SHOULD ART BE A CRITICISM TOOL?

Although the traditional definitions of art include in some way references to beauty, balance and aesthetics, postmodernism introduces changes in this maxim and raises an approach to art devoid of the concepts inherited from the past to reinforce its expressive value instead of the search for beauty.

Shepard Fairey, "Free speech".

However, new times bring other impositions and guidelines. In our current vertiginous world, where tolerance, integration and equality are up to date, the excess of caution places us sometimes on the opposite side and the social moderation of the "politically correct" derives in restrictions on freedom of expression, concealed censorship, second readings of the message. There are those who say that today "you can not say anything because they will come after you". A quick visit to social networks reveals that, often, the supposed freedom that we enjoy today has become an immense field in which to walk "like treading on eggshells".

Artwork display "Presos políticos" by Santiago Sierra, withdrawn during ARCO'18

Let's not kid ourselves; this is also a sign of our time. Opinions are best received when packaged with a wrap of humour and irony, or when they anchor in widely shared common-sites. In this context, criticism from the art world should enjoy more permissiveness, but recent events show the opposite. The censorship by political speeches has starred in covers of newspapers, and everything seems to indicate that it’s better not to touch certain issues.

Shepard Fairey in his studio, via papermag.com

This leads some authors to turn their work into banners with a social meaning where the aesthetic charge universalises the message. Let's say that political, economic or social criticism is not openly sought in compositions that leave no space for the imagination (that's what photojournalism does). The purpose is to create iconic images with a message embedded in the design itself, that's why in this area graphic art conquers everything. Nothing new under the sun, anyway, but the achievement is that contemporary creations are worthy heirs of all the compositional and aesthetic heritage of previous decades, and in that sense, they deserve the acknowledgement of "recasting" the old with the new to create something different and unique.

Shepard Fairey

Big brother is watching you, 2006

Screen printing on paper

61 x 46cm

Shepard Fairey

Earth crisis, 2014

Screen printing on paper

61 x 46cm

Shepard Fairey

Icon Collage Set II, 2016

Serigraphy

97.5 x 76cm

Shepard Fairey is a paradigmatic artist on this subject. In the interviews, he himself ironises about the contradiction of criticising capitalism in his works and then selling the editions for thousands of dollars. Well, you don’t have to feel ashamed for it, otherwise, only those who can afford to live off of investments would be artists, and the voice of so many others who aspire to live on their creations would be gone. Let's not forget either that there was a time (not long ago) when urban art was considered vandalism. Fairey, who defines himself as an artist and activist, has had to face these controversies when some of his pieces are not to everyone's taste. And, nevertheless, one thing is evident: his works are unmistakable and have helped to spread a universal message where criticisms of the system are always present. Obviously, some artists answer “yes” to the question with which we would have this post: art is a tool of criticism.

 

 

Buying the first work of art always instils respect. A difficult feeling to define that mixes vertigo with adrenaline. But over uncertainty and caution, a pleasurable sense of connection, understanding, and desire prevails. That work that, once seen, stays in the mind, reappears in the memory several times a day and seems to tell you that it is willing to be part of your home, is the perfect candidate to make the decision.

In the first steps, many collectors do point out that one does not start from an established plan, but rather that one acquires pieces based on taste and the connection one feels with them until, after time, they realise that the volume of works that accumulates can be labelled as a "collection". For example, this is how Alicia Aza explains it:

“I was not aware that I was collecting until many years later when a third party named me as a collector and talked about my collection. In 2005, I became aware of what collecting means and decided to articulate a collection with an identity of criteria and formats”.

Marcos Martín Blanco, co-founder, with his wife Elena Rueda, of the MER Collection, shares this same opinion:

“Collecting has been a passion, driven by a visceral state that encourages you to do so. The collection, in terms of acquisitions, has not been particularly complicated because, let's face it: it is easy to buy because they are all beautiful things and you have some clear idea of where you want to go, but at first those preferences were not so clear. It is with the time that a criterion is being formed”.

It is not always this way, of course, but for the buyer who starts out on this path, the personal connection that entails the first piece is essential. There it is the germ of a lasting relationship that is not limited to a simple aesthetic question but is an open window to knowledge, to exploration, to a world that is often unknown to us and awakens our fascination. The seed of that connection is purely sentimental, and it is precisely this impulse that determines the first acquisitions. The first piece is never forgotten.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Ana Maqueda

Exceeding the usual recommendations made by advisers and agents, rare is the occasion when the art lover decides to buy by pure investment. These paths usually open later, when the volume of pieces is large enough. In addition, there are those who are a bit against this classic concept of the traditional collector, approached from an eccentric, elitist and little accessible vision. On the contrary, art buyers are, above all, art lovers, sentient beings and permeable to creative stimulus who, at a given moment, decide to deepen the relationship they already have with art to take a piece home.

It is not that hard to overcome that small psychological barrier that turns the visitor into a buyer if one approaches the matter from a more personal and intimate perspective than from social consideration. Small-format works, graphic work or serial photography are of great help for this, whose price range, generally more affordable, allows a closer comparison to the daily basis expenses. In this way, the purchase of art falls within the range of feasible activities and becomes something close and possible.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Marc Cisneros

At that moment, a different relationship with art begins, based on pure experience and coexistence with the acquired piece. Perhaps it can be seen as an act of daring, but on many occasions, it is more a matter of necessity and transformation. Collectors also agree that the acquisition of an artwork is an exercise on personal analysis and opening up to a new field of knowledge that was previously alien to us. Alicia Aza explains that the reason she acquired her first piece of video art, by Sergio Prego, is because she did not understand it and because she saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to self-improve. This open window to knowledge creates new connections and bonds with creators, as one of the most fascinating parts of the process. Candela Álvarez Soldevilla explains that

"I think the most interesting thing in the art world is talking to artists. They are people with a special sensitivity to listen and understand.”

And Alicia Aza also says:

"I can share the satisfaction of being able to count on many artists in my circle of close friends today, and that is a long way to go."

Thus, with works that seem acceptable within the horizon of expenses that each one considers affordable, it is easy to find a piece that catches us. Since then, our home also evolves into a space in which art has a permanent place and presence, and there is no doubt that this transforms us inside.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Henar Herguera

Jaime Sordo, owner of Los Bragales collection and founder of the 9915 Contemporary Art Collectors Association, has always defined his relationship with art as a true passion and a vital necessity. For buyers who start on this path, he has the following recommendation:

“It is an essential condition that they feel the need to live with their passion to enjoy the works. Another very important aspect is that before making decisions for purchases, they are informed, so it is necessary to read specialised newspapers and books, visit exhibitions and museums and a lot of contact with galleries, which is an important and very specific source of information of the artists they represent. Finally, the presence in national and international art fairs. All this generates information and training.”

Indeed, fairs have become a good place for discovery because they condense a wide offer and allow diverse and global contact in a concentrated way. For this reason, many new generation buyers start in the context of an event such as Art Madrid, whose closeness and quality constitute a unique opportunity to meet, soak up and feed the passion for art.

(*) quotes taken from various interviews published in public media between 2013 and 2019.