Post #746 • March 6, 2006, 7:30 AM • 46 Comments
Holland Cotter looks at the new collaboration. My thoughts:
Someone once said that two people getting together to write a book is like three people getting together to make a baby. I believe that in a world of unevenly distributed talent, strong individuals tend to dominate collectives, and eventually split off on their own once their talents self-actualize, in the Maslovian sense. This has been the case throughout the history of artist groups and I see no counterexamples now.
Nevertheless, much of this collaborative work is enabled by technology and seems like one of the first genuinely new developments in recent memory. New hardly means good, of course, and a click through the attached slide show reveals objects that have no shortage of ideas but whose mishmash appearance speaks truly about their origins in committee. But after exposure to so much faux radicalism, this looks pretty radical - working methods that weren't possible several years ago are resulting in art that doesn't fall cleanly within present categories of art-making.
With that in mind, the anticapitalist and anti-individualist angle on some of the work isn't particularly grown-up. (The author shares blame in this:
[The artist collective] may undermine the cult of the artist as media star, dislodge the supremacy of the precious object and unsettle the economic structures that make the art world a mirror image of the inequities of American culture at large. In short, it confuses how we think about art and assign value to it. This can only be good.
Why? Are people insufficiently confused about how to assign value at the moment? Cotter seems confused enough for all of us, refraining from passing judgment on anything until the end, upon one collective whose crime is the excessive fame of its members.) These groups miss out on the promise of the open source movement to harness aggregated talent, which celebrates individual authors working cooperatively. Open source projects can compete against traditionally developed ones; the art cited above can too, but only becuase much of the competition is so poor. Anticapitalist and anti-individualist projects tend to fizzle out of their own accord once they meet up with the realities of staying alive and the desire for recognition. Will Critical Art Ensemble or Otabenga Jones & Associates prove to be the exceptions? Much of that will depend on the museums' collective willingness to keep them alive, not to mention how cool the members are going to be with each other when a gallery sells their work and the time comes to write somebody a check.
More importantly, will such groups ever generate great art? I don't think so, but inspired individuals using their methods could. Dance, theater, and film people already have to work cooperatively as they pursue their visions. Time-based visual artists could do the same, and the new technology combined with the nature of their media could allow for unprecedented kinds of cooperation. Something about this idea of the collectives, although not the art they're making right now, looks like it's worth keeping in mind.