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ethics and five-flavored credibility

Post #71 • July 30, 2003, 8:25 AM

Museums, galleries, alternative spaces, critics, and collectors have different flavors of credibility that they can confer, and the artist’s job from a career standpoint is to collect ‘em all. Museums confer historical import; galleries, saleability; alternative spaces, coolness; critics, buzz; and collectors, desireability. To some extent these five parties confer credibility on each other as well, as when a museum gains coolness by showing work that has provenance in an alternative space. Ultimately, a longer-term investment is possible in the art itself, if it’s good, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make a nice chunk of change out of the artist’s person, if it’s interesting.

Money from collectors fuels this machine. Whether they love and understand art or not, collectors trade their money for accumulated credibility. Collectors who have a good eye (whether for a bankable product or a bankable product-maker) have the advantage of being able to buy low.

So here’s a hypothesis: if these five entities form enough mutually beneficial arrangements with each other, the skids are greased to take an artist and confer a lot of credibility on him by getting his work into the alternative space, the gallery, the museum, the newspaper or magazine, and the private collection in a speedy manner. The five flavors of credibility are spread around in an act of mutual admiration, and everyone can make a little money on it.

A perfect ethical guideline would be to say that no one should be in a position to confer two flavors of credibility. Miami’s art world, however, is too small for that to happen. We will have to be content to say that anyone in a position to confer two flavors of credibility ought to be plain to everyone about their ability to do so.

Does that sound mousey? Consider that the arts budget for the state was just cut 80%. If our museums were crowded at all hours of the day, there wouldn’t be that kind of ill-will in the political environment. My theory is that a complex version of the above hypothesis is in effect, and the result is that a small number of self-interested parties control the exhibition agendas. More banking has been done on interesting product-makers than good product (so much more is available!), and the aesthetic sophistry of the insiders has become irreconcilable with the tastes of the general public. The public, in the form of its elected officials, no longer wants to pay for what the museums are giving them.

The insiders must consider whether their judgements are independent, educated, heartfelt, reasoned, an in agreement with some kind of perennial principles. We don’t need an oversight board – the only currency that disappears faster than money is credibility. I think that’s what the insiders are headed for – an 80% die-off of credibility. More on this in another post.

The outsiders must lobby the insiders for change. Is the art criticism in the paper nonsense? Write the editor. Did the museum put on a boring show? Tell them. Did the gallery waste your viewing time? Say so in the guest book. If they get it right, thank them. Don’t just vote with your feet and your wallet – vote with your mouth and pen and keyboard. Do it weekly if need be.

The outsiders must also create their own opportunites for display, sales, and press. They should form their own galleries, press outlets, collector relationships, and, yes, museums. This is difficult, especially when considering the ease with which people who have insider status can get these things, but no matter. New networks of insiders will form, and eventually bump into each other. The interests will be just as conflicted as before, but there will be a greater diversity of interests. The inside will become larger, and it will include more of the public at large.

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