Art in a recession

By Felix Salmon
August 14, 2009

In 2007, hot young artist Doug Aitken unveiled a massive public video-art project at MoMA. Sleepwalkers featured A-list celebrities, acres of publicity, and millions of dollars in production costs; its Flash site alone almost certainly cost many multiples of the total budget for Those About to Die Salute You, the utterly insane and hugely enjoyable public-art project put on by Duke Riley at the Queens Museum of Art last night in conjunction with the Brooklyn Museum, Bronx Museum of the Arts, and El Museo del Barrio.

Do check out the Flickr slideshow of the event, or you could try my own wobbly video, which at least gives a flavor of just how anarchic the whole thing was, and how much fun everybody was having.

The two events encapsulate a lot of the upside to the downturn in the art market. The expensive Manhattan-based project was somber and highbrow and quiet; the cheap chaos in Queens was raucous and bloody and quite probably illegal, especially when the fireworks started exploding at the end. (No wonder the museum director was looking a little stressed.) The MoMA project was organized to the finest detail, and projected onto Yoshio Taniguchi’s pristine walls; there was a vague plan behind the Riley event, but it started going awry at roughly the time that the toga-clad crowd started throwing tomatoes at each other before the boats had even appeared, and it all went magnificently downhill from there. (Perhaps the free beer for anybody in a toga played a part.)

free beer

Needless to say, this is not the kind of art that highbrow art collectors tend to spend millions of dollars on — while Duke Riley is doing admirably well as an artist, financially speaking he’s no Doug Aitken (yet). But then again, the art market, with its obsession with price as an indicator of quality, was the last thing on anybody’s mind last night. We were far too busy throwing tomatoes, getting wet, and enjoying the freedom that comes with near-zero budgets.

Update: The NYT has some great reporting; Gothamist has  fabulous photos.


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well, the tomato fungus blight would have made this different this year!

Posted by bdbd | Report as abusive

oops. due to the tomato blight, I didn’t read the text closely enough….

Posted by bdbd | Report as abusive

Its funny, the tomato-toga event reminds me of a video game. Is the idea to try to equate war with modern art? I do think a lot of contemporary art does that but was that the point here? Its fine, but I think there are a lot of artists that have peace and love to share – not war or politics.. at least I hope!

Posted by Eugene | Report as abusive

??? and the reason for that deletion – or requesting the provision of email addresses if reasons are not to be provided?

i can understand that: “The difficulty is always in keeping the stories under control.” review/Salmon-t.html?ref=business

but, of course, too much (which i thought was your point) and you end up with this sort of thing: the_Will , even if The Economist says it “sealed her reputation as the greatest female filmmaker of the 20th century” without interpreting that statement into the type of detail provided in the deleted reference to a book which rated a positive review from the NYT.

best of luck with it – but try to be honest with yourself in your attempts to understand the difference between adding value and selling out.

Posted by ac | Report as abusive

I think we as a nation should start working together to change the way our country is going by helping those who are feeling it the hardest and helping to stop families from losing their homes in foreclosure and evictions. We like to say that the government should be the ones to take over. I say its time to stop waiting and start changing. If each person who says “there’s nothing I can do to change the economy donated fifty cents to a dollar to charities like
http://WWW.HELPFOROURHUMANITY.COM, it would end tens or thousands of families depression from this recession which would free up spending from stressed families , help create jobs through work programs, and circulate funds through out the community starting from the mortgage company, and landlord, on down to the plumber who can now afford to be hired, and the store who gets his business for the part. So I say suck it up America and lets finally become a nation that helps its self instead of waiting to see others do what needs to be done now.

- Posted by Chris