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Recessional Aesthetics?

What will the effects of the recession be on the social role of the artist?
The recent crash has done some damage to the prestige of the commodity and
the spectacle alike, not to mention the virtuality of the data-sphere. Will this
reduce the influence of these forms on art practice, and thereby open up other
models, other spaces? At the very least, might it relieve some of the pressure to
conform to expectations associated with entertainment?

Is the art museum of the neoliberal era sustainable?

In the 1990s, Tom Krens and colleagues developed the model of the museum that
treats its collection primarily as a financial asset or instrument; since that time
this has become accepted practice for many institutions. Is there now a break in
this logic, and will the failure or near failure of several museums, ranging from the
Rose Art Museum to LA MoCA, lead to different modes of organization? Might
the current crisis present a new opportunity for the under-capitalized, or, on the
contrary, will figures like Eli Broad consolidate further art-world power? What can
be done to keep the production as well as the presentation of art sustainable in
New York and other centers?

Might art biennials (and related exhibitions) wither away?

The globalized art world sometimes seems synonymous with the institution of the
biennial. Is the economic model of local development and international com-
merce that has sustained biennials still tenable? Will emphasis be placed on other
features of globalization, or will there be a withdrawal to the local-—a sort of art-
world protectionism?

* Reader s are inv ited to respond to t hese quest ions by wr it ing to t he magazine at

OCTOBER 128, Spring 2009, pp. 121–122. © 2009 October Magazine, Ltd. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

How will art schools adapt?

One of the most significant changes in postwar art was the shift to academic edu-
cation for artists; in recent times the MFA has seemed almost a prerequisite for
commercial success, and many artists have pursued their practices like profes-
sional careers. Will the decay of the art market cause a change in this system and
encourage different modes of training and practicing alike?

How might art criticism become relevant again?

Since the early 1980s, the impact of art criticism on the institutions of art has
diminished drastically: in a period of powerful dealers and collectors the role of
the critic as mediator has been all but eliminated. But now that the art market is
melting down, can critical discourse, irrelevant as it has been for that market,
regain some currency?

Does the art world bear any responsibility for the economic downturn?
Since contemporary art appeared to flourish alongside hedge funds and mega-
banks, often by creating products with some of the same derivative strategies for
dissemination as those that created the virtual wealth of those financial entities,
do we need to think about our collective complicity in this system and do anything
about it? Or is this to project an agency onto the art world that does not exist?

Whether the Obama stimulus package represents a break in the neoliberal regime, or simply a
neo-Keynesian moment of public spending, might it reawaken a sense of common stake that
might be extended, indeed insisted on, in other spheres like the artistic and the cultural?
Might we reclaim some aspect of the heuristic value of “the public sphere”? And
how might this affect the production as well as the reception of art?

Are there historical examples of socioeconomic crisis that might guide art-world responses to
the current one?
Could artists demand a share of the stimulus package on the order of the Federal
Arts Project of the 1930s, which garnered a substantial percentage of funding for
the Works Progress Administration? Are there aesthetic models to be gleaned
from such historical instances? These crises have often prompted an emphasis on
the real and/or the performative in art: one thinks of the predominance of the
social-realist and the documentary in the 1930s, the “as found” aesthetic in the
late 1940s and early ’50s, the body-intensive and site-specific practices in the early
1970s, and the concern with abject states in the late 1980s and early ’90s. What
modes of art-making might be anticipated?