Artists are really reaching back into the bag of tricks these days. The rampant discourse about postmodernism has seemed to cool off a bit, but the effects of its presence are clear. The standard bag has been stretched into something more of a gaping sack. All across the spectrum of ages, artists are doing things that were previously unthinkable, unattainable, or just under-recognized.
Being an artist has always been so much about one’s handle on previous visual history. Our access to information is now blown wide-open thanks to the Internet. It’s a resource quite available to all of us, but as with most things, it means a different thing to grow up with a technological innovation than it does to realize that the same innovation is causing rampant change within the world you are accustomed to. It must be similar to the ripple of disruption that happened the first time the camera was being fully utilized as an artistic tool. The reality of it all is, thanks to this proliferation of information, now all artists have to be aware not only of the generations before them, but also of contemporaries by their side, not to mention the young up-and-comers who are greedily sucking up information in their wake. An artist has to have his or her head on a swivel, constantly keeping an eye on all other creatives around them, knowing that with the vast sea of information available, any artist could be the next daunting aesthetic pirate. As we all know, art has always been very much about stealing.
Some young artists are making work that takes on a refined look in order to bump their name into the ring of commerce, while some older artists are making work that appears fresh and young, hoping to stay in the conversation by taking on the look of those breaking onto the scene. Meanwhile the Internet has its eyes on all of it, doing what the Internet does best, widening the spotlight and democratizing information. The funny thing is, regardless of their technological prowess, this actually means the young people have to be watching their back just as closely as the old.
There’s something great about it all.
In 2009 the New Museum ran a blockbuster of a show called Younger than Jesus, showcasing a promising group of artists who at the time were younger than the age that arguably the most documented historical figure was when he died. As far as we can tell, maybe Alan Kaprow would consider Jesus an artist, but for us it’s a bit of a stretch. This got us thinking, “Who the fuck cares? What does it mean to be young as an artist anyway? Isn’t the point that you are engaging in a lifelong pursuit? Why should your age matter at all?”
We know, it’s a lot of pointed questions.
Once we cooled off from our little fit, what this really got us thinking was, “How long does a typical artist live, maybe 80 years?” A quick check into the standard life expectancy revealed an actual statistic of closer to 78.6 years. We decided to draw a line in the sands of time at the age of 40, conceivably half way between an artist’s birth and death. Instead of taking it upon ourselves, we asked a group of artists younger than forty years old to pick a group of twenty artists they admired older than forty, and we asked a group of artists older than forty to select a promising group of twenty artists under the age of forty.
Artists have a very discerning eye, keeping their mind tuned by viewing a multitude of work, often what they really like can be quite different than the work they make themselves. Always being on the scene, on cannot follow all the trends but instead must pick and choose patterns they see as relevant and built to last. The people we selected to choose their favorite artists from across the age divide are people we knew were always out surveying the openings, meeting new people, shaking hands and forging new connections and professional relationships. In asking them to select the artists that had caught their eye, we knew they would filter out the bullshit.
Although it was a pretty specific idea, requiring a good amount of explaining on our end, we ended up with a solid group of artists doing their thing with aplomb. Age be damned, really. The more interesting thing that came out of this little experiment was the reality of how little age mattered to an invested artist these days. It seems a talented artist will always be making engaging work.
The artist’s age comes into play more readily in the way others approach the work. Gallerists and collectors will project value on the art based on the stage of development they connect to whatever age the artist seems to be. There is a perceived gamble involved with collecting young artists work in that it may be strong now, but later may unravel as studio process proves not to be sustainable. These selections represent a group of individuals who have been chosen by attentive contemporaries as artists engaged in sustainable, serious work that is built to be part of a life-long pursuit.
It proves that age matters less than ever. With the expanded field of accessible knowledge open to all and growing wider by the second, information is sometimes able to bypass actual experience when in the right young hands, paired with hard work, and a sprinkle of luck. It also doesn’t hurt to have someone else pat you on the back once in a while.
This piece began as a bit of an experiment, evolving as we began to feel out its strengths and weaknesses along the way. In the end we are pretty excited by the result. The forty artists we ended up with are making work that is only showy when appropriate, poetic but not inaccessible, and ranges many media. In the end, we feel like it’s an eclectic mix of pertinent work that may only share one thing in common: collective admiration.
Linda Francis, Wendy White, Stanislav Kolíbal, Abel Barroso, Xenobia Bailey, Jane Evelyn Atwood, Tom Butter, Roberto Molla, Jim Lee, Bram Bogart, Johnny Mullen, Armen Eloyan, Annie Albers, Christian Bonnefoi, Imi Knoebel, Kes Zapkus, Peggy Ahwesh, Nancy Shaver, Taylor Davis, Rose Wylie
Aaron Stephan, Abigail DeVille, Esperanza Mayobre, Fawn Krieger, Helen Benigson, Ilona Szalay, Jacolby Satterwhite, Jacqueline Cedar, Lauren Seiden, Mala Iqbal, Mark Sengbusch, Matt Mignanelli, Nichole Van Beek, Osamu Kobayashi, Rudolf Reiber, Sarah Maple, Shinsuke Aso, Tameka Norris, Laura Bottin, Nate Ethier