The Contemporaries: Travels in the 21st-Century Art World
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It's been nearly a century since Marcel Duchamp exhibited a urinal and called it art. Since then, painting has been declared dead several times over, and contemporary art has now expanded to include just about any object, action, or event: dance routines, slideshows, functional hair salons, seemingly random accretions of waste. In the meantime, being an artist has gone from a join-the-circus fantasy to a plausible vocation for scores of young people in America.
But why--and how and by whom--does all this art get made? How is it evaluated? And for what, if anything, will today's artists be remembered? In The Contemporaries, Roger White, himself a young painter, serves as our spirited, skeptical guide through this diffuse creative world.From young artists trying to elbow their way in to those working hard at dropping out, White's essential book offers a once-in-a-generation glimpse of the inner workings of the American art world at a moment of unparalleled ambition, uncertainty, and creative exuberance.
bit over-the-top.) Beginning in the 1960s, the meaning of the degree began to change. Artists started enrolling in MFA programs not just to get accredited for teaching but also to participate in the intellectual community they offered. Programs disseminated art knowledge from the creative hub of New York by bringing artists to campuses across the nation, in the form of the visiting artist lecture. As this happened, the programs established themselves as important sites of innovation within the
committed to the task at hand: understanding the history and current dispensation of the field of contemporary art and finding their own place within it, all in the span of four semesters. They were conscious of the long odds of success in the professional art world and of the dire financial stakes of art school—a theme reiterated so often inside and outside the academy that it has now taken on the quality of a mantra. They were also, predictably, somewhat reticent to talk about money. “That’s
in a plastic-lined room, mixing oil paints on a glass palette to match the vivid hues of a digitally printed collage, transferring these digital images onto enormous, colorful canvases inch by careful inch. Some wear dust masks, respirators, goggles, even white Tyvek suits, but a few glimpses of pierced noses and tattooed arms beneath shirtsleeves remind us that these young people are artists, after all, not lab technicians. The camera continues its pan into a cluttered workroom, where a
at the margins of culture to a relatively popular phenomenon in less than a decade. As tuition in MFA programs spiraled upward, similar projects were cropping up all over the world. In 2014 in New York, you could take classes on economics, freeganism, or debt resistance (for free); Sichuan cuisine, tree identification, or soldering (for under forty dollars); how to write a nonfiction book proposal (in exchange for a mix CD or a bottle of water)—all from first-rate teachers, all without enrolling
heads and bodies dissolving into luminous filigrees of radiant color, and something you might see painted on the side of a VW van in the parking lot of a Dead show. Its photomechanical cool—recalling Chuck Close’s outsize airbrushed portraits of the late sixties, of which Kaltenbach might have been aware—is completely negated by the obsessive, illusionistic fervor with which the painting is made: each nodule of its latticelike overlay is rendered with a tiny white starburst of reflected light.