Why the world of art does not begin and end in New York

It's amazing how arrogant and shortsighted some New York art professionals can be - especially when asked to speak to local groups throughout the United States. Almost every community I've visited has horror tales of pronouncements made by well-known New York-based critics, curators, art historians, or dealers.

The most common pronouncement is that the city, state, or region fortunate enough to have such a visitor in its midst is clearly devoid of any real talent or art. And that what passes for art there is derivative, commercial, or trivial.

Another declaration is that the art produced in one community is no different from that produced 30, 300, or 3,000 miles away - that it is all interchangeable and that a critic, parachuting down into East Lansing, Mich., would find the same kind of art there as he would in Eugene, Ore., or Augusta, Maine.

A third judgment is that local institutions teaching art are inept, and unaware of the ''real'' art world outside.

To all these, I can only respond with disbelief - and with considerable embarrassment for those of my colleagues who see fit to make such statements.

If what they say were true, then New York and two or three other American art centers must be artistically self-sufficient, with all their art home-grown, and all their artists locally born and bred.

That, of course, isn't so. New York may be the world's center for the viewing , judging, selling, and distribution of art, but it is by no means self-sufficient. Without the talent and the art sent to New York from the rest of the country, it would soon lose most of its cultural importance and become little more than an overblown ''provincial'' city.

It's not only incorrect, it's foolish to insist that whatever is significant in art can be found only in New York. Artists may move to New York to better themselves professionally, or to find a more sympathetic environment, but a good 60 to 80 percent of what they are as artists was shaped by local attitudes and schooling. These qualities may be polished and redirected in New York to accommodate current professional standards, but their substance comes from the artists' local communities. The qualities most assuredly were not picked up as these artists crossed New York's bridges or entered through one of its tunnels.

I'm always impressed by how much artistic raw material exists outside New York, and by the fact that almost every community has one or more local artists of quality. These latter often have nothing to do with the art world as such, and have permitted their art to develop over the years according to their own intuitions. Many of these works are richly idiosyncratic, others are frankly traditional in style, but most have captured not only something unique, but also something very local in flavor. They are good, and should be recognized as such by outsiders, not condemned out of hand for not resembling the work in New York galleries.

More and more communities are taking pride in their local talent, and an increasing number of smaller cities are upgrading their museums. It's no longer true that museums in places like Akron, Ohio, or Grand Rapids, Mich., are ''provincial.'' Nor that art schools in such cities as Savannah, Ga., or Portland, Maine are unaware of the ''real'' art world.

Thanks to concerned local leaders and art professionals, the art seen in many smaller and middle-size cities not only reflects area interests but the larger concerns of the art world as well. Sophisticated knowledge of art is common everywhere - and ignorance of art can be found on New York's Madison Avenue as easily as anywhere else. The unassuming lady asking questions of a New York critic in Spokane may have just returned from selling her two Frank Stella constructions in Manhattan - or be planning to fly to Washington, D.C., the following week to discuss her bequest of Eva Hesse drawings to the National Gallery of Art.

No, the New York art professional traveling throughout the US to speak, discuss art, or to judge it must be careful. His audiences may listen politely to his pronouncements - no matter how patronizing or unaware they are. But once he's gone, they'll remember very well how insensitive he was. Recent painting in Europe

Every museum is proud of its collection and eager to add to it. That may not be easy, considering how expensive art is these days, but every museum director worth his salt puts the acquisition of significant art high on his list of priorities.

Thomas Messer of the Guggenheim is no exception. He and his staff have assembled an exhibition pinpointing the museum's strengths and weaknesses. Included are works from its present collection, with others not part of its holdings but that the museum would like to have.

All of the roughly 70 owned and borrowed paintings by 27 artists in ''Aspects of Postwar Painting in Europe'' were completed between 1941 and 1983. Included are major examples by Nicholson, Dubuffet, Balthus, Bacon, Jorn, De Stael, Alechinsky, Fahlstrom, and Hamilton. It's quite a show, and a powerful argument for Dr. Messer's case that the Guggenheim lacks work in certain areas. I'd particularly like to see Balthus's ''Three Sisters''; Morandi's two still lifes; Bacon's ''Sand Dune''; and De Stael's ''Composition in Gray and Blue'' become part of the Guggenheim's permanent collection. Younger European paintings

Anyone the least bit interested in contemporary art is particularly curious about the younger West German and Italian painters who have recently made such a splash both in the US and abroad. Such names as Baselitz, Cucchi, Disler, Kiefer , Chia, Penck, and quite a few others are becoming as familiar as those of Johns , Stella, and LeWitt. Their works, however, are not as familiar, and may not yet have been seen by those living outside New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles.

An excellent partial remedy for this is ''Recent European Painting,'' also on view at the Guggenheim Museum. Although not intended to detail what is going on in West Germany and Italy, it does include excellent examples by several of those countries' more notable newcomers. These have been well chosen, and show such painters as Chia, Baselitz, Kiefer, Cucchi, etc., at their best. Also included is an intriguing piece by Jan Dibbets and a superb painting by John Walker.

Both exhibitions are at the Guggenheim through Sept. 11.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK