#class, a sprawling and innovative project at Winkleman Gallery in New York, closed last week. Artists William Powhida and Jennifer Dalton had turned the gallery into a "think tank" for guest artists, critics, academics, dealers, collectors, and anyone else interested in examining the way art is made, seen, and sold in our culture. Piqued by the yawning gulf between the generally under-resourced people who make art and the predominantly wealthy people who buy it, the two set out with a smoldering dissatisfaction about the way the art world works. To be honest, few support themselves by selling artwork; most artists work their entire lives with little compensation or recognition (not to mention health insurance), and if they haven't secured commercial gallery representation by the time they're 30, they feel as though they have failed. Dalton and Powhida felt this systemic plight merited more organized discussion from all members of the art community.
For the four weeks #class was in session, the project received generous attention. In no small part, its success derived from blogs and other social networking tools. Here's how it played out: Presented with an opportunity to meet and vent publicly courtesy of Powhida and Dalton, artists, dealers, collectors, curators, academics, critics, and bloggers - most of them affected by the economic decline - gathered in Chelsea. Enough of the participants were connected that the coverage on Twitter, Ustream, and the blogs flattened the traditional hierarchies, enabling remotely situated artists to bypass customary lines of communication and instantaneously establish dialogue built on the happenings in #class. Thus, a new community emerged in which putatively voiceless members of the art community, rather than merely ranting about the lack of career options at the local bar, projected more considered and purposeful opinions in a larger dialogue.
Well known bloggers like Paddy Johnson, Franklin Einspruch, John Haber, Joanne Mattera, Brent Burket, and Austin Thomas turned up to participate. Many artists, dealers, and journalists, previously dismissive of internet-based media, began to take heed as the proceedings gained momentum. With robust participation both in person and online, combined with unprecedented coverage in the blogs, mainstream media latched on to the scheduled events, art critics showed up, and discussions, centered on improving conditions for artists and taking art beyond the cloistered art world to engage the larger community, sprawled out onto Twitter and Facebook.
These developments were not, of course, accidental. Rather, Winkleman, Dalton and Powhida, all social media users themselves, carefully engineered the project's success by harnessing the power of the blogosphere. They included seasoned bloggers - Hrag Vartanian, Carolina Miranda, Barry Hoggard, James Wagner, An Xiao, Olympia Lambert, Loren Munk, Joanne McNeil, and many others (I organized a discussion about art school and the Ivory Tower) - in all the presentations and discussions, ensuring that blog and related coverage would be abundant. Twitter hashtags, #class and #hashtagclass, were created to channel the Twitter conversation into lively, easy-to-follow feeds, and a video camera was installed in the gallery and video streamed live, so that anyone interested in participating, no matter where they were located, could watch the events and contribute comments and questions via Twitter.
Winkleman, Dalton and Powhida have demonstrated unequivocally how powerful social networking tools can be for our collective advancement. Without embracing larger goals, however, the attention and publicity #class organizers and participants have received are meaningless. Other artists must follow their lead to expand audiences and grow community. In this way interest in art and its social role stands to become deeper and broader - to the benefit of artists and non-artists alike.
NY Times: Art in Review
Art Forum: Critics Pick
Art in America: The Art of the Crowd
Art Net: Art Show as Think Tank
C-Monster: Take on the Art Industry
Art Fag City: Powhida! Part Two
Art Fag City: Powhida! Part One
William Powhida: Hooverville Catastrofuck
Art Fag City: Why the fuck do you get up in the morning #class
James Wagner: #class Collecting Panel at Winkleman
Wall Street Journal Speakeasy Blog: #class Exhibit Challenges New Museum Show
Ed Winkleman Blog: Multiple #class posts
Down by the Waterfront: Last day of #class
Alan Lupiani's video report
Two Coats of Paint: Performing "The Ivory Tower" at #class
Joanie Gagnon San Chirico: Headed Back to #CLASS
Zachary Adam Cohen's link roundup
Hyperallergic: Secrets of the NY Art World
John Haber's New.York.Art.Crit: Multiple #class posts
Note: There are many additional posts about the project, and more are being written each day. If you know of posts or articles that should be included, please post a link in the Comments section.
This article was originally published at Two Coats of Paint, a blog about painting and related issues.
Follow Sharon L. Butler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TwoCoats