, you're really serious, you are intense. Get out of your way!" And it makes a different kind of gallery approach you, because they think you're a ball-buster. So they'll go after you in a different way. It's very bizarre. It's shifted around.
Valerie Cassel: It is a different world. I'm going to open this up for everyone now to participate in the discussion. But we were discussing amongst ourselves earlier about how the "marketplace" has always been seen as a dirty word, when in reality, every component of the field feeds into the marketplace, from the schools to the museums. It's an ecology in and of itself. And the reality is that business is not a dirty word anymore. It is the way that people move through the world. Period. So, I'll open it up.
Woman: I went to the Chicago Art Institute for undergraduate, Cal Arts for grad, and now I teach at Art Center. I graduated 20 years ago from Cal Arts. And one of the things that isn't being addressed here, with regard to what is happening with the younger student. When I graduated from Cal Arts, I left with a debt of $2,000. Total. That is my whole seven years of education. My students right now, they're leaving art school with a debt of anywhere from eighty to a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. This is Cal Arts, Art Center, UCLA. The pressure on these students-fine art students-to go out, and they know, minimum, what they're going to have to carry this, minimum, $700 a month in a loan payment. I talked to a guy the other day who'd been out of school a year. He has $1,300 a month that he has to come up with, just for a loan payment. So, they're under a different kind of pressure than myself or my friends who are in their mid-career. We didn't have that kind of pressure on us financially. So, they're trying to wait all this out. I'm in need of a studio assistant right now. I'm getting calls from people who graduated with MFAs . . . And I'd sit in on these critiques, and the intellectual rigor is wonderful, at Art Center. I did it at Cal Arts. There's nothing to be afraid of with intellectual rigor. It's very important. James Joyce did it with the Jesuits. Why should we be afraid to do it with Jerry and Gilbert Rawl? [laughter]
Valerie Cassel: Can we quote you?
Woman: Please, do. I would love it. But I think this is something I would like to hear, is what you have to say about this. You know, they're under . . . Because you're highlighting these three schools: UCLA, Art Center, and Cal Arts. And these are the schools with the high tuition. If you were going here, you're not going to have that kind of pressure. So, what do we do? Do we refine the education system in the State school? Where is it? The best education, where the most savvy people are, are in these other institutions. When I first got out of Cal Arts [exclamations and laughter]. Sorry, I deserved that! All right, let me rephrase that statement. Let me put it this way: How do we bring the attention and respect to the other institutions? And this was a question I feebly tried to ask before the break, about criticism and its influence on present attention to particular artists and institutions. Where, then, is the critic's role in seeking out other institutions and bringing those into the media spotlight?
Susan Cahan: Well, I'll just make a brief response to the first part of your question, and then others might be interested in responding to the second part of your question. I think that the financial burden of education isn't just one in the field of art, that it goes across all fields. And it's a scandal! It's a national scandal. I think that the problems for artists are compounded by the fact that once they actually get out of school, how are they going to make any money? I mean, if you get a law degree, or if you get a medical degree, at least you know, somewhere along the line, you're going to be able to pay those loans back. And there's a lot of work being done right now in the field of philanthropy in researching and analyzing the economic status of artists with, hopefully, the ultimate intent of assisting artists economically. This speaks to the point that Valerie made at the beginning of our conversation that has to do with the general financial landscape, and how that's changed over the last few years with the demise of individual artist grants from the NEA. And with the number of other changes that are going on now, some negative, like that, and some positive, like the creation of a new fund called the Creative Capital Foundation, which is making small but . . . The grants are small, but at least they're making them. The Ford Foundation is also doing a big research project right now. And they're spending a whopping $2,000,000 to try to understand what the economic situation of artists is in the United States right. And it's not just the visual artists, it includes the performing artists. Those of us in the funding community are asking, "Why aren't they just giving that money to artists?" [laughter] But we're hoping that if they're spending two million on research, that they'll be spending a helluva lot more on grant making and other kinds of initiatives that could not only be philanthropic initiatives, but possibly even some sort of public-private partnerships that would create other revenue avenues for artists, as well.
