Shadowshop: Recipe for Boiling Water
On rare occasions an event—a talk, a blog post, an exhibition—raises an issue that had been slowly making the local water hotter, but gone unremarked. Suddenly with this event the pot is boiling and everyone has something to say. It makes for a lot of fun; such is the case with Stephanie Syjuco’s Shadowshop, a “temporary, alternative store and distribution point” currently installed in SFMOMA’s fifth-floor galleries. (I once published in this blog a list of the ingredients that build a lively art scene; one element was iconoclastic community leadership. Hats off to Ms. Syjuco for growing into that role for San Francisco.)
Open Space, in collaboration with Art Practical, has decided to hold a round of public discussions about Shadowshop, starting this month, and I’ve been asked to introduce the topic in advance. I thought it would be a good idea to start with the facts:
- Syjuco invited some 200 diverse artists to submit objects that they make.
- The top price to be asked for any object is $250.
- Very few artists are submitting their usual artwork, instead developing commercially-oriented products, or extensions of their work.
- Almost every artist is local or is Bay Area-identified.
- Artists will receive 100% of the proceeds.
- The store will be open for a little more than five months, until May 1st.
- SF MOMA contributes free space, and bookkeeping, and takes no fee or cut of the sales. SFMOMA is also covering credit card fees.
- Total sales by the end of the project are likely to exceed $100,000.
- Artists including Syjuco, and others, perform the role of clerk at the store. Called “guest workers,” they are paid an hourly living wage from SF MOMA funds other than store proceeds.
- Syjuco received the same artist fee as all other participants in the Live Art Program series of which Shadowsoip is one project.
I think the most helpful thing I can do now is to formulate a few topic headings and some possible related questions for discussion, as follows:
I. The Art of Participation Part Two
- What exactly is this a model of? At its best the project is a form of serious play, [Syjuco says, “playing with capitalism,”] performance art that slops over into reality and bridges art and everyday life. In that way Shadowshop can be seen as an extension of the notable recent SFMOMA exhibition, the Art of Participation, as well as an engagement with the widespread antics of the social practice movement in the Bay Area.
- Is it a model of co-optation, strategic parasitism of the institution by the artist? Is it a model of responsible citizenship and artist support by the museum, a kind of institutional altruism? Can it be both? Is it possible for a major museum to contain the anarchistic impulse of such work—with the best of intentions—without smothering it with love? Is the nature of this support—short-term, market-centered—predictably within the museum’s comfort zone?
- Is Shadowshop an art object? Can SFMOMA buy and collect it?
- Is Shadowshop a resume builder for a group of mostly artist outsiders (to museum attention), a way for them to gain entrée to the museum? If so, what are the ramifications of this democratization both for them and for the museum? Is the museum rethinking what its engagement with audiences could mean?
II. Shopping vs. Collecting
- Does the collection of the Bay Area’s Larry Banka and Judith Gordon, who scour eBay and Craig’s List for inexpensive artist-made multiples from non-profit benefits and museum shops, reflect intentions similar to Shadowshop, or satirize them?
- If the goal is to democratize collecting, and broaden the accessibility of artworks, what are the real differences between SFMOMA’s Artist Gallery—which rents and sells art to new collectors, and Shadowshop?
- What is the difference between Shadowshop and the SFMOMA store in terms of the aesthetics? In terms of ideology?
- The Antiques Roadshow ethos is of an aesthetics-free bargain-hunting-as-investment approach to collecting. Where does the buzz of Shadowshop fall on this notion?
- Many malign the open call, juried show format of curating or non-curating. Where does Shadowshop fall on this issue?
III. The New Economists
- Should Shadowshop be understood as the latest surfacing of the movement to examine artists’ economic plight in the Bay Area? This movement’s most visible successes have been the art-by-subscription projects of the past couple of years: The Thing, Alula Editions, TBW photography books, and the Present Group among them. There is also a group of artists, locally and nationally, that meets to discuss the economics of artists today, called Temporary Services, noted for their recent newspaper oral history project about artists and labor, Art Work.
- Given the heavy subsidy of this project—from real estate in the museum’s gallery to free bookkeeping to paying the clerks—can this be considered as a viable future model? What would a permanent such institution look like?
- What does success or failure of Shadowshop look like—are the answers aesthetic, institutional, economic, careerist?
- Will this have a meaningful impact on the lives of participating artists? The numbers that will likely result from Shadowshop (some 200 artists at let’s say a $100,000 income yields an average of $500 per artist) are modest. The whispered question is: isn’t selling one painting, and getting half the sale, an easier way to make a buck?
IV. Nothing is Good Enough
- Is anyone else haunted by the Soap Box Derby ghost of a generation ago? SFMOMA used to do a benefit in which artists were asked to make soap box derby cars. A lot of artists participated and it was a lot of fun, although there was a gripe in the air about being asked to make work that was a distraction from one’s studio practice. Forty years later some artists in Shadowshop also feel this call to make product for the store as a distraction, especially as time goes on and they have had to (have chosen to) generate more product to keep their presence in the store active. Is there a social payoff for participants, or a penalty for nonparticipation?