By Liam Gillick
There was a large international exhibition in a very beautiful region of the country. A lot of artists had been invited to take part. They were mainly from Europe and North America. Almost everyone in the show had arrived to stay for a few weeks, to work towards the exhibition and to enjoy the place. All the artists who had bothered to come were given large studios to work in, and stayed in apartments built quite close to the gallery. Some of the artists knew each other before the exhibition and others got to know each other through their stay and the show. Some of the artists were more gregarious than others. Each evening there would be a meal or party and although not everyone turned up to every event, most of the time the artists got along together pretty well.
In 1992 I wrote a short text titled ‘Donating Money to the Getty Foundation’. It was written as an informal anecdote about a few artists sitting in a house on top of a cliff in the South of France. In the story the house was made up of a large number of pods – connected by tubular corridors. None of the walls were fl at, yet the place was full of paintings. It didn’t seem necessary to write about this in the text, so I didn’t bother to picture the hanging system deployed throughout the house. There was no host in this story – a crucial new form of absence. The pods were made of rough concrete or stucco in the form of spheres, each with a flattened base – the windows were round and the connecting tubular corridors were in the form of extruded arches linking the varied spheres.
After about a week staying in this beautiful part of the country there came an invitation to visit a house. The house was quite a long way from the gallery and arrangements were made to share cars and organise lifts from different people so that all the artists could go and visit what was rumored to be a really great place. Most of those travelling to the house that day were surprised at how long it took to get there, but when they arrived everyone realised it had been worth it. The house was incredible, like something out of a film. It was unself-consciously kitsch enough to be unintimidating, but impressive enough for the most cynical visitor.
This was a straightforward tale of emerging consciousness amid a shifting dynamic of power and patronage in art. Influenced by Ingres and Other Parables, a 1972 book by John Baldessari, it was one of a number of short stories that combined to provide some kind of update on the position and state of artistic autonomy in relation to the stealthy rationalisations at the heart of globalisation in the early post-Reagan/ Thatcher era.
Everyone felt at ease. There were two swimming pools. It was a very hot day. Some people stripped off and began swimming while others just hung around by the pool. There wasn’t much in the way of refreshments but no one really cared. The house was positioned towards the top of a cliff and the main pool was built so that it overlooked the sea. You could spend hours floating around in the water and gazing down at the sea many metres below. Time passed and everyone seemed to be happy. As it got dark, and as if it could have been any other way, it was announced that there was to be a buff et supper at the far side of the house.
Where Baldessari’s texts had tended to focus on the plight of the artist in the face of history and the problem of production, these texts placed the artist in an implicated position in relation to the way the art system might draw people into the logic of a revised poststatist and fundamentally neoliberal set of operations. The artist is no longer faced with the stubborn presence of an assured artistic past but instead becomes an ambivalent social figure – populating villas, seminars and dinners – while daily demonstrating exemplary attributes of scepticism and desire.
That was really perfect. Some of the artists rushed to eat before others and some were more desperate for a drink. People started talking, opinions were exchanged. At one table sat two artists from the west coast of America. One was telling the other about how he felt a bit guilty about selling quite a lot of work. The other artist sympathized and said he used to feel the same but had tempered his guilt feeling by donating some of his income to worthy causes. As the two pursued their conversation another artist came up and joined them. He listened to what they were saying. As far as he could see, artists never made enough; even the ones who were really raking it in deserved it, and those who were not making much money but did good work ought to be properly rewarded.
The traditional movement of power had been redescribed in the 1980s as a trickle-down process where loss of regulation would free capital to move – now unfettered from state intervention – in a logical if meandering flow to those capable of predicting its outflows and drains, but always in search of promised torrents. In 1992 the luxury-brand conglomerates and spoils from the former USSR were yet to congeal from the primordial soup of chaotic and seemingly infinitely fragmented post-Wall structures. One certainty was emerging, however – that this promised trickle/flow/drip might not be operating in one direction only. Away from the obvious traumas of increasing wealth inequality – even at the heart of apparently developed cultural life – the artist would increasingly be seen as a figure of support for the foundation, the visionary and the corporate structure as much as a recipient of its largesse. In 1992 it was still not completely clear how on earth this strange state of affairs would actually come into being. But you could already see artists struggling with ways to comprehend their sudden emergence onto the well-stocked-yet-hostless terrace of desire.
Anyway, the artist sat there listening to the other two going on about their guilt feelings and how their dealers had really helped out when it came to working out what charities to give to. He felt it was time to say something. There was a pause in the conversation and he interjected. ‘You know,’ he said. ‘You’ve got a point there, what I do is give a portion of my income to the Getty Foundation.’ There was a silence and the two artists from the west coast of America turned to look at the artist who was claiming to give some of his income to the Getty Foundation. One of them said, ‘Gee, that’s real bad. You know that the Getty Foundation’s real big and powerful already, don’t you?’ They carried on with the meal and changed the subject. It was the only moment of tension or flash of heat in an otherwise good day.
A curious postscript to the glib scenario described has been a surprising inability to map power or even represent its aura within the critical framework of an advanced art. The critical default has become an increasingly fraught attempt to present the traumatic result of contemporary lack or a poetic pseudo-sublime image of what may never have existed in the first place. Both these options leave us without a critical map to the real location of power and, as a consequence, do no more than off er solace or sympathy in a context of critical empathy. So until something changes, the terrace remains – a limbo for the contemporary – the only place that can be mapped with its familiar nodes of bar, exit and screen.