Valerie Cassel: I'd also like to speak to that, coming out of an environment, working in an art school. And I'd like to hear what Amy would say about this, too. Working at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, it was very clear that as a faculty or staff person, that we actually were in the service of our constituents, which were the students. They were our customers. And that the dynamic. I think that tells you a lot. I think people do expect a return on their money. They spend $18,000 a year. They want to get out of school. They don't want to struggle. But they want a return on their investment. And so, I think that also . . . Someone asked earlier in the Q and A session after the first panel, why are not schools preparing students for this post-MFA experience in terms of teaching them how to survive in the field, teaching them business practices. And that's something that I think the School of the Art Institute is interested in doing. And they are spending a lot of energy towards that, allowing people to know how they can survive, how they can self-start their own businesses, become entrepreneurs in and of themselves. So that's something that I think is an important question. And it is, it is a different world that we live in. And art schools are grappling with this. I think a lot of art schools are assessing where they are at this point in time in terms of not only what they teach, how they teach, and how they prepare people who walk out of their doors.
Tania Mouraud [from the audience]: I am going to speak as a French citizen. And what I hear . . . I mean, I am completely shocked! I mean, how can you imagine that a girl who's 33 or 35 years is going out of the school with a heap of debts. Then, I say, close all this private art schools. I mean, it is a scandal! You cannot make art like this.[applause] You're just going to the school because there is a big names. At Chateau Deux in France, it doesn't exist, the private school. The private schools are the bad schools. And all at the school, it is where I met Missagee, Bertosky, Burelle, all those people are teaching in the government school, where the kids don't pay anything to have a relationship with real artists. So, this morning it was said that there is no French artists. But as I said, Italy lost the Euro and the World Cup, and the French won it. So, there is, like this, something, too.[laughter] But, really, I feel so sorry when I hear that, I would like somehow to do a campaign, go with a hat and, "Please give money, so that this girl can make out!" Now, the question-if it is a question in America-even if the artists are very well known, because for many reasons that you know better than I, where is art? It is market, finished! That is why in the school there is no women artists. There is no black. There is no anything. It is the white, boring stuff, male chauvinist, whatever, art. It is the choice of them. Never! I'm going to be terrible, you know. Never, if the State considers its citizens as his kids, he will never behave like this. So, close Cal Arts, close UCLA, all come to . . . Go into the street and manifest so that education is free. It is a fundamental right of the student. [applause]
Man: About five years ago, I did a visiting artist stint at a graduate factory about 50 miles inland. But, what was the word from this morning? [Urgency.] I walked away from my graduate school with quality and integrity. It opens the door for one of the strangest things. I wouldn't say that it was necessarily discussed ... was that they . . . their discussion of the business of art was allowing a . . . I believe it was someone called Katherine Carter, to come through and do slide shows and then she would arrange for you to meet dealers and she set up museum shows . . . Even paid for critics to write a catalogue essay or give you a certain evaluation of your work, if you were willing to pay a certain amount of money.
Valerie Cassel: Beware of the art consultant.
Man: I found this all very disconcerting. . . . Have you ever heard of this little arrangement?
Valerie Cassel: Amy, have you ever encountered anything?
Amy Myers: No. I wouldn't hire that person, personally. It's true. The anxiety that I and my fellow graduates experience is a high level anxiety. We're driving either a really expensive car, or really small condo. When you're out in the market, what are you going to do to make a living? You have the studio work going on, but, you know, we're not in the market. So, in terms of success as a graduate student, we huddle together, shaking, and said, OK, this is how we're going to define our success. The next five years, if we can pay our bills, and continue to make work, regardless of the up and downs, that's success. If you continue to focus the work and pay the bills. That's it.
Male Student: I just wanted to say, I'm an MFA student. I haven't heard from any MFA students yet today, so I hope we'd speak up a little more, because I know there's a bunch of MFA students from Cal State Long Beach down there. And we have people from Colombia, we have African-Americans, we have just a big diverse group here. And I wish you had more artists up there. I'm grateful for this panel, but I'd like to hear Amy talk about what . . . Because in one year, I'll be in her position as far as out of school. But what I hear you saying . . . I hear a lot of people talking about, "This is great, because we're business people now; we have more power than we ever had, and you've got to get out there. It's a global market, etc., etc. GAT, NAFTA."
