Occupy Gagosian–Some Revolutionary Mutterings

At a recent art talk, Michael Gormley moderated a conversation among artists, and made the statement that in contemporary life, “Finance is leading culture.”  I understood this to refer to the fact that many large art organizations and mainstream platforms are supported by big-moneyed donors, art business groups, corporations and advertisers. Most art coverage in the papers, put up on bus stops, and appearing on magazine covers all have a lot of vested financial interest behind them. The world of capitalism and the world of art are completely intertwined, and these days it seems that the corporate capitalist financial structure dominates control of the art world. Often, corporate branding and social status seem more salient than artistic merit. The art market these days is all about exchange value, and not intrinsic value.

Nocturne by Martin Wittfooth, oil on linen, 72 x 48, 2013.
Nocturne by Martin Wittfooth, oil on linen,
72 x 48, 2013.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about one comment from Martin Wittfooth that night that stuck in my head. (He does mythic and symbolic paintings of animals, birds, and flowers that I’d call Neo-Romantic and poetic.) Martin said, “I want a sacred space to view art in.”

That really struck a chord. I’ve been talking to my artist friends, and when we are honest, we admit kinda hating the gallery world. Many galleries give you a cold-fish welcome that makes you feel like you are wearing the wrong clothes and all those Prada-heeled gallery girls clacking around look unnervingly dead inside. And no one gets a warm glow walking into a Chelsea gallery. Sometimes the art can get you there, but it’s not enhanced by the setting or the fixtures that run it.

How very far the contemporary white cube gallery is from the sacred. The only thing holy there is commerce, man’s conquest of nature (and other men), and where art and capitalism meet. The phrase “Occupy Gagosian” popped in my head, and made me chuckle. What would a sacred space for art really look like? What would Occupy Gagosian look like? How do the themes of the Occupy movement connect with our work? There’s a common thread of yearning for humanism, sacredness, and individual (not corporate) empowerment for all the 99% of artists who can’t equate the work they do with the way it is represented and parceled out to art galleries.

And the reactions we are churning up aren’t new. The 19th to 20th century art revolution was about rejecting a bourgeois value structure that did not allow for true equality or opportunity. It worked to toss off the cumbersome weight of art history and its strictures, expressing the loss of 19th-century belief structures like faith in a God-centered universe and our confidence in forward-thinking progress.

Now I think we are ready to turn over new (and reclaim a few old) ideas for the next century. Perhaps one important structural change in the art world would be a rejection of the corporate gallery-media-museum network that makes art and artists a commodity in a consumer world.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with an opened ended list of words and phrases that percolated during the discussion. Words we like: mystery, beauty, meaning, ambiguous, intent, sincerity, imagination, sacred, human/ism, bespoke, integrity, craft, connection, universal, and value (intrinsic). Words we hate: revolution, rebellion, movement, renaissance, categorization, realism, illustration, irony, commercial, and corporate.

One of the themes for the evening was the urgency of representational artists developing a common vocabulary and doing a better job articulating our point of view in art-making. So, perhaps in these words or the ones that we ‘reject’ thoughts for collaboration and expansion of a new art world will come.


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Patricia Watwood

About Patricia Watwood

Patricia Watwood has studied painting with Jacob Collins at the Water Street Atelier, and also with Ted Seth Jacobs at Ecole Albert Defois. She earned her MFA with honors from New York Academy of Art.

Watwood paints nudes, figures, portraits and still lifes in the classical tradition. Her paintings draw on allegorical, mythological, and narrative themes. She continues the classical pursuits of representational painting, with an eye on the contemporary world. The recurring theme in her paintings is the spiritual human presence. Watwood states, “Formal training is the indispensable underpinning of my practice. I seek to follow and build upon the artistic intelligence and traditions of the past, and bring them anew to my own generation.”

Watwood has exhibited in group and solo shows in New York, Paris, Houston, San Francisco and Long Island.  Her work is represented by John Pence Gallery in San Francisco. Her figurative paintings have been included in several museum shows, including “Enchantment” at the Hartford Art School, “Slow Painting,” at the Oglethorpe Museum; “The Great American Nude,” at the Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences; and in “Representing Representation VI,” at the Arnot Museum. Her work has been featured in numerous art publications including International Artist, and a recent cover article in American Artist magazine.
Watwood also does portrait commissions, and is represented by Portraits, Inc.  Her recent projects include a portraits for Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, and the former Mayor of St. Louis, for St. Louis City Hall.  Watwood is currently teaching at the New York Academy of Art, and at the Teaching Studios of Art in Brooklyn. 

Watwood and her husband and two daughters live in Brooklyn, New York.

One thought on “Occupy Gagosian–Some Revolutionary Mutterings

  1. I love Paul’s pointed comments, here. There’s so many things I could talk back to. Rejecting words, or groups of words, is really as about effective as telling artists to follow the rules. Even saying “we” provokes– “we” who? and who decides which group of “we” we should listen to? But, perhaps inelegantly, I was trying to express certain feelings that seem to consistently pop up around some words. “Renaissance” (as in a “new Renaissance of Realism”), for example, always raises my hackles, mostly because it feels pompous and presumptuous. So, I put together a list of words (mostly intuitively) where the “hate” words give me a feeling of pushing away, and the “love” words are concepts people seem drawn toward. It’s completely a subjective and non-scientific assemblage. And totally intended to instigate some head scratching.

    I do, mostly, think that it’s healthier not to care too much how one’s art fits in, or doesn’t, or is “relevant” (there’s another word I hate). However, I am increasingly convinced that much of the contemporary art-viewing public doesn’t really understand the philosophies behind classical painting, and that it is one of my obligations to try to articulate that vision–not just through my images, but through language– which for many is actually easier to comprehend than pictures alone.