Frieze was noisy and crowded with expensive foods and nothing extraordinary in the booths. Maybe the artists are tired too. They’ve been at it day and night to produce enough saleable stuff for all these fairs, 200 thus far and counting. We played “what four works do you remember from the show?” during dinner that evening with collectors and professionals. They were hard-pressed. Maybe they were tired too.
For some reason, instead of recalling marvelous contemporary work I still see the Rauschenberg cardboard construction soaring on the wall at Gagosian’s. And the two Dennis Oppenheim drawings in a London booth. Why can’t I remember the more recent items? Great art holds up. Doesn’t mean the emerging artists don’t have some chance at immortality, or at least a mention in the art history books, and perhaps walking through the show with others isn’t the way to take the work seriously. And maybe that’s the problem with these big shows that are proliferating like dandelions in May. Perhaps the sheer size doesn’t allow us the opportunity to engage with the art in these 100 plus exhibitions where we tend to rush through, looking for that “wow” piece or the one we can chuckle over with our companions. And then there are always those satellite shows, some of them interesting but too many boring or bad.
Now there are design shows as well as art shows. One recently at the pier on 15th Street (never been there before) was filled with chairs and tables and desks that required discussion, but there was relatively few people with whom to discuss anything- at least on opening day. The displays begged for signage, explanations, some sign that the sellers were interested in the pieces they were showing.
But on the weekend, at the conference on Initiatives in Art & Culture I remembered why I had enjoyed the art world so much once. Put together by Lisa Koenigsberg, the two-day conference on American Art was filled with intelligent talks on a part of the art world that has been shamefully neglected for the past several years – art made in America from the 1700s into the mid 20th century. Perhaps if we called it “international art made in America” it might have a better chance. Much of the great art from our older American artists is in museums or important private collections, but there is a wealth of overlooked artists from the past. We may see a resurgence of interest in the discovery of these now obscure painters and sculptors of the past. But will collectors whose eyes seem blind to all but the one-stop shopping artist’s in your face creations find any excitement in the moderately priced homespun heroes of yesterday? And will their hearts beat faster at the prospect of not competing with the $50 million trophy? And does the $7.2 billion spent on art in 2012 have much to do with art?