Valerie: We're not advocating that.
Male Student: Right, I know. You're not advocating it, but it's . . . And then, because I feel like this, too, it's like, "That's great, but then also it's bad because . . . the same reasons." Because it's a market-based economy, that's bad. What happened to the artists' spaces? And I think that artists like myself, we are trying to find alternative spaces to show. I don't think that's died. So, although we live in this market-based economy, where everybody looks at UCLA, Otis, Cal Arts, UCI, things like that, I think artists are still creating work in many different levels. I don't see it as one plane, or one plateau. I see artists working in cells. And different artists of different backgrounds, culturally and age-wise are all working, you know, depending on your interests, you're going to cover those people.
Susan: You know, market pressures are real. But they don't control you. But the challenge is to both create sites for independent activity; also to act independently in the pre-existing site.
Male Student: Yeah, I think that's what we're doing.
Valerie: And I guess what I wanted to jump in and say was, that you're right. I mean, you are the individuals that we're speaking about. And your voice is important. So, why don't you tell me, what are you lacking now? You're in an MFA program right now. Is it going to be like when you walk out that door? What do you need to prepare yourself to walk out that door? I can imagine it sounds quite cynical, what's happening. And I don't like that to prevail.
Male Student: I'm not accusing the panel of being cynical.
Valerie: I didn't say you were. Just some of us are curious about what kind of education you're getting, what you feel are the blind spots?
Male Student: Well, in some ways, I feel like Kurt Kauper did, that, I've learned a lot. I'm glad I'm getting an MFA, and I've had a positive experience, even though I've had time adjusting to . . . Because I think we have created a class culture within MFA society. So people on the State level do feel . . . We do feel like an inferiority complex. And I went to a grad crit at Kim Adely's studio last . . . She's very nurturing as far as the MFA program. She has these grad school for the crits. And I met a lot of people from other schools. And I'm like, these people from Claremont and the UC system, they aren't this disembodied group of people that I can't relate to. Because I met with them, and I talked to them. And I met people who are working different mediums, and different areas of interest, but they are paying more for their school, and they're getting access to people that will probably further their career, further than mine, right out of the starting gate. But that said, I've talked to artists who have been out of school now for five and ten years, and they said, "It doesn't matter where I go to school, because some people aren't showing who went to Cal Arts, and other people who went to a lesser institution are out there showing their work, because they have something to say." And that goes back to the sense of urgency that the other panelists talked about. So, I don't know. Right now, I couldn't tell you what's missing out of my experience, because I've taken what Cal State Long Beach has offered. And there's some great faculty in the Art History Department, the Art Department, and in other departments in cultural studies that I've gone out and sought out. And I've gotten a well-rounded education. I'll be about $15,000 in debt after three years of school. And I would agree with Amy. I think it's how am I going to meet those bills? How do I see myself as a person relating to my spouse and my community? Am I contributing to the community? I really like what Kurt Kauper said earlier about how we are in a community and talking to that community, and not in our studios, throwing things at a wall that don't relate to anybody. So, thank you.
Valerie Cassel: Well, I want to thank you for your comments. [applause]
Man: I'm a recent graduate of Claremont University. Basically, I can speak on some of the economic pressures. [garbled and hard to understand because no mike] I also wanted to address the topic that Valerie touch on: diversity. It's not just about gender. This whole economic pressure plays for blacks and other people of color. A lot of the isolation that's going on is economic. It affects the whole structure.
Valerie Cassel: Howard, do you have a direct response?
Howard Singerman: [background noise covered first words] The Michael . . . Agency recently donated scholarships to the Los Angeles Unified School District for high school students that were interested in going on with the arts, continuing in undergraduate programs in the arts. And the way they framed it was very interesting. They said that these scholarships are being instituted to honor and give attention to those schools that have put Los Angeles on an international art map. Therefore, any student of a certain economic hardship who leaves the LA Unified School District and wants to go to Cal Arts, UCLA, or Art Center College of Design will be fully funded in the undergraduate programs. I have heardæ and I must admit , I don't know if it's the caseæ they can't find anyone to take these scholarships! But what is interesting to me is that the LA basin's largest and already its most diverse MFA Programsæthe Cal States at Long Beach, Fullerton,LAæ are not on their list, are not on their same international map. [two or more people talking at once-can't decipher]. I mean there are two different art worlds being constructed.
