WORLD ART TRENDS by Kent Mueller

The Center Cannot Hold

New York Losing Grip as Art Center of the Universe; More to do with Economics than Fashion or Technology.

"If you have to choose between Queens and Poughkeepsie, might as well stay in St. Louis…"

With rent for a studio apartment anywhere in Manhattan below 110th Street hovering in the range of $1200 and up, it is hard to imagine a time when New York was as affordable a place to live as any other large American City. Even through the inflationary 1970s, many parts of Manhattan were only slightly more expensive than comparable parts of other cities. All this began to change in the 1980s. Now, a new Millenium opens and the art world is without a capital.

Today, the idea of a young artist landing in New York City, taking an ordinary job, and having at least a room to live and work in while pursuing their art is so quaint that we might just as well be talking about Walt Whitman as about the next David Salle. It still happens of course, but the stories have the air of the Andrew Carnegie fable about them: Coming to America with only a dime in his pocket, and $10,000 sewn up in his coat.

In place of career paths you need a battle plan, the financial wherewithal to pull it off and then a huge amount of luck The formula is relatively simple: get apprenticed to a hot artist as an assistant, get your own work in the Whitney Biennial, entertain offers from several important galleries and take the best one. A 4,000 square foot loft awaits you in Soho or more likely Chelsea. There is either overnight success or almost none at all. In practical cultural terms, there are only eleven covers of Artnews per year, so how many personalities does the existing engine really have to churn out?

True, technologically speaking, you can pursue a successful art career from anywhere on the planet with a fax/modem and a reliable phone line; but in terms of "New York" or Art World success (the two have been identical since World War II), the positioning is as provincial as ever. If you wanted to meet the first generation abstract artists you had to rub shoulders at the Cedar Bar. If you survived a fist-fight with Jackson Pollock he'd introduce you to Sidney Janis, so to speak. The difference now is how much money it takes to have something besides a cardboard box to go home to at bar time.

The old equation of "talent + luck = success" is dead. The long-term effects of the new equations; "talent + luck + money…" or "talent + luck + ego out of control…" are difficult to gauge now, but another 20 years of this does not bode well for New York City as an art center.

Add the equation of "…+ last months rent" to "Security deposit + first months rent" as the the cost of getting started and you've priced a lot of talent out of the city

And that difference has changed New York City from the fertility goddess of talent into its embalmer and window dresser. It has also quietly left the art world without a central destination for genius of any social class. You almost need an investment portfolio just to get in the game in NYC. The distribution of genius is a funny thing. Like lightning, it's as likely to hit a hovel as a mansion. The accidental removal of poverty as a viable lifestyle on Manhattan Island has hollowed out New York's position as THE Art World, ending a fifty year reign.

At this moment, there isn't any city in the World poised to take its place as an art center that is also affordable in ordinary means. London made some noise during the last few years, but the fabled and feared yBa's [New York Art Speak for "young British artist"] have turned out to be more the equivalent of Herman's Hermit's than the Beatles. No one in the visual arts is clamoring to live in London. Los Angeles has the market, but in terms of lifestyle, living there is akin to living in one vast spread-out Queens. Paris had it until World War II, but it's never coming back.

New York still maintains its position as the commercial center of the art world; the openings are packed and galleries are constantly opening, moving and closing (One of the ironies in NYC is that even art galleries have been priced out of Soho).. It is still the place where the world-class collectors go to shop. It still vibrates with the same energy on the surface. But underneath that shimmering mirage is an increasing void where feckless genius once dared trod without a trust fund.