Thursday, October 15, 2009

Studio Tour or free-for-all?

The studio tour has packed up and moved out after a loaded weekend that has left a lot of us Jersey City art folk in fallout mode.  This year's installment had no large venue to host multiple group shows (unlike the huge unfinished space rented from Canco Lofts last year) so seeing a good number of artists was a challenge, and since show descriptions weren't included in any of the accompanying press even figuring out which sites looked promising was a feat unto itself.

That's the (relatively) objective part.  But the reason it's taken me so long to get something posted about the event is that besides the standard cliches I just don't know what to say.  The JC Studio Tour is (diction fails me)...weird.

I wrote an article for JCI on the first Art Fair to take place in Jersey City (in conjunction with the Tour), and it got me thinking--what exactly is the point?  Most of the venues in this year's event were not artist studios, rather alternative exhibition spaces in people's houses, garages, or vacant condos.  I didn't see one working studio during my rounds of 20 some stops, but because there weren't any descriptions about the venues I can't really be certain how many there actually were--and that's a huge problem.

Part of the reason why artists didn't open up their work spaces might be because there are few people who have dedicated studios--Jersey City doesn't have much in the way of artist buildings, and it's kind of awkward (though cool) to traipse through someone's house in order to get to the room in which they make art.  It may also be that the Tour has gotten large enough to attract artists who don't live and/or work in Jersey City (I talked to artists from Hoboken and Bayonne) who import their work to vacant spaces.  For whatever reason, there are fewer and fewer actual studios on the Tour and more and more alternative exhibition venues.

This isn't a bad thing, but, on a critical level it has led to growing pains.  Studio Tours are generally community-centered events where artists demonstrate how they work to visitors who might not know that much about art in order to educate the public and replug culture into neighborhoods.  The Gowanus (Brooklyn) Studio Tour is a great example--their mission: "to provide the public a unique opportunity to visit and engage one-on-one with working artists for the purpose of gaining a broader appreciation of the various types of visual art media", and that's what they do.  The main focus of the event is not selling work, but selling the idea and passion of creation.  It's like the "making of" feature on a dvd.  

On the flipside, many artists who participate in the JC Studio Tour are looking to sell or get noticed, not necessarily to teach.  That's why there aren't demonstrations and even people who have accessible studios don't often open them up; they prefer to put their work in shows where they have a better chance of being seen.  The only problem is, the artists aren't selling much, and the non-artists aren't coming out in force.

The JC Studio Tour is in between and something's got to give.  Artists don't know what to expect or how to publicize, and content-wise, just about anything goes--which has some bailing out (I'll expand on this later).  Visitors have to shoot blind picking what to see, leaving people pleasantly surprised (at best) and disappointed (at worst).  What is the Tour?  What does it aspire to be?  That's for ProArts and the City to decide, but I really hope these growing pains will ultimately lead to a more focused, purposeful, and ultimately successful event.

For the record, I think either approach (or even a mix) would be great--as long as the events were well-publicized and documented so people could actually make educated choices about what to see.  And Hudson Reporter: either publish descriptions of show venues, minimize typos and listing errors (yikes), or move over and let someone else do it.  



Charles Kessler said...

Ideally Pro Arts should run their own tour, either in addition to, or instead of, this art tour. Maybe in the Spring.

Irene Borngraeber said...

I can't tell you how many people responded to me personally about this post but were too afraid of the JC art boogie monster to comment. I'm no martyr (or at least no angry art person has made me one) and I haven't been declared a pariah- so what's the big deal? We took away anonymous posting for a reason, but if you feel that strongly, email me.

Tom McGlynn said...

Local development uses artists in a way that the seem perenially blind to. In my experience, it is only rare instances where real estate or municipal interests patronize artists. Do serious collectors come to these events? Does the city have a dedicated, regular program for aquisition of local artists' work? Is it all a bit academic and sterile in terms of how little the old form of trade in art reflects today's market interests?
Lets get real here.
There now, maybe the pariah hunters can turn their ire toward me!