text /// Chris Rusak

Chipped paint, Window, San Francisco.

Chipped paint, Window, San Francisco
Chipped paint, Window, San Francisco
Digital photograph, 2012

The Danger of Corporate Curators

The more I think about it the less I like the idea of art on corporate platforms, and specifically here social media, that is to say work created by artists, identifiably, which relatively exists only on that platform. For instance, auctioneer and collector Simon de Pury said today that “Instagram makes everyone an artist.” I disagree, as did megacurator Klaus Biesenbach during the panel where the statement was made.

Simon dePury Art Basel Quote

First, if everyone is an artist on Instagram, then all of the content on Instagram is art. That is simply not the case.

Second, de Pury’s claim suggests that merely joining Instagram “makes” one an artist. Everyone would agree that’s bullshit, especially working artists of any variety, schooled or auto-didactic. Instagram is a proprietary platform whose ultimate purpose is, and whose value and/or revenue derive(s) from, generating data and traffic. While data and traffic are essential to any businesses, artists and galleries indeed, art’s functions are greater than accumulation and thoroughfare, no matter what businesspersons lead you to believe.

Furthermore, usage of a proprietary platform whose end-user agreement makes no offer of remuneration for the services of its laborers is predatory. Instagram explicitly states such a contract:

Instragram EULA snippet

Worse, in addition to no upfront payment to artists making work on Instagram, any work subsequently sold, at any time, in any format, in perpetuity, is royalty-free. This contractual “license” can be sold itself, like a commodity or a financial derivative instrument, as well. Anyone, artist or not, sells their creations and the rights to them — two things, not one — if they create art on the platform. If a gallery were to come knocking and offer to sell your art, but only for free, would you sign that contract? These are zero-sum deals any artist should plainly avoid and refuse.

My guess is de Pury wasn’t thinking about any of these points in the moment he made his comment and was instead aiming for an optimistic, feel-good quote which romances art and its membership’s perceived free license: Anyone can call themselves an artist and anything could be art, so everyone is an artist, and everything is art. How empowering.

Well, this line of thinking is also bullshit. If any of those four statements are true, they are all true, which is illogical. And if everything were art, or were able to be categorized as such, then nothing could be art, because by definition art is something of some notable distinction that distinguishes it from the rest of time and matter.

So, auctioneer de Pury’s promotion of free licensure as pathways to art is just more stroking of the gavels and fashionably lapelled, well-crafted dissonance the reeks of respect for or even ponderation of what the fuck art is. Rather, de Pury is from the same camp in which gallerist and Los Angeles expellee Jeffrey Deitch unrolls his sleeping bag. And that is the belief that if someone takes gifted detritus and “channels their vision” with it into an assemblage that they are comparable to an artist of great gravitas or effect. Presumably, they are saleable to collectors, too. With fresh, ample inventories! This is the stench evident in his recent statement comparing pop star Miley Cyrus to the late artist Mike Kelley, whose recent retrospective at MOCA easily did not evidence such.

de Pury and Deitch are out for themselves and the business side of the art industry. They are image men, art emcees hogging the stage and spotlight even as they grip and shove the shoulders of their actors. Deitch’s statement particularly makes me ill, as it truly reveals either a perverse sense of qualitative evaluation or a willingness to stop at nothing for the next marketable phenomenon, the next billion-dollar-start-uplike artname; perhaps it reveals both. And Instagram is out for itself, too, no matter how much its service actually helps facilitate revolutions or increases artist exposure. The monolithic accumulation of a photographic collection unparalleled to any other in art history, just like Flickr, will be something for future art historians to behold. But, why do this for them and create “art” in some collector’s archive for free? What a shitty sidetrack to impermanence.

