In this reading, Brett Bloom describes a bit of the history of how the last major push for government funding of the arts in the US (in the 1970s and early 80s) fostered a system of “alternative” art spaces that could exist outside of the commercial gallery world and, consequently, open the art world up to new creative forms, ideas, and types of artists (especially artists from various marginalized groups) unwelcome to the art market. The dismantling of public arts funding (as a proxy for the general trend of privatization), means that artists now must create their own radical art spaces, but that there is much potential for these types of projects (some of which Bloom describes).
In general, I find Bloom’s assessment of the situation spot-on, and find the types of spaces he’s discussing very interesting. Still, to me, the piece raises more questions than it answers, and I’m left feeling intrigued but also kind of unsatisfied. Bloom is vague on exactly what makes the spaces he describes radical, other than their lack of commerce. His stated avoidance of a specific ideology (as opposed to explicitly anarchist spaces, for example) makes sense, but does little to argue for why these spaces are successful (or sufficiently radical) and others aren’t.
The biggest unresolved question for me is this: is Bloom interested in using radical space to revolutionize the art world, or is he interested in using art to revolutionize social practice? At the beginning, the article leans more heavily on the former—the commercial gallery/museum system is offered as the institution against which alternative art spaces should be defined. The alternative spaces of the 70s and early 80s, we are told, broadened the art world, ushering in new people and new creative possibilities. Presumably, a wave of radical new spaces would do the same now.
I agree, and for me personally, that’s what makes the Internet (and computer tech) such an interesting subject. Even with its deep flaws, Internet culture has certainly given attention to many otherwise marginalized voices, artists and not. At the same time, the availability of relatively inexpensive computer equipment and the philosophies of open source development offer a strong case for digital technology as a mode for anti-capitalist artistic and cultural production.
These are all still very recent developments, so Bloom can be forgiven for not addressing online communities at all seven years ago. However, beyond his critiques of commercial high art, Bloom doesn’t want to offer much of what alternative, radical art looks like, anyway. It’s unclear what makes these spaces specifically “art spaces”. He explains that art is produced and exhibited in these spaces, but no specific art is described or illustrated. Instead “art” hangs as a sort of loose philosophy over the entire endeavor, a vague justification for why these spaces should be used in unconventional ways. When Bloom gets into specifics, it’s not about art (or the economics of image making or anything), but about much more materialist concerns—recycling and gardening and redistribution of excess clothing and community meetings and food.
I find myself worrying about the mechanics of these spaces. How do you get enough people to come, without drowning out the local community? How do you ensure that there’s enough food and space to share? How do you make yourself accessible, while still attending to basic security? How do you set up a space in an inexpensive building (presumably in a poor or at least working-class area) while staying aware of the role that artists often play in gentrification. Indeed, as a recent transplant to New York City, do I have any business setting up “indigenous” spaces anyway?
But, ultimately, these questions seem to be the exact issues that the people in charge of the spaces in this reading are working through. While the Experimental Station’s Dan Peterman hesitates at whether his organization of the building is itself an artistic practice, Bloom seems more certain, describing “a really exploded notion of how art and highly refined aesthetic sensibility could contribute to a larger, more interesting, constantly unfolding daily situation.” But then, why make art objects at all? By describing the many “more interesting” activities artists could coordinate (activities which, to be honest, do generally sound interesting and beneficial to society), it seems to me that Bloom is walking up to, but never embracing, a dangerous proposition: that the most radical thing an artist can do is not make art.
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