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Born to be Famous: the situation of the young artist, between Pop success and lost hopes...

João Fernandes There have never before been so many artists in the world. Year after year, art schools educate thousands of artists, whose primary objective seems to be to circulate as much as possible in their search for recognition and legitimisation for their work. The opportunitites for this circulation have multiplied on a global scale: museums and art centres have sprung up everywhere, international events (exhibitions, residency programmes, workshops and seminars) proliferate, magazines specialising in contemporary art sell like fashion, music, decoration and lifestyle magazines (from which they are often indistinguishable...). The art world has expanded, has become commercialised, and its structure has been influenced by pressure from many different quarters. On the one hand there is external pressure, political pressure from governments and public or private institutions which, using culture as a kind of stamp of approval, exploit its entertainment value to reaffirm the visibility of a power, the crowds that may attend to museums or exhibitions demagogically presented as proof of its democratic nature. On the other hand, there is internal pressure, generated by the need for legitimisation and positioning in a specific domain of artistic creation, which is felt by all agents involved in the process of creation and presentation of works of art. In an age in which the 15 minutes of fame advocated by Warhol are being achieved through the possibility to transform any person’s image into a media asset, ‘to be an artist’ has become a curious pop perversion of the famous axiom by Beuys and the Fluxus artists, according to which each person ‘is’ an artist. In this process of pop emergence of visual artists, in which visibility and recognition may not outlast the ephemeral circulation of a song in different international charts, we all know how far we are removed from the generosity and self-discovery of aesthetic creativity as an inherent factor of the human condition. To be everywhere and at the same time is the aspiration of any new young artist today. Their expectation has been stimulated by a network of museums and contemporary art centres, which has extended itself all over the planet, accompanied by a proliferation of agents of what could be called an art service sector. This art service sector consists of a variety of services amongst which we may include curators, exhibition producers, museum staff, art critics, magazine and newspaper writers, art teachers, education officers, economists, marketing managers, gallery owners and dealers, and many others. These days, the situation in which young artists emerge, are trained and circulate presupposes the dissemination of information about their work, which can provide entry into an accelerated system of new production, in which everything can be appropriated and recycled. There is a need to question who produces this information. In an age in which art has become a form of media entertainment, part of people’s daily life in the West, knowledge about a work of art also implies knowledge about the circumstances of its appearence, its circulation and its commercialisation. Contemporary art can still shock, surprise, amuse. However, we no longer know if it will confront a person with their own ideologically established expectations and beliefs, since artistic creation itself has become part of the leisure industries of our time. To question the artistic creation and circulation of works, whilst remaining fully aware of these conditions implies the consideration of the influence ofcontexts or institutions like schools, museums or art centres, markets, and specialised or general media in a world which we know is increasingly global and that generates patterns of standardised or standardisable behaviour and attitudes. The expansion of higher, technical, artistic and scientific education implies a profound alteration of the position of art schools in the present-day art world. Schools are now judged not just by the characteristics of the education they provide, but also by the
Born to be Famous…


continuing to use artistic creation as a support to build this same image. The apparent increase in democracy in museums. often regardless of who the artists are. the more the funding bodies of museums and art centres will proclaim their magnanimity in the creation of conditions for access to culture for the citizens of their communities and the more they will justify the expenses of architectural projects. never able to alter the conditions of representation of power that the museum space has always symbolised. the social function of the museum or the contemporary art centre will be invoked to legitimise its existence. will then emerge and guarantee a continuation and legitimisation of this artistic circulation. Invitations are sent out. Whilst necessarily maintaining selection criteria for their programmes. the ‘prince’ will never fail to take care of his own image. operating costs and marketing costs. Art schools today are institutions that have become responsible for some of the situations of visibility and legitimisation that their students may gain access to. These contacts can include the organisation of tutorials. as a first demonstration of the welfare-state that can trigger possibilities for careers and success. Today we know that although artists and their works modified the concept of the museum in the twentieth century. art schools contribute to the social domestication of their thousands of students. It is of little importance that the works exhibited or selected may even call them into question. in an operation of appropriation that frequently acts as a social anaesthetic. Therefore art schools now invite critics. If access to education today is an important social buffer in contemporary societies. The larger the number of visitors.. public and private collections. The fact that they are exhibiting and collecting them means that they are part of this leisure culture. characteristic of a society of the spectacle. In other words. At the same time they need to multiply the number of temporary exhibitions in order to attract a permanent flow of public who regularly visit the museum to find out what is going on. increasing the visibility and prestige of the institution created by that ‘prince’. transforming it into a place of experimentation and confrontation with their languages. museums are faced with a true explosion in numbers of young artists from all latitudes and longitudes. demonstrated by the growth in their public. posters are printed. but discouraging confrontation and individual reflection on the works they present. or challenge the social mechanisms of their power. they were. and people responsible for museum programmes to develop contacts with their students as regularly as possible. to the detriment of budgets for collecting and programming. through the definition of strategies to broaden their visitor base. which grow exponentially because of this demand for access. however. It would come as no surprise if one day art school programmes were to include the preparation of artist’s portfolios. The plurality and diversity of programme possibilities accompany the globalisation of a world of art in which options Born to be Famous… 2 . alongside which information is produced that is similar to that of any exhibition in any other art institution. With the princes of the past replaced by ’boards’ representing economic and political power in a democratic society periodically validated by electoral acts. but can also include the production of exhibitions for finalyear students.success of their students in a specialised world of affirmation and legitimisation of the skills and capacities that they have supposedly developed or helped develop. We live in an age in which students have very little possibility of transforming the educational institution they attend according to their own idiosyncratic imagination and creativity. Often the school defines the standards by which its students will become recognisable. curators. Museums and art centres.. The paradox arises when apparently democratic access to art schools confronts the constricting network that selects those who will become established and be able to disseminate their work. providing a mass consumption of images. does not prevent the appearance of a new type of problem: museums are aimed increasingly at tourists and not at artists. press packs and advertising strategies are developed. The school has started to become part of a system of emergence and circulation. the development of social skills required to develop contacts at international openings and previews and the basic knowledge to recognise different institutional and gallery powers.

