The Stefan Simchowitz Solution

On Hyperallergic, Marion Manekar provides interesting insight on the current, hot, capitalistic phenomena exciting the art world: Stefan Simchowitz. I’ve made some small points regarding art flipping in my last post, but I think there’s more to be said now.

If you take the time to read Simchowitz’s responses to Paddy Johnson’s Facecrook discourse, and some of Flipper’s quotes in the recent New York Times profile, “The Art World’s Patron Satan,” and discount any concern of selective editing by its author, you will nevertheless understand why a man who says this to an artist:

On the walls of the studio were a series of canvases smeared with black paint that feebly gestured at Abstract Expressionism. Bewilderingly, one was inscribed with a global-warming slogan. “There’s going to be three subcategories in the series, and then they all start cross-contaminating each other,” Murphey haltingly explained. As Simchowitz perused the works in progress, he began to look worried. “Just try to work out some of the ideas,” he said, looking straight at Murphey. “Keep the show focused. I need you to work. You’re very distracted.”

Murphey smiled nervously. “Focus?” he asked, chuckling.

You either want this or you don’t want this,” Simchowitz said sternly. He was clearly referring not just to Murphey’s show but to his career as a whole. “If you don’t want it, do something else. Focus. There’s no alternative.” (emphasis added)

can also write a wordy, hasty, poorly edited Facecrook comment/reply which totally fails to once demonstrate underlying concerns about technical quality, art history, or long-term narrative. Granted, he responds to qualms about artistic autonomy over that narrative for history — but that seems to be a really small pit surrounded by a much, much larger cherry. He does confirm one absolute and blindingly bright point that anyone who cares about art as more than just a financial transaction notices: money is meaning. We know what Simchowitz ultimately wants and the consternation stems from the realization it’s probably not ultimately the same thing the artist wants. Heartburn ensues.

Stefan Simchowitz Comments on Facecrook

Comments by Stefan Simchowitz on Facecrook

Art viewers and patrons find varied value in enjoying the produce of our industry. And we are an industry. Some of us completely get off on objectless, temporal, public performances which somehow renew an intangible and fervent reaction within us as a result of being its audience, or instead it pisses us off (I have yet to read that he has represented or supported artists whose primary medium is not transactionable objects.) Some of us collect prints and paintings and enjoy a private experience ownership affords. And some of us enjoy all of that, much more, and the numbers game running on the side, too. Simchowitz sees art’s values, first, for its numbers. There is no cross-contamination to be had, of narrative or meaning or deeper aesthetic reasoning beyond poptasticness, in his primal valuing method.

I’m okay with this. Honestly, here are our choices:

1. We can accept Simchowitz’s presence as a patron in our industry.

2. We can reject Sinchowitz’s machinations as anti-art, bitch and grovel, and little will change the opinion of his customers or the financial abysses of the artists with whom he first transacts.

I’ll take the former and focus my criticism on the work the artists whom he represents produce. I’ll focus my criticism on critics who espouse questionable mechanics like his, who wax poetic helium-filled patronage like his, who waste time and column space arguing about him and keep a spotlight off the artists. I’ll call out art historians down the line who similarly aim to use his reins for their own creative ascendancy. And, most importantly, I’ll continue to practice as an artist who writes about these ideas as much as I create as a result of them.

The problem for Simchowitz will always be one of (re-)marketability: “Should I buy into this artist?”

The solution for artists is to ask oneself, “Why should I buy into Simchowitz?”

Being an utterly broke Angeleno artist, I’m looking forward to a time I might get to meet him and score his excitement (maybe I should join Instaglam). Why? Because, given the chance, I will do, what I imagine many other artists who were either too timid, too naive, too desperate, or too emotional to do in the first place, and that is negotiate terms more beneficial to the concerns I prioritize as an artist. And perhaps those terms will be chosen not for their payoff, but for their power. I’d love gallery representation as much as the next artist, but I’m more concerned about its role as a relationship than for its choice of off-white on the walls. I suspect no artist has been forced into an indentured relationship with Simchowitz and that they each willingly chose to work with him: That’s exercising artist autonomy. If you get in bed with the devil, don’t expect critical sympathy after being art-historically burned.

Negotiation is not a sure thing, indeed, but neither is continuing to produce art without a Simchowitz in near sight, and yet I keep making.

¶ 2015·01·05