What if the protests against the galleries in Boyle Heights are not really protests about gentrification. What if they are protesting the very existence of commercial art galleries? Who would be against galleries? Well, absent the totally fallible “art galleries cause gentrification” argument, there remains one subset of people who are against commercial art galleries. No, it is not Republicans, the greatest (i.e. most successful) commercial gallerist in art history, Larry Gagosian, is a Republican.
The group of people who are opposed to commercial galleries of fine art are art academics. Not all art academics, but a core belief in art academia is a disregard of the market to the point of contempt. Lo and behold, a cursory examination of the “leaders” of the protests against the commercial contemporary fine art galleries reveals mostly academics from art schools, as white as they are self-proclaimed radical.
Art Academia has a deep, long-standing anti-market bias. The honorable reason for this is that commercial concerns should not enter into an artist’s consciousness until they have mastered their medium. Over the years this reasonable curricula structure has morphed into the privileging of art that is unsellable, unmarketable, de-skilled, conceptually heavy (with a pretense that it is rigorous - which it almost never is) and self-righteous about its fundamentally anti-commercial nature. That this then morphs into socialist rhetoric (fellas, it’s been “late capitalism” since before the Berlin Wall fell, can you admit you haven’t done one thing to speed up the supposed final act) only adds to the pretense of professional intellectualism that art academia begs for.
Social practice is the religion of the academy these days. Art schools aren’t just content with talking about it anymore. Nope, they have to go out and do it. So they are protesting commercial art galleries as “performances that matter/make a difference”. They say they are protesting the alleged domino effect that art galleries have in the gentrification chain of events. That these spaces represent everything that art academia has been against long before the last three economic upswings created different waves of very real and impactful gentrification on non-white neighborhoods is pretty convenient.
But art academia has adopted social practice as a religion precisely because reinforces and rewards art academics for what they do best: dabble. They are fucking dabblers. There is no rigor in social practice. It mouths the platitudes of social work without actually studying social work. It dabbles in urban planning without any rigorous work in that specialized field. It has all the pretense of professional vocations without any of the commitment. Dabble, perform (protest), call it art, network their notoriety to a panel discussion at MOCA (which is okay because it is non-commercial, never mind the billionaire capitalists on the board because, hey, they give out grants and this is not a commercial endeavor).
Art academia has been opposed to the art market for more than half a century. This opposition has been passive. They have ignored students’ calls for classes to prepare them for the market because “that’s a bad thing” and they have undermined students chances at succeeding in the market by privileging modes of expression that succeed in academic circles. But in the past thirty months, art academia has not been passive. They have begun a proxy war against commercial art spaces. Supposedly in the name of fighting gentrification, the real thing that is going on here is a chance for them to thoroughly disgrace mixing art and commerce, repudiate mediums of portability (i.e., sellable objects) and of course boost their own careers as artists based on being pious, virtuous social practitioners for all the little people who don’t have a voice, nor an invite to the elite cocktail parties that art academics are sick of seeing artists who sell well at.