Art League Houston
August 5 - September 17, 2016
All photos by Alex Barber, courtesy of Art League Houston
“Professions are, in essence, self-regulating. They have strict codes of conduct and ethics. Their willingness to stick by these codes, enforce them on errant members and expel impenitent ones is what distinguishes professions from trades. But there is no agreement in the American art world on how critics, museum curators or dealers should behave.” Robert Hughes, 1978
Art League Houston is excited to present aesthetic][equity by Houston-based writer and organizer Michael McFadden. Making use of Art League’s hallway space as a site of reflection, the exhibition focuses on the turbulent history of socio-economic inequity found within the Houston arts community. Through a presentation that is part visual record and part call-to-action, the exhibition lays the groundwork for artistic intervention and theoretical efforts to level an unjust art-world hierarchy.
At its core, aesthetic][equity attempts to pick apart the history of equity and labor within the art world and examine the effect of reliable, authoritative measures such as industry regulation and systemic conformity as a counter-weight opposing the dominant contemporary art economy.
The root of inequity in the art world can often be traced to a lack of regulation and art’s ties to both symbolic and monetary significance. “In aesthetically transgressing our social existence we experience that we are equal. Political equality is an aesthetic effect,” Christoph Menke writes. “We make ourselves aesthetically equal; aesthetically, we make ourselves equal.” Menke implies that the artist makes herself equal through the symbolic act of creativity. But, when art becomes a commodity, does it lose its symbolic value? Opening the conversation on the value of art within capitalist structures where subjectivity itself is subject to manipulation, Robert Hughes writes, “Only when an object is truly useless…can capitalism see it as truly priceless.” Is art a critical need with a value that can be defined according to regulated capital?
aesthetic][equity provides an opportunity to reflect on this duality of values by honing in on the Houston art scene and broadening out into the larger art world. The exhibition allows the public to learn of the tribulations of the art world, ruminate on the value of art and artistic labor, and respond.
Moving through the hallway, the public is exposed to the present state of the Houston art scene from the perspective of those who participate in it firsthand. The exhibition also presents The Artists’ Reserved Rights Agreement penned by Bob Projansky in 1971 and e-flux’s Time/Bank as two efforts to organize and regulate. Building on these efforts, the art community is invited to create a resource center in the hallway by offering their skills to one another and calling attention to yet unlisted efforts.
Updated to address faults and outdated information, these tools along with the resource center act as an initial step - one of many - in organizing efforts to establish artists’ rights and distribute equal pay for labor. At the conclusion of the exhibition, contributions to the resource center will be gathered into a skill-share equity directory that will be distributed to local art spaces and made available to artists throughout the community.