This morning I read an enlightening article by Richard Speer, one of Portland's only "art critics". He's a nice guy, a snappy dresser, and I have more often than not enjoyed his writings. But this time around, in his article about Portland's upcoming biennials, when referencing PICA's People's Biennial he carried a more condescending tone: "Meantime, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) will mount its own biennial exhibition as part of this summer’s TBA Festival. Dubbed The People’s Biennial, the show is positioned as a kind of “People’s Choice” Awards as opposed to the more prestigious, Academy Award-like Oregon Biennial, which PAM phased out to make room for the more exclusionary Contemporary Northwest Art Awards—the next installment of which is slated for 2011. For The People’s Biennial, curators Harrell Fletcher and Jens Hoffmann are seeking nominations from the public for whom to include. In an announcement for an ad-hoc nomination session (to be held 4pm, Saturday, Feb. 6, The Cleaners at Ace Hotel, 403 SW 10th Ave.), the curators say they want to include:
“artists and non-artists who are operating outside of traditional presenting institutions and systems. This could include a child who makes incredible science fair projects, a person knitting fantastic clothing, a developmentally disabled artist making engaging drawings or sculptures, a mathematician that composes visually compelling notations, or a sign painter who creates great window displays.”
Perhaps Fletcher and Hoffmann will also want to include hobbyists who make funny masks out of gourds."
And here he continues...
...Disjecta’s forthcoming biennial selectees and easier still to lampoon PICA’s self-consciously lowbrow plea for amateur “art,” but both of these organizations are stepping up to the plate as PAM languishes under its own torpor.
After posting the link to his article on Facebook, Speer received a fair number of thumbs ups and comments expressing disdain for such "lowbrow" PICA shenanigans. There were also a few folks who called Speer and his anti-lowbrow supporters out.
Here is what I posted:
"I am for an art that... does something other than sit on its ass in a museum." - Claes Oldenburg
The terms "highbrow" and "lowbrow are largely a matter of class. Highbrow artists more often than not show there works in institutions (museums) and galleries mostly owned by wealthy people (or people who know wealthy people) who have disposable income. Take the highbrow works out of the context of a gallery/museum, and place them in a supermarket or on the streets, and presto, you have yourself some lowbrow art. It's not the art itself that deems art highbrow, it's the institution behind the art.
Artists who have attained highbrow status have somehow (through a stroke of luck, privilege or good old fashioned handshakes) finagled their way into the institution. And what artist wouldn't desire such a thing? Who wouldn't want to make their passion their livelihood?
So, when another institution (PICA) comes along and offers up their space for more "lowbrow" concepts and practices from people who may not even consider themselves "artists" the highbrow art community is left standing dumbfounded and irate.
I understand why artists may be upset by such a notion, but at the same time, isn't' our job as artists to act outside of the institution; to engage and stimulate the community; to enlighten in creative and forward thinking ways?
Also, I happen to enjoy masks out of gourds and, when they are in season, watermelons.