Valerie Cassel: Well it's the same art world. And the issue doesn't just happen on an art school MFA-BFA level. It's the eradication of art programs from the very beginning. I mean, the lack of accessibility does not just happen at that level. It permeates, it's integrated from the ground up. You know, the bigger issue is, how will we get to that stage, that you allow other practices to be validated, to come into art schools. This notion of what "self-taught" is . . . People have aptitude toward the creation, production of work. You know, what standard of criteria prevails in terms of determining who gets in and who does not get in.
Susan Cahan: I think in the question of access for students of color at art schools is also reflected by the issue of class in a very serious way. But I think looking at the relationship between art schools, the gallery system, the museum system, that the pervasive racism in the art world is another very, very important factor to take into account. And it's getting worse, not better. You're the only person of color who is a curator in a non-culturally specific museum right now, aren't you? Curator of contemporary art?
Valerie: I don't know! [interchange of laughter and comments]
Susan Cahan: I mean, Thelma Golden is no longer with the Whitney. Eugenie Sy was just fired from the Whitney. Lawry is no longer at the Metropolitan Museum. Herrado Viscares is no longer at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. There are no curators of color in the City of Los Angeles, in any of the museums. So, your point is really important. It's fundamental.
Male: I think also the point that there is not specifically money targeted to people of color. It's ridiculous. It's not like we have so many already that . . . There really needs to be money targeted to that area. The whole sense is like, "well, you're still on your own." And of course there's issues brought up, and you know, if you bring people of color, it's going to shake things up, it's going to make things different. But I think we all need to be shaken up and looked at. I'm not homosexual, but there are issues that . . . [laughter]
Female: So much emphasis of this whole panel is about art schools and art students and the art world, but when I lived . . . It's like art school and education [unclear] . . . I'd like just to comment that there is a lot going on in LA outside of . . . The other thing, the discussion about the artists who don't go to art school. And there are many, and there's some really interesting work being created. And it totally reflects class and race . . . I lived in East LA, Echo Park, . . . There's so much going on. And I think it's really the responsibility of everyone here to really go out and explore those places and see what's going on and see what this city is really about. And don't expect them to come to you. [applause]
Male: I want to throw out a hypothesis and get response from panel members, particularly Susan and Randy. The title of this panel was on discovering new artists, which sort of presupposes the position of being discovered by the marketplace. There are parallel art worlds going on out there. There's many different sorts of work being made, in many different communities that pay attention to different kinds of work. But it seems that the discovery that this panel is interested in is maybe 15 (give or take a few) galleries in Los Angeles, and a certain group of collectors and curators and writers, that frequent these galleries that are part of this world. It strikes me that the situation from the point of view of the MFA student (of which I am not, but I've been observing the art gallery world for about 15 years) is even worse than has been said. And it's in the following way. It's my observation that if you don't get signed on to a gallery right out of graduate school (and I'm talking about this very small world that I've identified), you almost don't have a shot, because the "hot," the "new," the "discovery" is just ongoing. And if you come from out of town, you're in a very difficult position. If you're older and don't have an MFA, almost forget about it. And if you're 50 years old, and your gallery closes, and you're not a hot seller, but you might have been a really good artist (and I'm thinking of people like Millie Wilson and George Stone and . . .), they have . . . I don't know what, tactically, . . . There's been a lot of hand wringing about the tactics of the MFA student and his or her faculty trying to get them into the pipeline, which is LA, probably is London now, New York, and I don't know what. I guess I think it's going to get worse, and I'd like to hear Randy and Susan's response to that.
