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COLLECTVISM WORKS!
by Charlie Finch
 
In the last 15 years we in the art world have become so brainwashed by the market model of contemporary art that we forget that the entire history of 20th-century art was a collective phenomenon. Or perhaps you have never heard of the Fauves, the Futurists, the Blaue Reiter, the Dadaists, the Cubists, the Surrealists, the Ten, the Gutai Art Association, CoBRA, the Oz Collective, the Guerrilla Girls, Colab or the Royal Art Lodge?

The collective weight of these movements makes our current model of star dealers (and their wannabees) and sycophantic auction-house "experts" risible by comparison. We have been living in a bad dream art world driven by Oscar Wilde's maxim that the price is everything and the value nothing. Now, perhaps it is understandable why even the most mediocre art dealer would be reluctant to cede the minor power to fire artists at will, manipulate finances so that artists remain last on the pay line and then bloviate in the blogosphere about the complexities of his august position. But why should working artists tolerate dealer hegemony when the whole history that inspires them invites the opposite?

Why is the collective model the best fulcrum of creation? As Lawrence Weiner advised me last year during a moment of personal trial, "Charlie, the thing you have to understand is that we are not normal." Weiner himself commenced in a collective of the supremely weird dematerialization movement in 1969 with Douglas Huebler, Robert Barry and Joseph Kosuth, white males all and pretty bumptious ones at that, yet desirous of the soothing stroke of the whole.

It is true that often a star rises from that whole, seemingly obliterating the others, but we might ask ourselves whether Kosuth is a better artist now making million-dollar billboards for the Saudis or back in the day when "art as idea" propelled him into complex abstract conundrums eking out of his head.

Besides, the collective identity leaves an imprint for life and beyond. Hence, even Picasso and Duchamp are wedded to the movements that produced them and even the most "minor" artist can't completely disappear from art history because of the collective matrix.

For me, the best example of how market forces can respect, endure and, yes, even profit by the collective force of artistic endeavor was Brooke Alexander's response to the 1980 Times Square Show, organized by Colab. The artists, such as John Ahearn and Judy Rifka, whom Brooke cherry-picked out of that show became stars for awhile, participating in Whitney Biennials and such, and then ebbed back into the slipstream. What remains and still drives them in the studio is the original boost from that collective effort, which will mark them in our small collective history forever.

It is time for a few more "Times Square Shows," now in a tall glass building abandoned by the hedgers and the speculators who have brought the economy down. The dealers and collectors can politely stand in line, waiting their turn like the rest of us.


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).