Fair, it is said circus, amusement park, showbiz world, a carousel of banalities, bazaar of the objet trouvé and a thousand times retrouvé. In contemporary art fairs the ultimate meaningless of art is summarized: to boost the ego, and not exactly that of the artist.
The Contemporary Art Apart Fair (CAAF/CDMX 2019) is not Art Basel of Basel, nor of Miami Beach, nor Frieze nor ARCO …, but all of them at the same time. It is the Fair in generic, the non-place of global art. It is made to the scale of Barbie and Ken, they could even be among the most trendy couples, but the serial injection of plastic happiness is replaced by handmade textures and individualized figures.
Artemio, an artist in which homo faber and homo ironicus meet, that is, the excellence of manual work and the caustic vision of society, is the architect of this great “Vanitas” of the art market.
The bonfire of the vanities, installed these days in Machete gallery (Mexico City), reproduces to the last detail and magnifying glass a microworld in which, like the one that Tom Wolfe portrayed in his homonymous novel, each social stratum takes pleasure in the recreation of his own stereotype.
The caste of the nouveau riche, with his smartphone pressed to his ear and listening with the other confidences of a mainstream artists’ dealer, becomes discreet affectation in the collector of half career’s artists displayed in the so-called middle class galleries, and already in the next level we find headhunters roaming the poor galleries (representative of the emerging artists).
As for those who remain in the margins, monochrome characters that we hardly see in the face of so much multicolored claim would correspond to the general public, with the crowd of onlookers, celebrity world lovers, or those who came to take a selfie with a giant pill or between foam cakes. The group of the extras also includes the artists, in whose name transactions in which they do not take part are driven.
Don Thompson, in his anthropological review of the London fair Frieze, talks about VIP people and VOP people: the first ones enter before the official opening, they are offered drink and food in the sponsored salons; the second ones line up out the door, drink in a plastic cup and the few who dare to ask a price to a Superstar dealer are ignored with a brief “it is not available”.
As for the works, and returning to our Bonfire, a tired déjà-vu overwhelms the little visitor of these dollhouses, when today is the same as yesterday with another layer of paint, when the “neo” only adds a prefix to pop or formalist mannerism. Artemio has managed to portray this stagnation of time, the eternal return or suspended present that in fact characterizes any contemporary non-place.
Hundreds of miniatures reproduce easily recognizable works: photo-collages by Baldessari, minimalist stairs by Donald Judd, cartoon portraits by Julian Opie … Substitutes are also abundant: Dan Flavin’s fluorescents transformed into designer lamps, skulls piled up by some applicant to Damien Hirst … It does not lack new-age mysticism and social commitment put on airs. Even though there can exist quality camouflaged among so much quantity, any incendiary message will be neutralized by the bazaar effect.
Another fair symptom that these tableaux capture is the psychological phenomenon that prevents the stunned spectator from “seeing” the work itself but from the number of zeros that increase its “aura”. Artemio has neutralized the color of a series of paintings to stamp the phrases: “this work is not a good investment”, “this work is not a political stance” or “it is not a contemporary vision”.
We seem to be looking at these labeled paintings with those glasses that in the movie “They are alive” allow an x-ray vision to read the messages underlying advertising propaganda. Zizek illustrated with this film by John Carpenter the conditioning to which the liberal system subjects us, the ideology integrated into our relationship with the environment.
A good example of a dictatorship disguised as freedom is offered to us by collectors going through these cubicles with adrenaline pumping their temples, wanting to anticipate to the desires of others, but at the same time waiting to be told what to desire, maybe wondering themselves, is not this picture too political? … anyway, now or never!
Artemio, La Hoguera de las Vanidades
Galería Machete, México D.F. (colonia Roma Norte)
until 1st of April 2019