Art World

The art world comprises everyone involved in producing, commissioning, presenting, preserving, promoting, chronicling, criticizing, and selling fine art. Art world is indeed a wider term than art market, though that is a large part of it. Howard S. Becker describes it as “the network of people whose cooperative activity, organized via their joint knowledge of conventional means of doing things, produce(s) the kind of art works that art world is noted for” (Becker, 1982). In her book, Seven Days in the Art World, Sarah Thornton describes it as “a loose network of overlapping subcultures held together by a belief in art. They span the globe but cluster in art capitals like New York, London, Los Angeles, and Berlin.” Other cities sometimes called “art capitals” include Beijing, Brussels, Hong Kong, Miami, Paris, Rome and Tokyo; due to their large art festivals, followings, and being the centers of art production.

The notion of the singular art world is problematic, since Becker and others show art worlds are, instead, independent multiplicities scattered worldwide that are always in flux: there is no “center” to the art world any more. In her analysis of the “net art world” (referring to network-aided art or net art), Amy Alexander states “net.art had a movement, at the very least it had coherence, and although it aimed to subvert the art world, eventually its own sort of art world formed around it. It developed a culture, hype and mystique through lists and texts; it had a centre, insiders, outsiders, even nodes. This is of course not a failure; this is unavoidable: groups form; even anarchism is an institution.” Art worlds exist at local and regional levels, as hidden or obscured subcultures, via primary and secondary art markets, through gallery circuits, around design movements, and, esoterically, as shared or perceived experiences. The one globalized, all-encompassing art world exists only as myth; rather, there are multiplicities of intersecting, overlapping, self-similar art worlds, each expressing different views of the world as they see it.

Though the painting is not in the show, activists argue that the ICA is giving institutional approval to a “violent artifact.” Local activists, artists, and community members are calling for the cancellation of a solo exhibition of work by Dana Schutz at the ICA Boston, which opens to the public July 26. In an open letter sent to the museum yesterday, the group criticized the institution for capitalizing on Schutz’s notoriety following her controversial contribution to the Whitney Biennial earlier this year.

Schutz’s painting Open Casket (2016), which is based on photographs of 14-year-old Emmett Till, drew protests when it was shown at the Whitney Museum this spring. The work touched off intense debate over who can and should make art about historical trauma and if and how institutions can responsibly present that work. The exhibition, which has been in the works for two years, presents around 20 works by Schutz created over the past decade and focuses on her move toward increasingly complex, large-scale compositions. The museum “never considered” including Open Casket, Eva Respini, the ICA Boston’s chief curator who organized the exhibition, told artnet News. At the same time, Respini says, the Whitney controversy unfolded so publicly that the museum felt it must acknowledge it somehow. “We understand that people now read her work through this lens,” she says. The museum will address the issue in the exhibition’s wall text and through a series of public talks.