Julian Myers’ post on the recent turmoil at New Langton Arts gave rise to a robust and very necessary discussion about the state of contemporary art in the Bay Area. Looking beyond the immediate issues at Langton, I’d like to address the perceived conflict between the local and international art worlds. In the Bay Area, we have many world-class museums, universities and art colleges. We have the benefit of some of the world’s foremost artists, curators and critics, having chosen to work here. We have a wonderfully tight-knit and innovative arts community, full of experimentation and creative risk-taking. The smallness of our region allows for incubation of new ideas in an interdisciplinary context. Our location at the nexus of the East and the West gives us an unusually international perspective for such a small community. In theory, this should be the ideal place to be an arts worker. Yet there is an underlying tension here, too often expressed in buzzwords like “insularity,” “inferiority complex,” “inside” and “outside.”
Emotions run high whenever this topic is broached. Everyone’s got a dog in this fight, and the stakes are high because it’s fundamentally a discussion about how we might have sustainable art careers without breaking away from our communities. This is a debate about resources. Recruiting arts workers from outside the region is, as I’ve noted elsewhere, expensive. The cost of living in the Bay Area is remarkably high considering our small local economy. Those institutions that emphasize local practices – Southern Exposure, Intersection for the Arts, the LAB et al – generally have much smaller budgets and audiences than the ones that emphasize the international – SFMOMA, DeYoung, YBCA etc.
Local artists and curators often claim that those institutions that have access to more funding and larger audiences, are disinterested in mining the Bay Area for talent and presenting our artistic output within the context of their international programs. Curators and artists who have relocated here may feel that the local community closes ranks against them, branding them elitists without fair cause, and dismissing any overtures of inclusivity. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s very difficult to address these tensions rationally, but I do feel it’s essential that we do so, and that we do it here, on OPEN SPACE.
So, I’d like to ask how small, mid-sized and large institutions can best work together to support informed and rigorous regional art practices, which are essential to a strong local arts community? How might the international curators and artists recruited by our local museums and universities, support exposure of regional art practices on an international level? What responsibility do locals have to educate themselves about international trends, and to promote themselves to a wider circle than just their own friends and peers? Can an artist, curator or critic with international ambitions be successful without abandoning the local? Can the culture of international contemporary art embrace regional differences and avoid the homogenizing tendencies of globalization?
These are big questions, and it seems the only responsible way to address them is to engage in a systematic, rational analysis. I’m a curator, not a statistician, so it’s probably going to take me some time to collect and analyze the hard data. I’ll get to work on it, and post my results in the near future. Meanwhile, anyone want to tackle some of these questions in the comments?