Monday, February 7, 2011

In the Museum

I’ve heard some art quilters wonder why their work is not shown in  or collected by  museums.  But have you looked to see what the museums of contemporary art are actually showing now?  Videos and  installations seem to be the norm.  I have many friends who are wonderful painters and their work isn’t in museums either.

A better question might be why are the galleries not showing quilts?

And definitely some are…but galleries show what sells.  In my experience quilts sell mainly to two groups: quilters, and commercial venues like health centers or offices.   The purchase of art work by commercial areas has, in many states, completely dried up with the recession.    More and more we are  approached by local health centers and commercial venues to loan them work; they present this as being an opportunity to show our work!  and it’s not just quilters, by the way..but painters and other artists too.

The big galleries always prefer to work with “known” names.  To get into them requires a number of things of which luck and whom you know loom large.  I remember Polly Apfelbaum saying that she would not have had the recognition she has had, and the shows she had were it not for her husband’s position in the art world.  The  book I bought Andy Warhol  by Richard Polsky is a pretty scary picture of Big Art:  it’s all about name recognition and nothing to do with Truth and Beauty!!    Various reviews of the book testify to its authenticity:

Having  been a dealer/collector on a comparatively modest scale for many years, I found many of the traits of the (people described) to be recognizable.    Only someone who has been there knows that the pursuit of a deal or hopeful investment is as important (sometimes more so) than any admiration you may have for the object of your pursuit. “

“[Polsky’s] accounts of the bizarre world of art dealing are true to a fault. … If you have ever bought a piece of art for more than $1000 or think you will at some time in the future, [the] book is must reading.” 

The art world is  both territorial and also follows its own traditional business practices.  Even within the quilting art world, I have heard of at least two major collectors who limit their purchases according to some specific prerequisite.  Not quite as bad as only buying work from artists whose name begins with a particular letter or who were wearing red knickers when they made the piece, but not far off!

Quilters are very good at purchasing quilts and are a great support, but it’s very rare that someone who is not involved with the medium actually buys an art quilt as something to beautify their home.  Is this because they are prejudiced against quilts?  I think it’s more likely that it’s because they don’t buy ANY art.  Go into the average home and see how much real art is on the walls.  Very little.   It’s really sad.

And if you did want an art work, in the decorating shows on television, the interior “designers” often show you how to “make” an art work for yourself: “stretch a piece of fabric on bars, take some house paint and throw it on, and bingo!! you have a work of art!”.    They buy a $6000 sofa and add a home made daub on the wall above it.

So: if you want to get into a museum..make a video about making a quilt, preferably with a lot of slow motion close-ups and then show it upside down, or mix it with images of abused women.  Another possibility would be to make an installation that was all quilts, that had some point other than “how wonderful these quilts are”.  So I suggest that the quilts  first be dragged behind a truck for 200 miles to represent how women and art are both badly treated in many nations, then hang the tatters and strew them on the floor.  You might throw a few used condoms around too, indicative of the prevention of creativity in our educational systems.

If only I were joking….

And, if you have been, thanks for reading.   Elizabeth


Deb Lacativa said...

It's disheartening but true. I recently had an inquiry from a corporate "venue" asking if my quilts were reversible for when they got tired of the front side, and was that price I listed a typo by one or two decimal points.

cyn said...

love the rant. LOVE the rant. all of your last paragraph is filled with viable ideas for getting museum-level recognition. you may be ranting, but i fully support implementation of any one or all of them!

i think it's time to acknowledge that selling art is a business and showing art is a hobby. it's up to each artist -quilter,painter,performance,musician- to decide where his/her goals are, and then to approach them with a strategy that's appropriate to the goal.
if you want to sell, figure out your message and your brand and your audience. that's what i'm ranting at myself, anyway! :)

Unknown said...

Brilliant while overwhelmingly ad: "You might throw a few used condoms around too, indicative of the prevention of creativity in our educational systems." Amen, AMEN, AMEN!!!!

Jill said...

Hi Elizabeth, don't know if you've read it but check out "Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him" by Danielle Ganek. Eventho it's a novel, I think a lot of what she writes is probably true. I had to laugh out loud a few times at how pathetic some of the 'collectors' were...a good read anyway...

Marianne said...

It is a textile artist who won first prize in this contest
Textile Sammlung Max Berk - Kurpfälzisches Museum, Heidelberg, 2009
she felt the wind of time and did as the artists on display right now in museums, critics have been very very good and I think the song will make you happy

Anonymous said...

OMG that last full paragraph is really really -- what? -- sad? funny? hilarious? pathetic?

Anonymous said...

OMG that last full paragraph is really really -- what? -- sad? funny? hilarious? pathetic?

