Jumping the Art Shark

“I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all its meaning.”  Andy Warhol (from Brainyquote)

Could the New York art world be coming to grips with its own mortality?  The smell of desperation slamming headlong into the forces it seeks to win over is the main impression left after reading two different takes on the Whitney Biennial Art Exhibition in New York.  The Whitney Biennial is supposed to be the place for emerging art, the next big craze in the art world.  At least that’s the way it’s billed every year.  All those “in-the-know” art world inhabitants have the Whitney Biennial down as the “must-go” exhibition to prove they are still “in-the-know.”  But what happens when the “in-the-know” people start trashing the “in-the-know” exhibition?  The results aren’t pretty.

First up is Jed Perl of the New Republic who calls this year’s Whitney Biennial, “an orgy of navel-gazing that can leave a bad feeling—a sense of unease if not disgust.”  That statement goes beyond mere dislike.  Perl continues on along that vein with a virtual feast of bashing statements.  Read the article if you’d like a taste of the art world cannibalizing its own.  Or if the whole spectacle is more than you can take, move on to the next example.

Jerry Saltz throws more salt on the wound in an article for The New York Magazine by calling the Whitney Biennial an “optically starved, aesthetically buttoned-up, pedantic biennial.” Ouch!!  There were other juicy bits from this article but to continue on is the like watching a trainwreck.  Some people have a fascination for looking at a horrific event hoping to see a bit of blood and guts.  Others must avert attention.  The horror is too much.  If you are in the first group, check out the article.

Rather than the blatant take-downs these articles represent, wouldn’t a healthier response be to just stand back and walk away?  The New York art scene has been the reigning authority on art in the U.S. for a century.  Others have made some inroads like San Francisco and Chicago but the art world has still focused on New York.    New York has steadily pushed for more and more craziness to the point that many people have been turning away to seek art in other places.  Is it possible that New York has, at last, “jumped the shark?”  We’ll see.

For a definition of “jumping the shark” (click here and here.)

Author: MaryGwyn

Artist-Art Educator-Art in Healthcare

11 thoughts on “Jumping the Art Shark”

  1. Would love to be able to comment; but as this is ENTIRELY outside my ken, I shall keep my Aussie mouth shut! (for once …)

    1. Oh,no! Nothing to say about the phenomenon of jumping the shark? That is one of those “new” phrases that I don’t know how we lived without. What do you think about that? Is there an Aussie phrase with a similar meaning?

      1. Oh that! – I know all about jumping the shark, and it did indeed originate in TV. I didn’t know it was in “Happy Days”, though …
        It’s an accepted phrase down here. Not having even looked at your provided ref.s, M-G, I say that it means adding something/another layer to an existing creation (of whatever kind) that is simply OTT and renders the whole thing meaningless …

      2. That’s a great definition! I take it to mean a creative enterprise has gone as far as it can go and starts to be a caricature of itself. What do you think?

      3. In truth, I think they’re one and the same, seen from two different sets of eyes – one slightly uncouth and the other … well, I have to say it – QUALIFIED. [grin]

  2. Ouch. Just read both the articles you suggested. Yes, it seems to be the ‘art world’ is having a moment doesn’t it. Maybe it’s just me, but based on the social media output I see, but ‘art for the people’ as it were has morphed into a multi level form. It’s fracturing, fusing the styles of yesterday in mosaics and tributes. Commercial art has never been more popular. Yet the art world, is still not making the reach between graphics, ‘primitive’ and that society is now multi cultural. It’s as if they don’t get, that society has changed, there are more and more entering the 60,000 a year or above band who use to buy art to fit in. Increasingly, millionaires coming through from lower middle and even working class. Graphics, cartoons, logos, manga, patterns, images the creative weekenders can recreate, are taking off. Yet the Art World, clings to it’s exclusivity.

    I’ve been to so many exhibitions recently of ‘amateur groups’ and they are mimicking the surrealists, or in portraits capturing the famous. I see more originality daily, on things like twitter. When New York isn’t getting it, how the hell can any of us hope to get people in to our exhibits, Its as if you can only get hung or space now, if you will aim at the age 50 and up band. I had a piece pulled 2 years ago, because it was two risky. I asked why, it was a depiction in primitive art style of jealousy. I was informed by the middle class curator of the group exhibit, it was clearly a devil up to no good with these two figures. I laughed. There were no organs outlined, it was very representational. Had it been the quality I could have said ‘Fair enough’ my style is not for everyone. Instead I was pulled, because it might offend someone. Yet it was fine to have a political cartoonist style piece of a woman- admittedly, very child like painted, attached to a tree like she was on a cross, wearing a blindfold and surrounded by labels about Miss World, Suffragettes.

    That was a low level art exhibit for the public. Getting space if your under 50 and you will not ‘paint a nice picture’ is becoming impossible in Wales. Yet, those who make pictures out of toast can. They should be exhibiting the younger artists, the ones not out of art school, along side the ‘fine artists’ yet instead more and more artists are pushed into commercial logo design, kids books to eat.

    Good article – although you have set me off on my rants about those who attend poetry readings and markets these days.


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