A few days ago, I woke up in a parallel universe. It took a while to realize that I was in a new dimension because my bedroom, my bathroom, my dachshunds, all looked pretty much the same. But the back page of my neighbor’s New York Post, lying face down on the elevator floor, clued me in.
The headline screamed, “Yee Dominates Open” over a picture of some ceramic sculptures. The caption went on to explain that artist Lulu Yee’s work was all the rage at the Bushwick Open Studios.
I nudged through the rest of the paper with my toe. Where I expected to see hockey scores and an update on the Yankee’s quest for a shortstop, I found reviews of two shows at the new Whitney, a long essay on Robert Motherwell’s legacy, and a table charting the top twenty seniors at RISD and their expected prospects at Art Basel in Miami.
I walked back into my apartment and hit the remote. A flashy logo for ESPN (the Exhibition, Sculpture & Painting Network), swept across the screen. Two talking heads were discussing Gerhard Richter’s decision to switch to a new brand of paint thinner, then rumors about Damien Hirst’s wrist injury, the economics of a trade of three Rachel Whiteread sculptures between the Guggenheim and a huge new museum in Dallas, and Matthew Barney’s newly trimmed beard.
In this alternate world, art schools recruited talented third graders, galleries poached art school freshmen, and major corporations viciously competed to sponsor retrospectives at the Guggenheim. There were hundreds of extraordinary new artists I had never heard of before: they now had the chance to show their work, were supported and encouraged to push boundaries and create new dimensions in art. School art programs were lavishly supported and even the most provincial colleges had big, sun-swept studios, subsidized art supply stores and deep pockets. Most athletic programs, alas, had meager support and sparse attendance.
Every city built stadiums to present Pussy Riot performance pieces and screen Tom McCarthy videos. Teenaged girls mooned over half-naked pinups of Richard Prince. Marina Abramovic had her own cable network. Every street tough wore Basquiat dreadlocks and paint spattered shoes. Kids coveted jackets festooned with Liquitex and Grumbacher logos. Parents named their babies “Winsor” and “Newton”. Art students lived in mini-mansions and drove Escalades to Starbucks where star quarterbacks made them pumpkin lattes.
Exhilarated and exhausted by my first day in this wonderland, I drank too much absinthe and passed out. When I woke up the next morning, it was to the sound of reality, two cab drivers across the street arguing over how the Yankee’s star pitcher’s strained forearm would effect their season. Art funding was still in crisis, parents still worry about their creative kids’ prospects, museums catered to the lowest common denominator, and our education system and our culture were still ruled by sports and money.
If I figure out how to get back to the other side,would you want to come with me?