Painting from Privilege: On Quality and Commodity

While complacently writing positive reviews of art shows or interviews with artists I liked, the Universe handed me a personal encounter as a painter. This encounter with an art dealer fueled an existing, suppressed frustration. My story exposes, or rather, elaborates on an ongoing discourse amongst art critics about the commercialization and mediocrity of quality in our Contemporary art market.

Disparity between the work represented by galleries, art dealers, fairs and auction houses and what artists are actually producing as a collective, basically can be separated into two categories: the privileged and the under-represented starving artist. The art that currently sells is not from the hand of the working class artist. Gone are the days when Peggy Guggenheim or Betty Parsons could patron an artist like Jackson Pollock. Would the Abstract Expressionist movement, which changed the course of Post Modernism, have even existed if the current standard for selecting artists had been the capitalist agenda? Peggy was a Guggenheim and Betty was an artist as well as a dealer. Their vision was the discovery of talent.

The art that currently sells is not from the hand of the working class artist.

Sparking a discussion about what happened to the art world after Pop Art, will, no doubt, lead to a conversation about late capitalism and the influence of social media. What is the criteria for discovering Contemporary artists? Forget about genius, when talent is more of a bonus than a requirement. The talented working class artist is screwed, when a studio visit involves these somewhat shocking requirements.

Let’s go back to my recent encounter. I met an art dealer on Instagram. We met in Bushwick, for a drink to discuss a potential studio visit. Frankly, although I’m in the middle of an interesting new series of paintings and just had a show in the Hamptons, I lost my studio and everything is in storage. For the interim, until I sort it out, I’m working from my apartment on small canvases. This is a tragic situation when a well-connected dealer shows up. It’s important to understand that dealers who work for high end collectors are looking for established artists with an expensive commercial studio, an exhibition record, unlimited resources and, above all, time on their hands. Master degrees from top art schools and universities are, in some cases, a requirement. The MFA I have, but the kind of money that puts me in the privileged artist category, I do not.

Transparency is the cure. The irony of my story and the failure of late capitalism in the art market is this. This very intelligent art dealer that saw my little breakthrough paintings, while dismissing me for being down on my financial luck, said:

Him: You have definitely found your own voice.

Me: I think I have.

Him: Isn’t that what every artist wants?

Me (I thought and regret not saying): Isn’t that what every art dealer wants?!

I believe he validated my talent and I’m not without hope that the tides will turn.

THE COPYCAT DOLLS – Another Silent Death of Quality 

I vowed not to name names or take shots at young female artists. After all, they are just taking advantage of a flawed system and they just got lucky. I intend to shine a light on a trend of mostly mega galleries acquiring attractive young blonde artists. They are pawns in a bigger picture agenda. Sure they’re hot, but it goes beyond the egregiously superficial. Being too green and inexperienced to have their own voice, they are strategically aligned with a famous male senior artist, also represented by the same gallery. Even more shocking, as if Contemporary collectors are too dumb to catch it, these copycat dolls are sampling style from the old guard and giving it a feminine spin. I’m refraining from the most obvious example involving a personal relationship between a young artist and a mature famous art dealer. I’m interested in making waves, not a tsunami crashing into my own career. These kids are making millions on the primary market. It’s official, art has become a commodity all about branding. A work of art has become a Birkin bag containing a little poodle along for the ride.

Art has become a commodity all about branding. A work of art has become a Birkin bag containing a little poodle along for the ride.

Dealers are looking for the factory of mass production during studio visits, not the talent. It’s all about money folks, not standards. There will be no Age of Enlightenment when mediocrity is so accepted. Without philosophers, innovators, and revolutionaries, who the hell will we be to future generations? At this rate, we will be the last thinkers.

We have geniuses to reflect on: Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Jean Michel Basquiat, Willem de Kooning, etc. Exceptional female Contemporary painters exist but their work has had time to mature and evolve. Amy Sillman, Nicole Eisenman, Jennifer Packard, Amy Sherald and Charline von Heyl are among a few.

Museums as the conservators of our place in history, should be at the forefront of resetting standards for quality. I am not referring to diversity or inclusion, which has been a radical and very important shift. I’m merely adding to the under-represented list. Make the opportunities accessible to underprivileged artists in general. Reality check, most artists are not rich. They are parents, art handlers, studio assistants, gallery and museum workers, art students and teachers. You get the idea. There isn’t enough grant money to go around.

As an artist, I want my talent to not only be seen but taken seriously.

The situation forces art critics to be political journalists. I would rather return to my reviews in a copacetic equitable art world. As an artist, I want my talent to not only be seen but taken seriously. In my twenties I could paint. However, after a life of ups and downs, my voice, that was just easily recognized by a savvy art dealer, has much to say.

© Amanda Wall (10/27/2023) FF2 Media

Click image to enlarge.


Photos provided by Amanda Wall. Approved for legitimate use by others as long as a link to this page is provided in user’s credits. 


Amanda Wall is a Brooklyn-based painter. She graduated from the University of Tulsa (OK) with a Bachelors of Fine Arts (Painting and Communication Design), and received a Masters of Fine Arts (Painting and Drawing) from Pratt Institute in 2020. Click here for CV and samples of her work on her website

Tags: Amanda Wall, art dealers, contemporary art, opinion, women artists, young artists

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