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The Bias and Hypocrisy of the Mainstream Contemporary Art World: Does it bother you?

by Brian Sherwin on 5/20/2011 10:14:29 AM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint and Art Fag City. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.


The arrest of artist Ai Weiwei in China has forced many to ask why the mainstream art world continues to support the Chinese art market while at the same time speaking out against the brutality and lack of humanity displayed by the Chinese government. Those with that position feel that key individuals who have stood up for artist Ai Weiwei-- who is currently being held in custody after being arrested in China-- are being hypocritical. In my opinion this recent burst of criticism against the art world powers-that-be opens up larger questions that have yet to be addressed effectively within the mainstream.


The common feeling-- at least from what I've observed on art blogs, art forums, and elsewhere-- is that the want of money is held higher than doing what is right from an ethical standpoint. After all, major museum exchanges between the US and China, as well as international art fair involvement involving Chinese art galleries, tend to bolster the Chinese economy-- and thus, a government that is highly oppressive of its own people. It is like feeding a rabid dog that you know will likely bite you.


I can understand why so many individuals view this situation as hypocrisy. That said, I assume others would suggest that banning aspects of the Chinese art world from international involvement-- specifically in the US-- as a statement in support of Ai Weiwei would have the end result of punishing gallery owners, museums, and artists in China. They would get hit in the crossfire of the statement, so to speak. That said, things do get complicated when influential individuals within the art world say one thing while taking action in an entirely different direction. Why fend off the rabid dog only to feed it and pat it on the head? If these museum directors, art critics, and others were held to the same expectations as politicians-- well, lets just say that they would have lost the positions they hold long ago.


In that sense, yes-- hypocrisy and the mainstream art world walk hand-in-hand. However, that connection between what has been said and hypocrisy has long been evident in other ways within the mainstream art world. You can say the same of art critics, curators, and others who suggest that political and social bias does not exist within the realm of their professions-- but only write, exhibit, or promote, in general, art that tends to embrace a rather closed set of political and social views-- views they agree with-- compared to the plethora of views held by the public at large. In that sense, the public-- and the history of art-- is not being served.


When thinking of the art world and hypocrisy I'm forced to ask: How can an art critic claim that he or she does not allow political, social, or religious bias to dictate his or her opinions on art when he or she reveals solid political, social, religious (often against specific religions) motivations on Facebook or Twitter that downplay all opposing views? If an art critic can't take different opinions serious why should it be assumed that he or she will take opinions expressed visually serious unless they cater to his or her personal political, social, or religious views? Needless to say, I think this is something that should be explored while the smoking gun of exposing art world hypocrisy is still hot.


As I have long said-- want to see hypocrisy at work? Open up any art history book OR look at major museum acquisitions that have taken place in the last decade alone. Bias is clear-- hypocrisy is clear. The mainstream art world is not as open-minded as many assume. You will find that specific hard-line viewpoints are often the status quo of the mainstream contemporary art world.


In closing, I will leave you with a quote that sums up how I feel concerning the mainstream contemporary art world and hypocrisy: "I'm not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it." -- Niccolo Machiavelli. No, I'm not suggesting that I have the ability to overthrow hypocritical practices and bias within the art world. That said, I will say what I think-- and stand by it in my actions. My revolution, if you will, starts with integrity. Perhaps it is time for others working within the arts to adhere to the same principle of not flip-flopping between what is said compared to what is done. After all, actions tend to say everything.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin


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Topics: Brian Sherwin

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Phyllis O'Shields PhD
H Brian:
Hypocrisy bothers me greatly, an exact example close to home is Cuba being closed to the USA and open to other countries including Canada, so close. Cuban artists are stiffled in so many ways also.Especially with friends and relatives so close at hand in the United States.
I agree that the way to open opportunities for world artists and overcome their government's restrictions is to stay in support and bring into our country their art.
Phyllis O'Shields PhD Artist

Brian Sherwin
Thanks for mentioning the plight of Cuban artists. I've been in talks with an art writer who was born and raised in Cuba and will likely write about that topic soon.

As for the United States-- if we are to stay on top of the world of visual art we must be a welcome home for international artists. I realize I've been critical of the NYC art world-- but on that issue they have long been ahead of their game. There is something powerful about attending an art event involving artists from dozens on countries.

Your view of how the art world functions is scary. Everything based on ad's sold, personal connections, and bias. You make good points though and I think there is truth in what you say even if it does place a dark cloud of manipulation over the arts. Thank you.

I'll add that there is irony here. When Ai Weiwei was arrested in China with bogus charges just because of the political message of his art many US artists spoke out for him. Those same artists don't say anything when certain political messages are avoided in galleries and museums in the US. It happens all the time.


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