After the Grants—It Didn't Happen Anymore

|

graffiti truck by Gordon Matta-Clark

My wife alerted to me a review [subscription required] by The New Yorker's art critic Peter Schjeldahl of a retrospective show of environmental artists who had collaborated at 112 Greene Street during the early 1970s. The review has more than a little feel of recherche du temps perdu, in this case, for the youth of the reviewer. However, this bit of the review caught my attention:

A rising generation of environmental artists beggared the finances and physical spaces of even adventurous galleries, which were nearly all still small and uptown. Not for the first time, an avant-garde took form as an eddy in a mainstream unready for it. Launched in 1970 by [artist Jeffrey] Lew, in collaboration with [artist Gordon] Matta-Clark and the brilliant eccentric Alan Saret, who displayed crumples of wire on the floor, 112 led a nationwide wave of do-it-yourself "alternative spaces." The glory days were brief. Artists who weren't cherry-picked by dealers settled into government- and foundation-funded cocoons. Lew lamented, "Something special happened during the first three years, and after we got the grants it didn't happen anymore."

It is always thus. The dead hand of government dependency does this to just about everything it touches.

NEXT: Rieff on Liberal Interventionists, Buchanan on the Ladies of War, Dreyfuss on the Colonel Making "Good Points"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Just a preemption, “environmental art” has nothing to do with environmentalism.

    1. They think it does.

      1. Who the artists? If you think that you’re an idiot. Most people who major in environmental art, as I did, work as architects, furniture designers, and landscape designers. It refers to the three dimensional environment that surrounds you.

  2. Many have elevated the successful existence on state funds to an art form.

  3. Can’t get people to voluntarily fund your art? Then my advice is to do what your parents did: GET A JOB, sir.

    1. Working is hard!

  4. “A rising generation of environmental artists beggared the finances and physical spaces of even adventurous galleries, which were nearly all still small and uptown. Not for the first time, an avant-garde took form as an eddy in a mainstream unready for it.”

    Such lovely words just to say that some small-time artists pulled a few favors and showed shit that few liked.

    1. Hunter S. Gillespie?

      1. Hunter S. Gillespie Bailey?

    2. That’s what the avant garde is. Art is much like any market: you don’t get new interesting ideas without a lot of failed attempts.

      1. Is there some reason I need to pay for others attempts for great ideas?

        Shouldn’t they be responsible for themselves as I am for myself?

  5. FYI – Gordon Matta-Clark was the son of one of the best surrealists in history, Roberto Matta.

  6. [Jeffrey] Lew lamented, “Something special happened during the first three years, and after we got the [government] grants it didn’t happen anymore.”

    Exactly what happened also with environmental science.

    1. Don’t knock environmental science as a field. Colleges have to have SOME science major to offer for students who can’t handle calculus, physics or chemistry.

      1. I thought that’s what Poli Sci was for?

        1. Or Forestry.

  7. Environmental art sounds like landscaping to me. Plenty of public funding for that, too. Medians need to look pretty.

    1. Thats what the Gardeners for Guns program is about.
      Research ATFs Project Gunrunner. Sometimes referred to as Project Gun Walker.

  8. Some people say art is subjective, but I think that’s a matter of opinion.

  9. When the Post Office likes your art, you’re done.

  10. It is always thus. The dead hand of government dependency does this to just about everything it touches.

    Show me on the doll where the dead hand of government touched you…

    1. “This doll doesn’t include a wallet.”

  11. Is the “dead hand of government dependency” only a problem in the 20th and 21st centuries? Because I seem to recall that Michaelangelo did some pretty good work for the Popes.

    1. Is the “dead hand of government dependency” only a problem in the 20th and 21st centuries?

      Largely, yes.

      Say what you will, but painting a mural for the post office takes on slightly less reverence than painting a mural for God.

      1. not really. think of all the truly dreadful portraits and pastorals done through the years for rich kings and princes and warlords and the like.

        1. Those were benefactors. That’s different than state-sponsored.

    2. Johnny: it gets a bit confusing when the church is the state. Then there were no committees assembled by Popish Endowment for the Arts.

      1. Fair enough. Would that same explanation apply to Leni Riefenstahl and the Nazis?

      2. Also, the Kings and Popes had their own sense of good taste – often it was appallingly bad – but we only see the stuff that has been winnowed out through the centuries. Further, the truly talented artists, as they became known and recognized, would be “bought up” by the richer nobility.

        If you want to see truly bad religious art of the Renaissance and Baroque eras, visit the churches in the smaller cities in France, Italy and Spain. (Malaga’s Cathedral is home particularly awful ‘art’.)

  12. Indolence is my art.

  13. The biggest problem with this particular art movement wasn’t that people didn’t like it. It was that the work was not commodifiable. It was before the ubiquity of video cameras and as such making and selling films of art installations was not as easy as it is today. These days, installation artists can peddle a DVD for $10 and be able to make some cash off sculpture that defies collection through physical means. Because of this there are galleries that will actually show an represent installation artists although they are very few.

  14. Oh and the headline is actually a load of crap.

    1. my bad, i misinterpreted it. I thought it was after the grants dried up the work stopped happening. But he actually meant the the grants made everyone cautious. That much is probably true.

  15. The great enviro-art swindle.

  16. The Dead Hand of Government seems now to be clutching the tiller at the State Dept.

  17. These “artists” left artifacts that will employ museum curators as long as there are fools to fund them. Leaking cans of the artist’s excrement, rotting sharks in tanks of formaldehyde. Symbols of a declining civilization.

  18. “…brilliant eccentric Alan Saret, who displayed crumples of wire on the floor”

    Sounds like construction debris, not actual, you know, art. I am so glad my tax dollars not only subsidize these fools but they whine they are no longer “creative” at the government teat.

  19. “A tax-supported artist is a government whore.”
    L. Long

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.