Opinion: Is Patti Smith The Art World's Nostradamus?

With many of her predictions coming true, is singer and artist Patti Smith the Nostradamus of gentrification issues for artists? Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

By NOAH BECKER, August 2018

Artnet recently renamed Los Angeles "Klaus Angeles" in an article about Klaus Biesenbach taking over as the new director at MOCA - hilarious pun by Artnet but there are still questions looming. Biesenbach recently suggested that LA is like Berlin (maddening factions in LA). Kummerspeck for everyone...

The news of Biesenbach taking over at MOCA has inspired the rage of many prominent figures in the LA art scene, with others on the inside directly supportive of the move by MOCA - wait and see how it all transpires. Our own LA Editor Shana Nys Dambrot sounded off on the debacle in an article by Jori Finkel for The New York Times. 

But this article you are reading is more about Berlin - and art scenes in general. This is about money and the "Innerer Schweinehund" of mega-galleries and mega-artists.

Seems as though Berlin has its own Kummerspeck. Friends in Europe tell me there's no money in Berlin for artists and it appears that gentrification has set in there. I am frustrated with the lack of care that those with most of the money in the art world proceed with, as other creatives starve or quit. I'm also troubled by the lack of art collecting from the next generation of gentrifiers in the public sector. The Art Newspaper reported in  2018 that "Artists in Berlin, the most important contemporary art production centre worldwide after New York, are facing poverty, tiny pensions and a gender pay gap of 28%, a survey of 1,745 artists has shown." Canada has been a stalwart Berlin fetishist for many years with a residency program there and a desire to push young artists to Berlin. Is Berlin a place for artists to live in 2018? Reports point to no.

So perhaps getting cheap rent and cheap studios is a dying situation in Berlin? The lack of money may be old news for Berlin residents but this is starting to blow-up as an international news story. Montreal went in that direction and of course the grossly overpriced real estate situation in New York. A friend was asked for 6 months rent up-front from a New York landlord - how can this work for artists? Patti Smith's complaints about gentrification early on make her look like Nostradamus - (I was originally offended when I read her diatribe about New York). There's wisdom in Patti Smith's words even if she has angered many with her reality check... In general, artists need a break from mega-galleries and ivory tower art world ideas. It's no longer the 1980s and 98% of hopefuls will never get Basquiat prices in their lifetime so why all the hype? With an overwhelming number of new artists coming out of MFA programs and many mid-range dealers now closed, how will young artists (and mid-career artists) make a go of it? If huge galleries are the only galleries and mid-range culture dies, how will the system function? 

Art news organizations are publishing celebrity articles more and more or jumping at the Donald Trump news wall that dominates people's reading interests. Irresponsible art publishing is a more serious offense in this age of practically no remaining art magazines. Can there be a way to support people with new ideas and not choke out people with existing ideas? It seems that there are enough artists in gallery rosters and most of the established galleries have invested so much in these artist's careers that why would they bring in new people? So many questions...

Publishing another "Torschlusspanik" or closing-gate panic article is not my goal here, I'm trying to weigh options for those artists in need of a boost. We can't solve this overnight but what we can do is get rid of this obsession with market value and big gallery/big museum ideas. Money will always look after money in the art world and that's ok if some of it is put aside for the primary creatives in need of attention. If this sounds whiny, it's not. I'm all for big prices and big museums and big galleries and big art fairs but with added sensitivity to the original goal of great art. 

Imagine if the purpose of a museum was to assist the existing art community prosper more instead of creating "blockbuster" shows for the reputation of a curator or a board? Let's turn our attention to the artists who are suffering in Berlin and elswhere and turn off the Schadenfreude. WM


Noah Becker

Noah Becker shows his paintings internationally. A visual artist, saxophonist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine, Becker has also written freelance articles for many other major magazines. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has also written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010) viewable on Youtube. 

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Email: noah@whitehotmagazine.com

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