Randy Sommers: I would agree with you, everything you said. If you want to be just really honest. I don't think it's the end of it all, of course. I think as long as the economy is so good, it leaves open a lot of potential, and to use Valerie's word earlier, excesses. There's so many excesses going on right now. I think we're having trouble staying focused on a number of things in all disciplines, all types of businesses, and I think there's other ways artists can make it. Going through grad school is one. I show artists that didn't even go to graduate school, and they seem to be doing fine. And that's like another whole panel discussion. I still think people can . . . I went through grad school thinking, "I'll go into college level teaching, so I can support myself and still make my art." Well, I ended up doing what I'm doing. I haven't made any art in 15 years. And I'm having more fun doing what I'm doing now. There are people that come in who are 20 to 25 that we tell, "Sorry, we aren't looking." I try to recommend them to somebody, to a curator. And sometimes a curator or many times curators, writers, come by, and we have slides of other artists, and they'll say, "I'm working on a show about this and that. Can you suggest anyone?" And I go, "Yeah, here's so-and-so's home number." And there's always other ways that things keep moving if you're that type of person. I mean I think, all the people on this panel are those type of people, who are givers. There's a lot of takers out there, but it's Susan's job to be a giver, and I think all of us. And we communicate . . . I know you can get very depressed about it, but there's a whole network of people that pass names and information around. And things come of it. And sometimes it's not immediately, but I have lost count of how many times I've suggested somebody to someone else, and I know I couldn't do anything for them at the time-or maybe ever-but there's a sense of gratification on my personal level that, wow! This guy's name popped up, he got in that show! Unbelievable! Or even in some cases, "Oh my gosh, he got into the Whitney!" I never showed her, but she got into the Whitney! It happens. I think, fortunately, there's so much unpredictability and the art world is so fluid, and there are so many students coming out of the art schools, and they're just trying to find their way. So I feel like I don't have any answers, but I feel like every day I go into my own gallery, I'm very open, almost like I'm playing basketball. I never know when someone's going to throw the ball at me. I've had people come in . . . Susan doesn't even call me . . . Or they'll bring a letter and say, "Susan Cahan looked at my work, suggested you look at it, thought you might be interested." I don't need to get a call from Susan, like there's a little letter of introduction. But I never know . . . Sometimes I talk to people, look at their work. I find out that they, after a week later, it was the wife of someone I knew, or . . . Sometimes it's very entangled. Sometimes it's trying to look at the collectors. But they're sometimes very good about not using their name, knowing I just need to look at the art and talk to the person. It isn't about where they went to school, even. I don't look at that when I'm looking. I look at the slides. I look at the artwork. Very secondarily do I go look at the bio and see where they went to school. I just look at the art.
Susan Cahan: I think that, of course, we would all like to think that we're very virtuous, and we judge the work on merit itself, and not extraneous factors. But, you know, the fact is that in preparing for this panel, I tried to make a list of all the artists in the collection that don't have MFAs. And I have to tell you, I don't know all their bios backwards and forwards, but I came up with a very short list. One of the artists who ACME shows is Tony Farrer who also did works collected and was a guest faculty member at Cal Arts a couple of years ago. You know, Tony never went to art school. But it's true, that the gallery system and the collecting system is very much lubricated with the MFA system. And from my position, I do go to as many of the MFA shows as I can. I go to artists' studios. But not necessarily to go shopping. Even though, as I mentioned to my fellow panelists before the panel, that a lot of people view me as a walking gold bar, because they know the Nortons have a lot of money, and that they collect very aggressively. And that spending a couple thousand dollars on a work of art means nothing to them. Whereas to you or me, it would mean a big investment. So I try to go to the MFA shows and the studios to keep up with what's going on, but it's only very seldom that we actually buy anything by an artist who is at that level of their career. The Nortons, and me as their representative by extension, we have the privilege of having a fairly high public profile. And what that means is that a lot of people come to us who are completely outside the academic and the regular art world channels. Because also they're philanthropically oriented (the Nortons are philanthropic and they have a foundation), we get things like letters from grandmothers in Alabama whose son is going to Cooper Union, but can't afford an apartment, and could the Norton's help pay for his rent every month! I mean we get like, "He's going to an MFA program." That's probably a bad example, but you know what I mean. Like this guy who's a friend of David Hammond's, who's in his seventies, and he found some work in the basement that they did together 30 years ago, and because he only has one name, . . . The range of stuff that comes to us because of Norton's public profile is vast. Their public profile also can function strategically and instrumentally for the artists in the collection. They entertain a lot. You put something up on the Norton's walls, whether that person has an MFA or a gallery or not, and they give five dinner parties, and you know, a hundred collectors and dealers and other artists are going to see that work. And so we try to use their visibility strategically and instrumentally. So I hope that that gives a little bit more of a kind of a well-rounded picture. Not to try to sound defensive and justify that we're looking beyond just the marketplace, but that we're thinking about our role strategically in relation to the marketplace.