With hotels and travel paid. They often quote with an academic flavour. the artist supposedly also increases his possibilities of obtaining an economic income because of the attention that the market will inevitably. If artists in the 1960s and 1970s rediscovered the European avant-garde movements from the early twentieth century. it has become normal today for that work to circulate rapidly through a significant number of established museums and art centres. Their budgets increasingly involve more travel and accommodation expenses. The names in circulation are numerous: there are artists who appear and disappear for a while. but rather in mediating between institutions and artists. Commonly curated by one or various authorities. to mere agglutinative slogans. Virilio. it has been noted that a significant part of the young art produced since the early 1990s is distinctly derivative. However. The results of their work do not consist of the actual creation of exhibition conditions for artists’ work. give him. When the work of a young artist is tested with particular success in a legitimising context. Deleuze.. the theme or concept of the exhibition justifying the curator’s authorship instead of clarifying the works presented. usually justified by some fashionable concepts. often taken from hurried and superficial readings of philosophical texts that reduce Agamben. In this context. It has become easy to confront the group exhibition in which one or more curators are invited to travel and select a series of works and names based on a theme. and others. as historical contexts to legitimise their work. On the other hand. the more chances he has to continue to circulate. recalling review of the Born to be Famous… 3 .and programmes increasingly repeat the ‘usual suspects’.. Transferring Barthes’ dichotomy regarding the relationship between the writer and the critic. Artists frequently find themselves considered interpreters of a questionable play staged by the curator. Augé. circulating with his work becomes an attractive form of subsistence. Better known galleries develop relationships with young artists that closely resemble how the fashion industry creates its advertising images: what they show has little or nothing to do with what they sell. we know that very few will be chosen. particularly Constructivism and Dada. In their nomadic life. By increasing possibilities of circulation for his work when accepting invitations offered by institutions. With the difference that he receives a fee. to the detriment of the production of new works. group exhibitions prosper as an ideal exhibition format for art institutions to present themselves as a barometer for young contemporary art production.. and gets to know countries. young artists today find a specific context for appropriation in the epic examples of works from those decades. often known only for one work or for a small number of works with which they are irredeemably associated. However. who can legitimise its pretensions. The more an artist circulates. the artist eats and drinks with what he receives as a daily allowance. the group exhibition is precisely one of the occurrences in the art world that demands urgent review. in a relationship in which the curator is ‘primus inter pares’ amongst the artists he presents. they resemble the figure of the wanderer and adventurer through European courts in the literature of the eighteenth century. sometimes conditioning the type of work they present in accordance with the rules and expectations expressed by the institution. The fact that video is increasingly used as a support by young artists favours the creation of a particular effect of ubiquity: we need to reflect today on the purpose of the work of art in the age of exhibition reproducibility. the curator aspires to authorship in the process of creating an exhibition. For the artist. whilst the artists. in an iterative standardisation of exhibition typologies and concepts. who usually has few resources to survive and work at the beginning of his career. only receive production and travel costs. The figure of the curator of a group exhibition for young artists has become established.. sooner or later. Curators and institutions frequently prefer to exhibit works that have already been tested and acclaimed instead of sharing the risk of producing new work. often with the presentation of the same project on different locations. the group exhibition rarely provides interesting situations from the point of view of artistic creation. if they are lucky. institutions and people which will become part of a CV in which each exhibition prepares the way for the following exhibition.

the work has to start by being an epi-phenomenon. the self-referential discourse on art. Born to be Famous… 4 . believing that they are ‘born to be famous’. in which the artist photographs his family or those he is closest to. in the iconology of gangs. or simply to begin the confrontation with themselves. reduced to a few minutes of interminable loops. To this we can add the mimetic effect that today’s group exhibitions generate. knowing that the other side of the coin are the lost hopes that can be recognised in numerous cases around them. As it is not possible to ignore the shapes and processes of a global art world. the history that has been presented of this world and all that is part of it. Throughout the history of art. After the Post-modern debate. An age-old problem. with the world.subject as studied at art school. success or failure can occur on either one of these paths. the eruption of adolescent and autobiographic intimacy. to a repetition of models and structures of already established work. the relationship with cinema displayed by repeated manipulation of well-known films. in an uncompromising ecology of artistic creation that recognises how little it has to do what everyone expects. The typology of a new social realism. the confrontation with popular urban culture in the architecture of the suburbs. The same dilemma continues today for each artist who decides to start to present his work: to try to participate in the game of success. have all become clichés that are endlessly repeated in group exhibitions. Often we face the same exhibition. Globalisation becomes part of contemporary art as soon as the actions of all agents involved become global. individual and idiosyncratic creativity has always overcome the limitations of the possibilities that have been on offer. To be considered an artistic phenomenon. in fashion references. the display of social. to make work ‘in the style of’ or ‘after’ became a path to follow and not a course of action to be avoided. it is important to know it well in order to find precise forms of action that can make use of its resources without being defined or manipulated by them. cultural and sexual identities. regardless of its geographic location or changing protagonists. As we know. or what is already known. and their work only needs to find the right strategies for it to be acclaimed. like in music. and despite the explosion of names and the diversity of projects that it appears to reveal. in club music. a recognisable exercise in that ‘clone art’ in which group exhibitions of young contemporary artists have become. The pop strategies of the construction of success have led. in a different world.