It occurred to me the other evening, as I was proof reading English texts for this year’s Supermarket catalogue and magazine, that there is no reason why artists cannot work with both commercial galleries and artist-led initiatives. Supermarket is celebrating its tenth anniversary and several of the features refer to its history and founding principles of being an artist focused alternative to the more economically driven art fairs that the authors tend to see as being controlled by and organised for gallerists and collectors.
I am paraphrasing and am sure that the authors share my view that things are never so simple as being either good or bad. And of course I agree with their criticism of an art scene that is wholly steered by commercial ventures and investments. But then I am not currently working with either a commercial gallery or an artist-led initiative so I can fantasize about a wonderful middle way. Perhaps my perspective reveals a great deal about a fantasy world that I believe in. It has always surprised me that artists (often but not exclusively those not working with commercial galleries) complain that galleries ‘take’ at least 50% of the sale price. My first job after art school was in a department store where I quickly learnt that the average ‘mark up’ on most goods was 50% of the selling price: it made little difference if it was socks or sofas. Suppliers did not complain that the store ‘took’ 50% of the sale price. I am surprised that galleries do not more often take 70 or even 75% when I think about how much they risk in taking on artists, especially artists without a proven track record. Art and economics will never be easy bedfellows, but then neither were art and religion.
In my perfect fantasy world I have the opportunity to be like those Hollywood stars who make crowd-pleasing blockbusters in order to finance their alternative and art-house projects. For last nine months I have worked almost full-time as Tim’s assistant. It is good, interesting, and rewarding work but it has kept me away from making my own work. It is unrealistic to think that my weekends can be spent in my studio, like most other people I need a bit of relaxation and to do those necessary domestic activities. When regular and on-going part-time teaching was an option it was a good way to support a non-profit making practice, now that those post are almost non-existent I find myself wondering about other ways to make sufficient income without sacrificing too much time for the things that I really want to do. Suddenly the possibility of handing over some of the things that I make to people who will promote, publicise and sell them seems very very attractive! I think that I need to pay a bit more attention to Jeremy Deller and Grayson Perry.
Last week I went to the Eskilstuna Art Museum to hear a lecture by Johan Strandahl, he gave a very good and very amusing presentation about his work. His practice often has him making his own versions of everyday things, it is the way in which he tackles the task in addition to the final object or image that makes his work brilliantly resolved. One piece consists of two almost identical photographs, each photo shows a wooden table on which is a bag of plaster, several bottles of glue, and a rasp. The photo on the left shows the objects in their original state whereas the photo on the right shows the result of Strandahl’s processes of de- and re-construction. He takes a plaster cast of the table, files the table down to dust that he mixes with the glue and fills the plaster mould with. He then files down the mould and puts the plaster dust back in the bag and puts the bag, the glue bottles (now empty), and the rasp on the new table in the same position as their predecessors. The museum was also showing his ‘Kitchen’ installation where he has literally made his own Ikea kitchen. Taking one of their model kitchens as inspiration and blue-print he has handmade all the components and shows them as a mirror image of the store bought version. Both the fridge and cooker that he made work, though he confessed that the fridge does not reach an equally cold temperature. It was inspiring to see how his work has developed over the ten years since he graduated (as a ‘mature student’) and to hear how passionate he is about his way of coming to understand the world that he lives in. He mentioned that much has been made of the relationship between the price one pays for a mass-produced product and the labour it takes to do it yourself, this however is not his reason for doing what he does. He said, quite simply and honestly (and I hope that I understood correctly), that his practice gives him amazing insights into everyday life and he hopes that we are able to share some of that through his artworks.
Before I heard him speak I was not sure why I felt it so necessary to visit the museum and attend his lunchtime lecture. I am very pleased that I did and I left with a renewed, if still incomprehensible, sense of purpose about my own practice.