Mary-Kay Lombino: My question is for Amy. And maybe it can be addressed by the other panel members, too. It's about how important is that review that Lane might write in Frieze, or that Susan buys the work for the Norton Foundation, or that Valerie puts you in the Biennial. Even though you're wanting to keep creating work for the next five years and holding on, how much are each of those little things . . . How much do they matter in your practice?
Amy Myers: Well, in actual studio practice, in terms of making work, and "here I am" as an artist, how that fits in to the community . . . To me, my number one commitment is to my studio, and to my focus. And it's really important for me as an artist to-regardless of the positive or negative input throughout my career-that I maintain a center. I hold that focus, regardless of what happens externally. So, ultimately, it's not what's the most important. It is nice, because coming out of an MFA program with student loans, there's some type of financial hope on the horizon. So it does make a difference. It does. Yes, it makes a difference. But I think ultimately the integrity and the commitment is to the work. You know, the trajectory of the work is going to remain regardless of external circumstances.
Female: I was thinking actually of one of the first questions you said you were going to ask the panel. How do we define "professional" in the post-MFA era. And I was thinking that you have to re-define "professional." There are all kinds of other things. I graduated from Cal State about 15 years ago, but my outlook is just a little bit longer than Amy's. Instead of five years of paying the bills and still making art, I've had 15, and am still making art. So I can still consider that successful . . . And the first thing I hear is, "Where are you showing? Are you selling anything?" So if everybody's still saying, "Are you selling or are you showing?" and that's how we define it, then maybe we're not going change that unless we who are doing it, the MFA people and the people who are not in MFA programs, say, "I'm an artist! And I did this. Do you want to see the work?" We're all doing it. We're writing this history, now. As we are talking, we're still defining that. And what you do tomorrow does. And what you do next week also defines professional fine artist. It defines the world as we can make it. [applause]
Valerie Cassel: I was actually struck when I was one of the members of the curatorial team that developed the Whitney Biennial. I was really struck and inspired by going out all over the country and meeting with artists and going to their studios, many of which graduated years and years ago, continue to do their work. Despite any opportunities to show, any opportunities to sell, they continue to do the work. And their commitment to their work was honored by what I would call people . . . I mean, I wouldn't know who was in Atlanta. I don't live in Atlanta, and I don't do business in Atlanta. I would call people and say, "OK, you're a curator, you do art papers here." Many different levels of people engaged in the art field in that particular community. I'd say, "Who in your realm is doing work that you respect?" Not, who's selling the most work. But who is doing the work that you respect? And I would even have artists . . . I would go to artists' studios, and I would have artists say, "You have got to see such-and-such's work." There is such a commitment and bravery out there. And I just want to applaud the people who do go through the MFA program, and who continue to be committed to their work despite the hype. Because that's really what matters. [applause]
Male: I keep hearing the art market described in phrases such as "it's getting worse." And "it's so horrible." But when I was in graduate school, it seemed to me that Los Angeles was a place of great possibility and opportunity, so I am completely against this attitude that this "horrible art forum that exists." And it's creating a sort of contrast of the things like integrity and quality, which are very slippery terms. You know, as slippery as urgency. [laughter] I just want . . . You know, it seems to me that seeing a lot of my peers become successful artists, I would really challenge anyone to suggest that these artists who have moved into the professional context successfully and embraced that, don't themselves show a great deal of integrity and quality in their work. And just one example of that would be Amy Adler, who I think as a peer whom I value-knowing her-she showed me both how to be an artist who pursued complexity in my work, and also showed me how to embrace the professional context. So, I'm really bothered by that contrast that's being established. As if these two things are mutually exclusive.
