how post-internet art went mainstream
2014 felt like a watershed year for art, when the new global underground went mainstream and began to sweep away the old guard of the YBAs and post-internet art finally cracked the market.
Image from Excellences & Perfections by Amalia Ulman
The Global Art World
If one thing became clear this year, it was how inter-connected the cities that make up the global art world really are; that there is a stylistic axis that runs from LA to New York to London to Berlin (alongside say Paris, Stockholm, Glasgow and Vienna too) and that the day and age of the local art style has well and truly gone; there'll be no more London centric YBAs, American Abstract Expressionists or European Avant-Gardes. It's hard to tell whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's the way it's going.
This is almost certainly down to the way everyone's connected now, how artists, gallerists, curators and writers all share the same social networks, see the same shows being Instagrammed, written about and discussed, and posted on websites like Contemporary Art Daily, which collates images of exhibitions from around the world. The internet has totally de-localised the art world and created a global style, born out of the sharing of images online.
This was brought up at the ICA and Rhizome's Art In Circulation talks during Frieze this year, which discussed how our computer screens have become the main way that most of us now experience contemporary art. Digital culture has become art's culture and a generation of artists are making art that deals with that. It's a style that has become known as post-internet art.
It's blurred the boundaries too, between what constitutes someone's artwork; from their social media presence to their blogs to their actual shows to the images of their work that get shared.
Post-Internet Goes Mainstream
It's been bubbling under in the global art world for four or five years but 2014 was the year post-internet art went mainstream and became the defining aesthetic trend of the year. Post-internet, roughly speaking, means art created with an awareness of the fact that it's going to be shared online, or even created specifically to be shared and viewed online. Whether it's 15Folds' or The Limited Collections' online GIF galleries, or more traditional ones who have pioneered work and publications that exist both across normal white cube spaces and the internet.
Crucially this was the year that it fully came out of its underground network and started to make a mark in the market and the wider consciousness, filling the gap of there being no real dominant ideological style for the last few years.
But the main objection was that instead of creating a totally new way of working and experiencing art, the art market merely took over the aesthetic, dumped the ideology, and started making money. That post-internet art went mainstream and became, quickly, only a style instead of a set of ideas and ideals.
One problem with this was that 2014 saw a battle for the heart of post-internet art, as it broke and people started to realise they could make money of it. The most notorious moment this year was probably Jerry Saltz of New York magazine's attack on Stefan Simcowitz, a notorious art flipper (where you buy a lot of work by young artists cheap and quickly sell it on for a profit as soon as you can) and after a follow up piece in the Observer, Stefan became the art world's bête noir, and an easy symbol for everything wrong with the moneyed, elusive and exclusive world of contemporary art.
London has seen a lot of dealers and collectors opening spaces that have been pushing young artists this year, which is a slightly less aggressive form of the same speculation, but this all comes as an inevitable downside of a generation of artists starting to be taken seriously by critics and galleries.
Paddles On Paddles
On's first exhibition may have been in New York in 2013, but in 2014 it hosted two events in London, and is a radically new way of selling digital art through online art auctions that hook up artists direct to sellers. It's been critiqued that post-internet art has slowly been losing its radical nature, that it came out of a network of people instead of the gallery system, and that as its come back into the gallery its lost its edge. It was a point being made as long ago as last year, by Ben Vickers, in the ICA's discussion of Post-Internet Art, that through the power of the internet and the network post-internet could've broken the old gallery system, but it was never really likely happen, and Paddles On, who curated two exhibitions and are now working on a more general online auctioning system, maybe offer an alternative to the world of art flippers making quick money.
Young Artists making a mark
The young galleries sections of the art fairs art currently filled up with artists pushing the post-internet aesthetic into the market, but whilst they may lack the money and power of their more established rivals, and their sometime reliance on art flippers, they've slowly been redefining the scene.
This year, in London alone, saw big shows for some of the most interesting and exciting of this generation's artists and felt like a standout year for really exciting and really new work; Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch at the Zabludowicz, Ed Fornieles at the Chisenhale, Korakrit Arunanondchai at Carlos/Ishikawa, Constant Dullaart at Carroll/Fletcher, Amalia Ulman at Evelyn Yard, Shanzhai Biennial at Frieze Projects, Yuri Pattison at Cell Projects Space, they all seemed to define the current scene in London.
Bar an exhibition of Tracey Emin's drawing at the White Cube (which were always the least typically YBA element to her work) and a performance of Sarah Lucas frying eggs at David Roberts during Frieze, its difficult to thing of a time when the YBAs mattered less, and had less of an effect upon the current world of art. Whilst their tropes; artist as personality; shock; new forms of ready made; diaristic exploration of the self; new media; might not feel totally at odds with the post-internet generation, all are handled in an incredibly different way, subtler, more holistic, more politically engaged and less aggressive. Even the Tate Galleries, Saatchi, and White Cube, who've championed and given the YBAs their place in the canon, seem to have moved on, as all their major shows this year have focused on smaller, older, and less sensational artists.
To further ram this point home, The Turner Prize, celebrating its 30th year of existence, was devoid of the YBAs who made it so newsworthy and such easy fodder for tabloid journalists to mock. Of course it didn't quite do things the traditional way the Daily Mail might've liked; no paintings, no representational art, etc. The work mainly being video, collage, performance, image heavy but utterly not representational. Duncan Campbell won in the end, for a four piece video work, It For The Others, that was about Marx, The Troubles and African sculpture.
Text Felix Petty
Image from Excellences & Perfections by Amalia Ulman