This is the danger of corporate curators: The shows they stage may feature artists, but the story’s stars are the ones hawking up a scene. It may be fun to run into their theaters and laugh at or pan their charades for free, culture’s critics applaud and hiss, but building their sets and ushering in the ticketed patrons for them is just foolish volunteerism. Exposure is a terrible carrot to thrive on and the rabbits waving that opportunity are really wolves. The sales pitch disguised as aphorism is one fairy tale more artists, writers, and critics need to stop endorsing and instead use to call out attention to the inane parasitism we’ve allowed ourselves to support.


Addendum: Corinna Kirsch at Art F City provides some takeaways from the “Instagram as an Artistic Medium” talk I reference.

Demands for future artists & critics.

Here’s what I think we need to demand of artists & critics moving forward:

A return to the aesthetic experience. Stop smoking the concept bong that turns your commentary on your work into theory-laden drivel, stop emulating your MFA professors, stop appealing to critics or even the art-going public. Let’s get honest and all start agreeing in our admissions, finally, why we make art and what its purpose(s) are. The surrounding illusions are helping no one.

A return to the intelligible word. Stop smoking the theory bong that turns your commentary on others’ work into ideal-laden drivel, stop emulating your advertisers, stop appealing to social media or even the non-art-going public. Let’s get honest and all start agreeing in our admissions, finally, why we enjoy art and what its purpose(s) are. The surrounding illusions are helping no one.

One reason Ello is superior to Twitter.

Though I haven’t been on Ello very long, it’s not hard to immediately notice the things that do not exist here versus its largest competitor, Twitter. I say this because one of the reasons I’ve grown tired of the Bird was because it became such a reactionary environment. Yes, things happen quickly in the world, but Twitter also speeds up the response to events. Some think this valuable, and I don’t entirely disagree, but I found it noisy, especially in recent months.

What Ello lacks are two specific features, absences which greatly benefit the platform’s environment. First, there is no favoriting function. Similarly, there is no reposting function, also thought of as the retweet. The absence of these features forces users to create praise, disdain, or echo, instead of being able to, with one click, make a pang in the network. Liking is now a process of expression, not a numerical record of an event. Instead of accumulating 10000 favorites, we are perhaps appreciating the output of others in place of collecting stars.

It doesn’t surprise me that I’ve also noticed how creative Ello is, namely that most of the people who I have discovered work in artistic service industries, are artists themselves, or have some connection to the humanities. That’s not to say that the industrial elements aren’t here, but the technical set I’ve seen aren’t bickering as loudly as currently underway elsewhere due to recent furors. The raging over political futilities seems to be less in fashion here, too. I wonder why?

I hope that the developers of Ello consider this simplicity of UX, this “absence” of instafunctions which encourage re-activity instead of activity, as not a void to be patched, but part of the mortar that makes this structure sound. Kneejerks are easy; they never need more than one click. But, thoughtful contribution is gold on social media. Here, with the ability to post in long form (versus 140-like limits), and without the instafunctions of other networks (the like, the favorite, the etc.), a unique platform is on offer. Perhaps quieter, more reflective, more generative than recycling.

And the bread emoji is cute — but it’s a loaf we must slice up and serve on our own unlike the automats beside us. Let’s keep that a process we must bake up ourselves.

Artspeak under the influence of theory.

Drunk on its idea, an explanation or description of a work of art through the lens of a tertiary theory almost always fits. Theory bends for those who apply it. This is not to suggest that theories are somehow deceptive or necessarily dubious, rather they are important to knowledge and creativity and their pursuits. A cruise through academia or one of your more-notable scholarly journals certainly seems to suggest that, in fact, theory is crucial to the practices of art.

My thoughts and products are no strangers to theory; my bookcase looks like a pantry of possibilities in print. And admittedly many of those books prove helpful — prove indispensable — to understanding art and the world that contains it.

But after many long, quiet mornings, pencil paused between teeth and text arrested on crossed thigh, the mind gazing long upon experiences of art while questioning various celebrated critics’ chosen interpretations of art’s practice germane to such objects, the notion that interpretation under the influence of heftily attractive philosophic theories smacks of a certain parasitism just won’t shake from my sights.