Although art is always associated with a commodity, perhaps what differentiates it from another product is that contradictory forces seem to exist within its value creation. While the creation of capital (whether symbolic, financial, social, critical, cultural, or intellectual) in art is a required condition for solidifying an artist’s territory, artists also seek to dissolve fixed perspectives of capital to reveal what cannot be perceived or even valued by society. The practice of art occurs in a gray area that unites and separates these opposing forces (negation and value affirmation). With the increase of speculative financial capital in the art system, only a handful of galleries have the capacity to create, sustain, or increase the value of an artist’s work. Consequently, museum programs, which often lack strong financial resources, end up showing mainly artists associated with galleries who actively participate in the speculative market. Exhibitions then become an extension of those galleries, who further increase their symbolic capital. In other words: one program feeds on the other as if bound together in a perfect marriage of convenience. However, by constantly asserting a small group, these few participants deny and crush most medium and small galleries. The art system reflects what we experience in our daily life: that there are a few with many resources and many with very little. Nonprofit spaces and alternative spaces are radically different from this form of financial speculation in that they are more inclined to exhibit various types of art not yet defined by rigid value systems. However, these spaces, together with the majority of artists and galleries, also suffer the consequences of the art world as a market for financial speculation.
A body of work is not produced in a vacuum, but rather comes about from collaboration between multiple people, with spaces, galleries, and museums in which it can be shown and developed. Throughout my career as an artist, I have been lucky to collaborate and to show in countless alternative spaces, and I developed a practice focused on variation and experimentation.
During the 2000s, several artistic spaces populated the Lower East Side (LES). They brought very different alternative programs to the art scene. It was a time when, despite the traditional art market dominating the established conversation, several groups created other forms of involvement with the production, exhibition, and critical reception of art. These spaces invested in the creation of programs that explored and expanded notions of agency, art history, politics, fashion, exclusivity, design, publication, experimentation, social issues, and new technologies, among many other issues.
Participant Inc., created by Lia Gangitano in 2002, started its extraordinary program to support independent artists and unique art projects. Reena Spaulings Fine Arts (2014-now), is named after a fictional artist whose works are created by many people; it operates as both artist and gallery. In their current location, they exhibit art on an elevated structure, which appears like a stage instead of a showcase. Orchard (2005-2008), located at 47 Orchard Street, was created by 11 people, myself included. We exhibited the storage space as an integral part of the exhibition space. We organized intergenerational dialogues between artists, historical reconstructions, performances, screenings, and lectures. Scorched Earth (2006), a magazine project focused on drawings, was based at 41 Ludlow Street, where they presented lectures, exhibitions, workshops, discussion panels, etc. Dexter Sinister (2006-now), a graphic design and publishing initiative, was founded in 2006 in the basement of 38 Ludlow Street. CAGE (2010-2014), at 83 Hester Street, which I initiated with Mason Leaver-Yap, did not have official opening hours. Instead, it was a social space that brought together several conversations between people from different backgrounds and fields. Some of these conversations resulted in different actions—sometimes inside, and sometimes on the street.
These programs are just some examples of spaces that emerged in the LES that insisted, and some continue to insist, on the inability to create a closed structure that still seems to occupy the heart of the administrative and productive logic of the art market. These spaces informed and formed a generation of artists during the Bush era . Many of them still participate in the discussion of contemporary art in a unique and critical way. The saying “you tell me who you are with, and I will tell you who you are” was very accurate in the context of the LES during the aughts.
This is the environment in which Ludlow 38 emerged in 2008 and existed until 2019. It started as a place to expand the conversation around the Kunstvereine in Germany, and later became a space to host annual resident curators. In 2009, I was invited to be part of Chance Encounters, a group exhibition curated by Tobi Maier. Instead of actively producing something, I asked Tobi to rewrite the press release of the exhibition, and his action of rewriting became my work. Actions like this one have allowed me to be the artist I am today and remind me that the art system must allow art to exist in many different formats. We can support the art system, we can react against it, but we can also strive to expand forms of production, circulation, and distribution of art. I am convinced that it is possible to build a more extensive and diversified model outside the logic of pure financial speculation.