The new normal should be anything but. Time to fuck shit up.
Dear Young DFW Whippersnapper Artists,
Whatever the last “up” economy may have taught you, in your teen years, about what art is, how it should look in an art fair booth or ad in Artforum, how it’s valued, how famous you can get, how dealers will snap you up, etc.? No. Congrats for paying attention and for knowing who Martin Creed is, by the way, but that kind of sophistication can only take you so far.
The new normal is that it’s all in your broke hands now. And there is no real economy for your art being made here in DFW. Almost none. Not enough to make a living. And there isn’t a mainstream press, like there is in NYC and London, to cover your career if you made a commercial leap anyway. And that’s okay. Because this kind of vacuum is when it’s time to fuck things up. This is a magic hour, a once-in-a-lifetime chance when you have nothing to lose, and the place that you’re in—your neighborhood, your city, your region—if you get busy, can get really interesting.
I’m picking on you lot because you aren’t painters (another breed entirely), and you aren’t makers of pretty things and decorative objects. Your brains are wired the right way to fuck shit up. And I’m not writing about Houston or Brooklyn or Silver Lake either. I’m writing about here.
But let’s illustrate this with an example.
Once upon a time, in the 1970s (I know, like, when your parents were young and skinny and did drugs and shit) in a place called Akron, Ohio, this thing happened. Just watch the short clip.
Akron. a college town in the middle of nowhere. These guys were your age when they started paying attention and got angry and started making art (that in their case took the form of something like music, performance and video). Being polite was not on the menu. MTV did not exist. There was no Internet. And there was no local press to make them famous.
Yet they are iconic. Akron is famous for one thing, really: Devo.
Luckily, their friends back then did document enough of it, and word spread, and they kept working on their own very strange vision of the world, and within a few years they were blowing people’s minds on national television.
Back to the here and now. Why is DFW so polite? I don’t want to call this place the Metroplex, but whatever. Golden Triangle. Whatever. Its politeness is due to what you think it is: religion, screwy politics, the conservative way money is made and spent. So few artists, gallerists, curators, collectors and museums here are taking any risk, whatsoever, that you start to forget what risk looks like. Certainly the people in charge of this stuff seem to have forgotten what it is, even if they were young and interesting like you once. (“How soon will you become the people that you hated?” asks Gerald Casale.)
Why are our youngest, clearest, hormone-and-energy laden brains—you—not going ballistic? Don’t you feel like caged animals? I’m a 42-year-old writer, and I do. But I don’t make art. I just show it.
It was the ‘70s when Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale started worrying about Americans getting dumber and uglier and more violent and lazy: de-evolution. But look at the world today. As Mothersbaugh says in that clip, from a recent interview: “The last eight years have been a really swift downhill ride.”
This applies to the art world, too. The museums, the galleries, the nature of collecting, the nature of philanthropy. It’s all fossilizing and closing ranks. Pretty soon even LA MoCA, an institution founded by and protected by artists for decades, will consist only of two powerful businessmen: Eli Broad and that megalomaniacal asswipe Jeffrey Deitch.
Downhill ride, indeed, for you artists. Make it fun and honest, at least.
Just get fucking weird. Tap into those things that most turned you on last year, the year before, when you were fifteen, eighteen. The stuff you were afraid to bring to light, lest your parents or siblings or neighbors or professors stomped on it. The more genuine and honest you are about it, the better shot you have at communicating something real and identifiable to the world. It’s the secret of great art. Real art, great art, is the geeks’ paradise.
Look outside the art world if you need more reference. Look at Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Look at Patton Oswalt, Louis C.K., and Ricky Gervais and Mike Judge. David Lynch, Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling and freaking Alan Moore. Robert Crumb. The Flaming Lips, the Butthole Surfers. These people started with small, smart, impulses—subversive and impolite and odd as hell (and very, very personal) and ran with it. And wow. It worked. Subversive is not bad. Stop letting this polite environment keep you down. Collaborate, for courage, if you must (often helpful), or not. Up to you.
Sometimes rich people get wind of the good stuff, and want to own it. That’s what they do. They can’t make, so they buy it or pay to produce it. That doesn’t mean they get it, but take their money if they offer it. Plenty of people who can’t afford the work do get it, and will love you for being the shaman and truth tellers of the world. Just like everyone who knows anything loves Devo.
Christina Rees was an editor at The Met and D Magazine, a full-time art and music critic at the Dallas Observer, and has covered art and music for the Village Voice and other publications. She was the owner and director of Road Agent gallery in Dallas. Rees is now the Curator of Fort Worth Contemporary Arts, TCU.