Monday, January 26, 2009

Yokelist Manifesto Number 1

Preamble: I hope to spend time this year thinking deeply about locally-made art and how we can better support it in Boston. This essay, along with the 2008 Boston Art Awards, are part of this project. I hope, dear readers, that you’ll join in the discussion.

The Future: Boston lacks alternative spaces?

A month back, Matt Nash of Big Red & Shiny wrote an essay lamenting that in Boston the “alternative gallery scene is non-existent.” It struck a cord with thinking I’ve been doing about what we as a community can do to incubate a more lively local art scene.

Much of the exciting stuff that happens in art happens because people felt left out or got fed up with the existing system and insisted on starting their own thing. Art people are attracted to new things, and so if these new things make a big enough splash or survive for any length of time, they often lead where the next things go.

But the Boston scene suffers from a lack of do-it-yourself energy – and impish humor – and thus has a lack of people striking out on their own. We need more artists to organize shows in their apartments and garages and vans. What about web-only galleries? Someone should rent a truck for a Friday night, fill it with art and (double)park it on Harrison Avenue. Someone should hack the ICA’s Mediatheque computers – since the ICA isn’t using them – and fill them with crazy digital art. That’s how you get on the evening news – and make your name.

But on a more, uh, sober note, the lives of alternative spaces in Boston that nurture locally-made art are complicated by our wealth of excellent school spaces, which occupy and often crowd out the alternative space here. So those schools – plus museums – need to take up the slack, particularly in this lousy economic moment. I’m talking about giving a wall here or there to locally-made art, including locally-made art in group shows, turning closets into “project spaces,” organizing focused solo shows, mounting mid-career retrospectives. This would be a start.

Before this can happen in any steady way we probably all need to admit that we have an “issue” with locally-made art. One of the salient characteristics of Boston’s second-city syndrome is that everyone here is convinced that everyone else here sucks. Because if they didn’t suck, they’d be in New York.

We need to change that thinking. We need to be proudly provincial. (New York isn’t shy about filling its institutions with locally-made art.) The next, harder step is producing awesome art. To do that we all must seek the promise in messy, half-baked, embarrassing locally-made art, and nurture that promise so that it can maybe, sorta, possibly, hopefully grow into something awesome. When we do actually produce awesome stuff, we need to showcase it. And we need tell everyone everywhere about how awesome it is. We need to convince everyone of its awesomeness – and that’s going to take a lot of effort because everyone agrees with us that we suck. These are pieces of an idea – dare I say a movement – that I call Yokelism.

For the past decade, the art world has been focused on Chelsea plus a handful of jet-set biennials and art fairs. Call it the Circuit. It’s grown stale and everybody’s tired of it – and with the economy tanking, the dollars that are its lifeblood are disappearing. As the Circuit frays, I dream of a decentralized moment – like the decentralization of the Web – when voices from the hinterlands may be heard as the next new thing. It’s the Yokels’ moment.


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