Noah Becker on Art World Panic in 2019


By NOAH BECKER, June 2019

There are many fantastic artists in the world, who are overlooked, misunderstood and underpaid - should we sympathize? Real artists will hang in there because it’s their life, play the long game and settle for mediocre if not non-existent careers. I remember being in Miami one year and talking for hours to one of Jeff Koons’ disgruntled (and drunk) former employees. I said, “How did Jeff get so successful?” His reply was to say that Jeff never quit and hung in there while everyone around Koons dropped out. 

Jeff Koons, photo courtesy of Interview Magazine

There’s no reason to nurse along a failed art career and take up space - is there? But staying power is a good thing and a bad thing. Shabby artists, mediocre artists, probably should quit but who really looks in the mirror and thinks they really personally suck as an artist? And whose place is it to tell others what to do with their lives - certainly not mine.  If you quit and art finds you again then perhaps you really are an artist, who knows? That happened to me when I started Whitehot Magazine, I quit. I got so frustrated with my art career that in 2005 I had a near breakdown.

Of course I got back to painting and was very popular at it in the years following the launch of the magazine. But there’s always that feeling of hanging in there and if we quit now maybe around the corner some major world fame or overnight success is waiting - it’s unlikely for most. Look at your work and think very hard about the quality of your work, would be my advice. If you are making filler and obvious garbage art, then stop applying for grants, stop clogging up the art system for all of us – you are doing more harm than good. Make room for real artists to prosper, whatever a "Real artist" is?

New York as a gallery scene has been better. Some of the galleries that closed should have closed, it's just natural selection. We don’t need a huge number of mediocre galleries, just good galleries, and not huge galleries just good galleries. A good gallery to me is one that pays its artists and has some measure of humanity to it ie: answering the phone, throwing after dinners and inviting the press to the dinners.  I like some of the big galleries but remember: it’s the look of wealth that they excel at - and many of the major shows sell poorly. It's like the New York Yankees who can buy the best players in the world - should we cheer when they win the World Series? Should we cheer on billionaires for being billionaires? Some do. 

New York Yankees baseball

Meanwhile, I’m getting phone calls. Art dealers are calling me long distance in a panic. Artists are messaging me in a panic. Everyone is complaining about how the gallery system is dying a fast death. The “mom and pop” style gallery is a 20th century model and after 40-50 art fairs per year it’s a tight rope walk just keeping a gallery open. Kind of depressing don’t you think? Very depressing me thinks. With all the gallery closures in New York and the bigger galleries hiring the former directors of other mid-level and established spaces, there’s a tangible feeling of panic in the art world. 

So who are the current collectors of art? Collecting is dead? Or is it? The tendency is for Millennial minds to value electronics over physical art.  I’m not trying to victimize a certain demographic; I’m simply looking at the reality of collecting. The reality for any art dealer is that real collectors are a dying breed of 20th Century people and this group of collectors will die out soon. Once they are all gone, who will collect art? I’m thinking there will always be that special breed of Peggy Guggenheim style collector out there but who can really be sure? 

Peggy Guggenheim

Mega-galleries are almost the only spaces left in Chelsea. Are artists showing up at these huge spaces as a way of feeling relevant? A giant corporate gallery full of MFA students is a pathetic sight from my perspective. There’s no sense of 20th Century bohemianism and very few people actually care if you’re a mid-career struggling artist in need of a dealer. So How does an unknown artist get a good gallery to show their work when most seemingly successful galleries are already busy focusing on the in-house talent and investing in art fair booths? Advice is hollow but what I will say is get a more war-like spirit about art, get passionate again. I say this because the people who really do it would rather see their kids starve than make a bad painting - I wish I was exaggerating but I know people like that. People who value big auction results are also my friends - money is not evil but it can be.

Sotheby's Auction House

Auction prices have become a kind of watercooler talk on social media. A sort of boring announcement of some hundred-million dollar painting sale record. I'm annoyed by all that and it's just symptomatic of social media - it's fast and dumb. The art world has become a bunch of idiotic talking points for people who really have no business talking about art in public. This might be a good thing as it gives professional writers, critics, artists and historians a chance to publicly slice and dice less worthy intellectuals. One would think it turns out that way but in actual fact a kind of art world "Dunning-Kruger Effect" takes hold of most interactions on social media.  But that’s the nature of this era – everyone gets to have his or her say in the giant amateur yoga class that is social media. It’s painful and reminds me of the political system in the US. The current president of the United States representing some kind of grand talking point for bored partisans on social media - but let’s not go down the political rabbit hole just yet. WM

Noah Becker

Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023. 


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