Being at SVA puts students very close to the hub of the art world, giving them an opportunity to witness its growing pains up close. Right now, they have a ringside seat for one of the biggest crises of faith it has ever faced. Since the beginning of the economic downturn, art world buzz has been dominated by rumors of gallery closings, declining art auction prices, and the end of things as they used to be in the world art market. There’s still no consensus as to what is going to happen in the future, though there is a growing sense that things may have to change fairly radically going forward. So far, though, no one seems to know exactly what that change may entail. Such a climate opens a window for a any number of artistic experiments questioning the way art is made, valued, bought, and sold.
These woes have spurred a group of VCS students to create Outpost, an attempt to explore the art market’s workings in a gallery setting, right where the question of art valuation is ultimately settled. Under the guidance of VCS faculty member Amy Wilson, student organizers Erin Franke and Katie Armstrong have created an exhibition that examines what it means to make and market art in a recession-ravaged economy, while also providing a showcase for a wide and impressive variety of art by VCS students Alyse Anderson, Katie Armstrong, Ranya Asmar, Shannon Broder, Megan Connaughton, Zeke Decker, Angela Fan, Erin Franke, Kelly Kabezas, Elektra KB, Shannon Kelley, Amy Kolenut, Eleni Kontos, Marissa Leah, Sam Liberman, Romy Melgar, Shellyne Rodriguez, Sharon Broza Stone, Brooke Tomiello, Alex Torres, as well as a collective work by the second year sculpture students, and a piece by VCS department chair Tom Huhn.
Set up in a temporarily repurposed section of the VCS studios, Outpost presents an exhibition in which artworks are presented as items for trade, rather than purchase. Instead of following the traditional model of setting a price and hoping the works find a buyer, the exhibition falls back on the older and much more fluid system of barter. Viewers who want to acquire specific works of art write proposed trades on slips of paper and place them in small pouches hung next to each work. The ultimate decision as to which offer to take (if any) is left to the artist’s discretion, creating a free-market zone of one-of-a-kind transactions in which an offer to clean the artist’s apartment may have to compete against a piece of jewelry or a sack of groceries. Instead of the sort of bottom-line price tag comparisons that apply in traditional art market appraisals, the value of art becomes defined by unique, one-on-one negotiations that translate both parties’ sense of artistic worth into very direct, concrete terms. The primary factor in price setting thus becomes love of the work, rather than the usual economic factors of gallery overhead, artist branding, or supply and demand.
Starting on October 17th and running through the end of last week, Outpost garnered an impressive amount of press during its brief run. As can be seen on this blog’s press page, it has been covered by publications as diverse as Juxtapoz, Lost at E Minor, and Business Week Business Exchange.
A catalog for the exhibition published through SVA’s Visual Arts Press is forthcoming. I will post an update as soon is it is available. For more information on Outpost, please visit the project’s home page, and the press release on SVA’s site. More images from the exhibition are also available on the events page of this blog.