Valerie Cassel: Thank you. Thank you very much for putting that out. It is not to diminish those who become successful, at all. So I'm sorry that that was the sort of tenor that may have been emanating from the panel.
Male: No, not from the panel at all. It was that lady that I was questioning. It wasn't directed at you.
Female: I have a question for Randy and Amy. We've been talking a lot about the economy and how it puts a lot of pressure on graduate students as well as artists in the community right here. How hard it is to make a living. And I know Randy started Food House. And I would like to hear why . . . We're talking about the lack of alternative spaces. Why is this happening right now? And, Amy, I know you just moved here, but I'd like you to comment upon that as well.
Randy Sommers: That gives me an opening to talk about something very specific, right on the subject here of bringing up-and I won't name any names. But I don't know the answer to your question. I keep asking myself, . . . I think possibly again just because the economy is so good. When Food House started, three other guys started it. I got pushed out, forced out of my other job at a big gallery and was on unemployment and became a gallery director for a small community college-for a year, to keep myself alive. In the meantime, I got involved with Food House, taking them a proposal for a show because my former boss wouldn't show it because the woman who actually had done of the work . . . The woman was straight. Her father had died of AIDS, and the work was about that. I felt I wanted to show a man who was gay, the work was overtly political, and my boss of course (because neither artists work would sell) didn't want to show it in the gallery. So I understood that, so I was free to take the proposal to Food House. Well, by the time they reviewed it-they were so slow (that's one thing I did teach them, was speed things up)-I got pushed out of my job at my former gallery where I worked, and got involved with them. But that place-Food House-was born out of anger, frustration, demoralization even, by a bunch of genuine artists that got so sick of going into big galleries like where I worked, and saw this fluff on the walls for $30,000 and more, that people were buying to decorate their houses. And I fully understood where they were coming from. I was tired of it myself. I think what's different now . . . I mean, there are a lot of alternative spaces going on in LA. And I can vouch Susan probably knows where they are and could name them far faster than I could, because I can't get out any more to go see them. There's an opening tonight that I can't go to, that I'd really like to go to. It's somebody's house way up in Silverlake. There's no parking. I've already been warned. The show's been up two or three days. I have no idea if Susan even knows about this little place. I can't even tell you all the artists. I think there's six artists. And there's one young guy in there who already in the last two days, most of LA's biggest collectors have already trooped through this house, trying to buy this guy's work-which isn't for sale. Because he's been advised by another artist who I'm close to, to (for a lot of reasons) don't sell the work. Try to put the emphasis on the work. Deny the collectors access. Show the work. It's not for sale. He's already been approached by one of the very biggest galleries in LA last summer to have a show, and he said, "No." He's still in school. He's not even out of grad school. The works, what little I've seen, is exquisite. It's beautiful. It's also kind of bucking against prevailing notions of contemporary art. It's actually kind of academic in a way, which I find refreshing and curious. But I think because the economy is so good, and the art schools keep getting more and more expensive and the debts keep going up, there's just such a huge emphasis on money all the time. It perplexes me, because I'm part of that machinery. I promote that by information maybe I give Lane for writing a review, or . . . I purposely try to stay somewhat passive and try to keep my friendships. Kind of a separation. On purpose, I don't hang out with people like Susan-not because I dislike her, but because I don't want to be accused of sucking up to her. It's too obvious. And I do that with the writers. I'm friends with a lot of the writers, but I try to keep that friendship on a level that has nothing to do with my gallery, my business. Because, you know, I get bad reviews, our gallery gets bad reviews sometimes. It happens. But I keep wondering, too, why don't we see more really good alternative spaces. I think there are quite a few percolating up. It's just so hard to keep them going because it takes money, and more than anything it takes commitment, or even about what Kurt was talking about, it's about quality and integrity. And a lot of times it's just the people running those spaces are so flaky or they're trying to take care of a baby and a sick husband, and this and that, that they can't be there during posted hours to have someone important like Susan or Valerie come through. So after awhile, the word gets out, "Oh, they're never open. I won't bother driving over there." And then all of a sudden they fall, because no one's buying work from them any more. The people, the artists running it lose their steam, and another one bites the dust. It goes down.
