What does it mean to be an artist today? What does it mean to an artist of color today? For the longest time I thought it was an equal playing field. Personally graduating from art school studying fashion, I never thought I would be a fine artist. But several freelance fashion jobs later, I found art more fulfilling.
…an artist’s career is based on academia no matter how good or bad the work is…
Back in the day if the work was good, a dealer or equivalent would give you a show and see what develops. I think the career of Jean Michel Basquiat changed the whole dynamic of the “gallery system”. The days of a dealer discovering new talent off the street are mostly long gone.
Now it’s a new world, an artist’s career is based on academia no matter how good or bad the work is. At times it’s not even about the artist’s work, but their relationship with professors, directors, curators and mega exhibition fairs catering to the investment collector.
How will contemporary art be sold and get to the public in the future? I asked this question to one of the 3 artists showing at Gallery M called In/Ex. Mark Thomas Gibson, Ernest Jolly, and Leslie Smith are three African American artists that make highly conceptual art and formal work, it is ‘art speak’, art trends known to insiders. This show will be on view through November 27th, 2010. The good news is the work is fun to look at, in addition to being ‘smart’.
“More artists are creating their own exhibition spaces and are not concerned with dealers and that makes contemporary galleries up their game” Jolly says. That certainly was the case when I went to Berlin recently. There, many unrepresented artist taking over abandoned buildings and spaces to throw a party/exhibition. Many have their own store fronts and studios for cheap rent which affords new and experimental work.
All three black men in this show attended prestigious art schools. “IN/EX…Look Again!” is curated and represented by Roulette Fine Art, a private dealer Tod Roulette is known for showing contemporary artists of color. Roulette was the curator at the gallery for eight years before leaving in 2008.
The current group show of academia African American artists looks at interior and exterior space with its relationship with human emotion. The expansive painting by Mark Thomas Gibson, who went to Cooper Union, is a gray-flecked forest scene that relates to nature and its kinetic potential. In the middle of the gallery is “Seeding What Remains” 2010 by Ernest Jolly, a Mills College MFA graduate is an installation is a fallen three light chandelier with plants growing out of the sockets. Leslie Smith III, Yale alumni, contributes three shiny geometric paintings with deep hues of blue, black and burgundy, and red. One of the pairings features a children’s sweet snack cake sliced open. Slightly abstract, Smith’s paintings address the politics of human power, trauma, and psychological subjectivities.
“Almost all the young Asian, African American and Latino artists I show are young artists and those who have graduated from art schools, it’s true. I think it’s important for the people I show to know what issues are going on in the contemporary art world and are adept at synthesizing that. Collectors of color need to educate themselves in a real way before plunking down serious amounts of money on art especially if they are buying to enjoy the work and pass it on or hoping it will appreciate monetarily.
These artists have a much better chance of that happening. It’s doesn’t make their art bankable but it does mean they know how to operate in the system. Bottom line.” says Roulette. Leslie Smith, III graduated from the highly sought out MFA program at Yale University, but offers a leveling perspective about the gallery artists today being dominated by those with his training. “
The gallery world has taken a twist toward certainty. The guarantee of a sale based on a the academic achievements of their artists. Perhaps this is too easy.
The gallery world has taken a twist toward certainty. The guarantee of a sale based on a the academic achievements of their artists. Perhaps this is too easy. I think those looking and buying art today are interested in the scholarly restraint of intuition. I feel what Tod is referring to is how people might be less interested in fully intuitively conceived art.” says Smith.
But for an artist of color, its either academia or bust. Research your favorite black contemporary artist today and look at the Curriculum Vitae, or exhibition and education history-the writing is on the wall. Look Again!
The show is on view till November 27th, 2010 at GALLERY M, located at 123 West 135th Street is open from Tuesday-Saturday, 12noon-6pm. The artists are repesented by Harlem resident Tod Roulette, of Roulette Fine Art.
By Kevin Bright, fine art artist in New York City, photography by Fred Fleisher and art work pictured by Ernest Jolly.