Friday, February 5, 2010

Tino Sehgal: creating art out of nothing and everything

For the past year I have been contemplating the current economic situation and it’s effect on the art market. I keep hearing stories about galleries closing, and red dots indicting an art piece has sold seem to be verging on extinction.

Now is the hour, I’ve concluded, for non-object driven work.

This is why the current
Tino Sehgal show at the Guggenheim in NYC has me so excited. I will admit that I have not yet seen the show, but this NY Times write-up by Holland Cotter has me inspired nevertheless.

Cotter writes: Sehgal’s art is a response to these perceived realities as they play out microcosmically in the context of the art industry. His goal is to create a counter-model: to make something (a situation) from virtually nothing (actions, words) and then let that something disappear, leaving no potentially marketable physical trace.

The Guggenheim has been cleared out. A visitor to the museum is greeted by an “interpreter” who leads the viewer up the winding ramps of the museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The interpreter asks the visitor ‘What is progress?” a conversation ensues until another escort takes over and continues the conversation with the visitor about the same topic. Upon reaching the top floor a final escort leaves the visitor with the final sentence: “The piece is called 'This Progress.'”

Only the opening and the closing sentences have been scripted for this piece. Everything else is left up to the escorts and the visitor. In doing this Sehgal forces the viewer to be an active participant of the art piece. The viewer is no longer a passive spectator but one who is forced to accept responsibility of the role they play within broader arenas of the art world and economics.

Cotter writes: “A similarly material-free version of art was, of course, espoused by 1960s Conceptualism, though as Mr. Sehgal has pointed out, it was rarely achieved. Certain early Conceptualists reduced art to the bare minimum — gestures, empty spaces — ostensibly in resistance to a voracious market. But they also documented that work in drawings, photographs and videos, which became market fodder.

Mr. Seghal’s scrupulous avoidance of documentation is meant as a corrective to that dynamic. And he takes the argument further by questioning the political premise on which such Conceptualism was founded.

Resisting the market, he insists, is misguided, always was. After all, artists have to make a living. He contends that the overproduction of material things is the crucial issue, the root source of bad ecology, bad economics and bad values.

For his part he is happy to market his physically impermanent art. He sells the pieces, for prices that reach into six figures, as editions; the sales agreements are oral; only the cash paid in is tangible. He stipulates that he or someone associated with him must oversee the execution of a sold piece.

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