Randy Sommer: It goes back to what I said. I think the artist has more power than you realize. On our front desk, I purposely always keep it open, so it's become like a community bulletin board. It goes back to the Food House days. Anybody can bring in anything. Like if you do a show, and you curate it, and set some hotel for one weekend, we'll put the cards out. Because I think it's important, because we do get a lot of people from out of town coming in, and they pick up those cards. And it's shocking. They will go to those places. Because it's LA, they're trying to get a taste of what's going on here. And they may call Lane to get an idea of like, "Who do you know that's doing this kind of painting? Who should I go see?" Or Susan's good enough to take people around to different studios and galleries. But, again, I think if you're frustrated, make something happen on your own. Make us-all of us panelists-come look at it. Ring a bell, or do something different to get our attention.
Lane Relyea: But that basically happened . . . work in the early '90s after a lot of these spaces started up. The thing to remember about the phenomenon of all these spaces, like Food House, Bliss, Three-Day Weekend, try Dennis Anderson Gallery, Tommy Solomon's Garage, so-on-and-so-forth, was that they all happened during the recession. And, you know, again, not to get into this thing that Kurt warned about-and rightly so-but you know, money has its effects. It's not that it completely negates the quality of the work that it's focused on. It just makes for conditions and a set of effects that you have to deal with, you have to negotiate. One of them is, when you walked into Food House or Bliss, . . . I mean Bliss didn't even have the business license to sell work. It didn't even have a name when they first started to show work. And you went in there, you couldn't buy any work, but you felt like it was yours. It was your scene. Your being there, having a beer, seeing the show, talking to people, was what it was all about. There was nothing beyond that. And it was very, very empowering. Now, you have to go like Fred Peterson, who got publicized in the Dennis Cooper thing, is that a UCLA student that goes out and starts an alternative space, but he gets the business license first. It's opened exclusively as a commercial enterprise. And then, when you walk into it, you feel more like you're walking through a showroom. And if you're not there to buy, like walking through a showroom of things you can't afford, you feel somewhat alienated. I mean, these are real effects. This has to do with striation of the art world. It's something that I wanted to say earlier. It's that, I feel like one of the stratifications going is that critics are-maybe like Randy, we should start a mutual commiseration society where . . . But I think that critics are really without a whole lot of power in the current art world. Maybe we never had all that much power. But we certainly don't now. And I'll give you some examples. When Toba Gidori graduates from school at the Davids Warner Gallery, or when Jason Rhodes comes out of school and a month later has his first solo show at Davids Warner, by the time they show here, it's all a loan. So us classmates, or the critics, or the community-what's our say? What public gets to produce through its reaction and discussion about work, the value attributed to that work, under these kinds of conditions? And I think that curators are replacing, or taking over the function usually associated with critics. Because only they can survey this new scene. You know, it's not even like there's 15 galleries. It's now a certain designation on an international mount. It's not that low, it's still fairly small. But there are certain people who go to those spots who have institutional backing-certainly not me. They'll probably be Valerie.
Valerie Cassel: I work in Houston now! [laughter]
Lane Relyea: Yeah. But only they can come up with something like an overview. They can talk about Jason Rhodes's career with some sense of . . .
Susan Cahan: Only collectors can do that. Seriously. Only collectors have the money to travel all over the world and see all these international shows, and really know what's going on. And I talk to curators who feel . . . Even Gary Garelson told me this when he was at SF MOMA that he's desperately trying to keep up with these board members.
Lane Relyea: Yes, well there you go. But still, Gary Garelson has a million times more frequent flyer miles than me! [laughter] I'm lucky if I get a bus ticket to Fresno. [laughter]
Valerie Cassel: Well, we're about to wear out our welcome.
Susan Cahan: Can I just say one thing? In the interests of accessibility, I would like to give all the artists in the audience my address. And invite you to please send me slides of your work, so that I can see what it looks like. Not necessarily to buy it. Susan Cahan, Norton Family Office, 225 Arizona Avenue, Santa Monica, 90401. No, don't come up and get it. I don't have any cards or anything. Just write it down. If you want, I would really love to see your work, so please send it.
CLOSING THANK YOU's