Karen M said...

You really hit the nail on the head with this one. You captued a visit to Mass MOCA exactly! I guess that's why after 7 years of visiting there, my memory can only play back one show (and that was hung in a small easily missed side room). Too0 many artists/collectors trying to impress who? Each other? Resulting in work that has little relevance to the everyday life of most people. And even the social commentary art, although often shocking, becomes forgettable when it all runs together.

Faith said...

Your description of what the installation should be to get into a museum may be somewhat tongue in cheek, but perhaps it really ought to be done. I don't suppose one ought to drag around a really decent art quilt for 200 miles, but perhaps a few trial works that didn't really pan out. (Who will know after 200 miles?) And then some artistically worn real art pieces (perhaps depicting in some way the history of how women and their art are treated). Some 3-D quilted pieces come to mind too. I like the concept, but I'm no where near the quilter or artist to execute it, having made only 2 quilts and only just starting to think in terms of art.

Faith said...

Because I forgot to include it in the previous post.

As an average person, with little cash for art, I have to say that I would love more real art, but most artists' prices are beyond my means. I am thrilled when I can find something I can afford, but the Art Fair here in Salem OR, seems to be the main place I've been able to do that -- and even there, there's so much more I can't afford. My point is that most art quilts are usually worth what is asked, but average folks can't afford them (or the $6000 sofa!). Those who are a bit more well off (not necessarily rich) can afford more and the wealthy can afford to collect recognized names. In any art medium, I have to look for the smaller (and smallest) pieces. I'm also fortunate in that I am able to create some things that may not quite be art (yet), but are way above and beyond UGH! -- the house paint on stretched fabric that you describe (and I've also seen).

Joanne S said...

I remember a show in San Jose CA, a flower covered Mao and used tampons.

Laura Bradley said...

I had a beautiful fine art gallery that had to close recently due to the poor economy and people not willing to spend money buying artwork. I am a fiber artist and because of that I made sure my gallery showed quite a lot of fiber art. Fine Art Quilts, felting pieces, weaving, 3-D fiber art sculptures etc..even some lower priced hand made sewed pieces like original handbags... Fiber artists known throughout the country and even the world-especially my art quilts. Even though the works were so beautiful, got many comments...made my gallery so wonderful, professional, high class and colorful---no one EVER bought these art quilts, etc...I did not understand it all. These were beautiful pieces of art...shown in art quilt books recently...high quality!! I had them beautifully displayed! The customers couldnt believe the prices even though for a much smaller painting by a lessor known artist they did not complain as much. That seemed to be ok...I felt like I was fighting the battle for fiber artists everywhere! Why should this be an issue...every material is different in artwork...why is fiber looked upon this way?? As a gallery owner I saw this problem first hand. It did not sell!! Almost not at all! Its not like they were looking at aprons and cross stitched Thomas Kinkade pictures! These were works of art I felt so honored to have in my fine art gallery! I am so frustrated. I miss my gallery so much and feel like it is a death I am not sure I will ever get gallery had was magical and I and many,loved it. I had over 150 artists work at one time of ALL different mediums, live music, shows and openings...always something going on! P's jaw dropped when they walked in the door. Yet they walked out empty handed. Even though as time went on my challenge was to make sure I had some lessor priced but still quality original art for gift that was original yet priced to sell etc...and they still did not buy...not even original gift cards sold at the end...which I used to sell many as they would take their little "art" purchase home and frame it instead of buying the "real" artwork. What could I say...people are broke. So, here I sit unemployed and missing my gallery so much! No one would buy art...If I had a dollar for everyone that said "I wish I could buy something!"--I wouldnt have had to close. We thought of charging at the door because many would use my gallery for entertainment...they would spend an hour or more there and bring friends and relatives from out of town there like it was a field trip to the art museum! I would often "joke" to them laughing (sort of) that "Remember, this is not a museum...everything IS for sale." Still its all about priorities people!!! They are still going to the bars and eating out etc...I am so sad. And now all the funding for art in our area is getting nixed..Governor Scott Walker sucks!PBS and NPR radio stations are possibly no longer...Borders bookstore is closing (the publishing industry is hurting). (Art and books are two of my life stapes!!) I lost my business and my life blood and the ability to support over 150 local, regional and international artists. It seems the whole world is falling apart and a big part of that to no support for the arts! So, I am a full time fiber artist now....I have the time!..But, who knows if I ever will be able to show or sell my work anywhere?!..What art buyers will buy fiber art? Really? No one bought it at my wonderful art gallery...and they were my favorite items in the whole gallery to me!
Signed Sad but True, Laura from Wisconsin.