January 2008, The Pablo Helguera Manual of Contemporary Art Style @ Feinkost

A 1972 advertisement of then Flash Art editor Giancarlo Politi, selling himself for $1,000 to galleries, museums, and attractive female artists.

The Pablo Helguera Manual of Contemporary Art Style

at Feinkost until January 27th

The Pablo Helguera Manual of Contemporary Art Style is reminiscent of The Devil’s Dictionary, originally published in England in 1906 as The Cynic’s Word Book. Among its more memorable entries is “Apologize”, defined as “to lay the foundation for a future offense” and, with this in mind, I would like to preface this article by apologizing to the Art World. So I’m sorry, but let’s get right down to it.

Helguera’s Manual is a must-read for anyone intending to or already at work in the Art World. Besides a graph outlining the perils of cross-professional sex (i.e. artist on artist is acceptable, artist on curator unacceptable, but artist on museum director is only problematic), it provides a formula for drafting press releases (which applies to every exhibition, ever), and explains in layman’s terms the nightmare shared by interior designers and collectors alike of an artwork clashing with the furniture, namely “the living room couch crisis”. It also contains a guide on how to successfully navigate an opening- avoid the critic, go straight to the collector and ignore the artist until it’s time to leave- plus gallerina dress codes, artist categories and overlapping power hierarchies. In the back there’s a glossary of terms explained in the same vein as The Devil’s Dictionary. “Avant-garde”, for example, is the “art of antiquity, before the invention of art fairs” and “Aesthetics” is defined by one word: strategy.

Machievelli affords the Manual its introductory quote, “Men do not see things as they are, but rather as they wish them to be, and are ruined,” an appropriate nod to every idealist laid to waste by the Art World’s harsh realities. It reminds me of an anecdote I heard about a prominent Chelsea dealer who walked into work one day, told an assistant to put out his hand, and then gave him a plastic baggie full of cat shit to take to the vet for worm testing. This is clearly not what the assistant had in mind when interviewing for the job, but sometimes the Art World can be a shitty place, truth be told.

Helguera’s Manual was first introduced in Berlin at Feinkost, a young gallery north of the ever-expanding Brunnenstrasse art district, during the first week of their exhibition entitled The Art World.  The exhibition’s press release is atypical, but perfectly prefaces the show’s concept, telling the tragic demise of a Chelsea gallery receptionist who failed to identify a client and was consequently humiliated, verbally assaulted and fired on the spot. Such events are actually commonplace in the art world, where egos create currency that, in turn, creates bigger egos, and so on, but not everyone who appreciates art is exposed to such injustices.

Enter Aaron Moulton. Moulton opened Feinkost last year as an exhibition space straddling the for- and non-profit gap. He previously worked for both Gagosian Gallery and Flash Art, and has thus been witness to what I will diplomatically refer to as numerous indiscretions. Since opening Feinkost, Moulton has mounted highly conceptual shows, and The Art World is no different, although it threatens to blow the lid off the whole charade.

Among the exhibited works is a film by Christian Jankowski, mocking the Matrix Effect by presenting children in the role of curators and artists, tripping over conceptual theories and awkwardly sipping champagne. Flash Art’s practice of buying, promoting and then selling work at auction is also on display, as well as a photo database used by gallery receptionists to memorize the faces (and spouses) of collectors, curators and critics. Helguera’s Manual also makes an appearance in the form of several prints detailing his book’s metaphor relating The Art World to a chess game, with the players distinctly labeled, artists being the pawns. This concept is also evident in Luchezar Boyadjiev’s large-scale graph, GastARTbeiter (guest worker), which breaks down the artist’s “value” as defined by his institutional achievements, namely fellowships and residencies that, in total, equal only $111,000 over a ten year period.

At the risk of sounding completely jaded, here’s a short rundown of the offenses committed by said art world and laid bare by the Feinkost exhibition: questionable ethics, unregulated market practices, conflicts of interest, elitism, nepotism, pretension, and hypocrisy. Luckily, there’s also a fair amount of self-deprecating humor, including a 1972 advertisement of then Flash Art editor Giancarlo Politi, selling himself for $1,000 to galleries, museums, and attractive female artists. Artworks and artifacts, relics and ironic propaganda comprise the exhibition, as well as weekly screenings of various films that question and poke fun at the entire paradigm of contemporary culture. With a provocative mix of cynicism and humor, The Art World, manages to simultaneously incriminate and redeem itself—that is, the industry known as The Art World.

For a complete exhibition guide, visit www.galeriefeinkost.com

Emilie Trice

Trice is a freelance writer and art consultant based in Berlin.  She worked for Gagosian Gallery before moving abroad to open Galerie Goff+Rosenthal, the first New York City-based gallery to open a space in Berlin.  Her writing has appeared on artnet.com, in NYArts Magazine and she is a weekly contributor to the urban travel website, www.gridskipper.com

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