In a noteworthy extended piece for the Observer, writer Andrew Russeth talks with Stefan Kalmár, the former director of the Kunstverein Munich who since 2009 has served as the director for New York’s alternative art space pioneer, Artists Space.
Russeth uses Artists Space’s plans to extend its program (and its real estate holdings, with a new Soho address in the works) as a jumping point for a discussion on the role of alternative spaces today. Institutions like the Independent Art Fair continue to blur boundaries in how a nonprofit behaves, and, as Kalmár points out, the market’s (albeit often speculative) attention to younger talent means that emerging artists no longer look to nonprofits as their only platform for exhibiting. In a quote from Russeth’s article:
People still saw Artists Space as a sort of advocacy organization that should promote young artists’ careers, that we should essentially test run artists for the market, and I don’t think that’s what we should do. Our thing is to make a program…
Unlike any other organization, we are the space for artists. But we are not necessarily the space for artists by showing them.
Not everyone agrees with this. Kalmár and crew faced criticism earlier in October, when a misguided branch of the Occupy movement decided to try its luck squatting in one of the few non-profits that has worked steadfastly to secure artists’ rights.
Indeed, Artists Space has a committed partnership with WAGE (Working Artists and the Greater Economy), a group advocating artists’ rights and fair compensation for artists’ work (not just the kind that hangs on the wall, but an entire range of services from artists’ talks to the reproduction of images.)
This winter, WAGE kicked off a series of town-hall style meetings at Artists Space to establish a universal Artists Contract that would ensure artists’ rights are protected within institutions, revisiting earlier examples (like the Art Workers Coalition or, more recently, Andrea Frasier’s “How to Provide an Artistic Service“.)
Russeth cites a number of other case studies, including Hunter College’s The Artist Institute, headed up by Anthony Huberman. In particular, Russeth draws from Huberman’s text “Take Care”, which applies the guidelines given in Fischli&Weiss’ “How to Work Better” (1991) to the world of art institutions.
While these mainstream or commercial structures might take risks with what they show, few take risks with how they work. In most cases, they produce exhibitions, one after the other, and strategically compete for larger audiences and for more widespread recognition. The challenge for a contemporary alternative space or curatorial approach is to behave differently.
Huberman’s resolution is to take care. The Artist Institute splits each year into two seasons, each devoted to one artist. According to its model, the Artist Institute will show only one piece at a time, giving visitors the time to really contemplate and explore the artist’s works. Occasional events will highlight other practices or offer other perspectives. (Last week, curator Beatrix Ruf kicked off the current season with a talk on featured artist Rosemarie Trockel.)
It should be interesting to see how other nonprofits respond (particularly those who do not enjoy the same situation as New York, with its plethora of exhibition spaces and support systems for artists.)
Read the entire article here.