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Party Favor: Art Devolves into Commercial Fodder

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San Diego has often been called out for its preference to party first and look at art second. Its detractors, agree with them or not, might be effin’ right. What obliges artists then to participate in these events, I wondered whilst climbing over barstools, artwork, and acres of plastic martini glasses? Do they have a choice?

Held hostage for a night was the freshly opened New Contemporaries IV exhibit on view at Alexander Salazar’s downtown, part of SDVAN’s and the San Diego Art Prize’s ongoing efforts to promote emerging artists within the community. SDVAN supplied the visuals and EFFEN Vodka provided the perfect martini. So it goes.

There were very few artists’ works in the show that could compete. Cheryl Sorg’s Out of the Blue; Mely Barragan’s He-Man series, in particular, an image of a man prostrate with a cactus growing out of his ass; Han Nguyen’s Re-master[ed] and pixilated images of paintings by Francis Bacon and Van Gogh; Lee Puffer’s antagonistic ceramic heads; Sussanah Bielak’s Pepto Bismol drawings; and finally, Gretchen Mercedes’ cast resin molds of deer (The Drones) were the only ones insisting that you pay attention. The other works on display drowned in a cocktail of passivity.

Let’s be honest: No one benefits from these events except the organizers. Making a profit and shameless self-promotion are the keys to a successful evening. In sum, this is one marketing tool San Diego’s art community does not need to thrive on or employ; even less does it need the sweat equity from artists to fuel it. We should stop the free exposure-cum-reward myth that feeds off creativity and perceives art as entertainment.

In his essay “Bombing,” Chris Petit comments on the French philosopher Paul Virilio’s belief that the 20th century “was one of disappearances, culminating in the demolition of the Twin Towers and, down the line, art itself.

If art has indeed been dismantled into commercial fodder for VIP parties, perhaps now is the time for artists to rebuild and regroup. At least long enough to understand that what’s at stake is more than their art, but their integrity.

If not, all I can say is good luck and party like it’s 1999.

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