Elizabeth Gumport in n+1:
Where Art Belongs, the title of Chris Kraus’s latest collection of essays, sounds corrective. As if, instead of in its proper place, art is elsewhere. It has been mislaid, like a cell phone. Or perhaps, like a vase, not so much lost as thoughtlessly positioned. Where is art, and who put it there?
Anyone who has read Kraus’s earlier work can guess who she’ll bring in for questioning. “Until recently,” Kraus wrote in her previous essay collection, 2004’s Video Green: Los Angeles Art and the Triumph of Nothingness, “there was absolutely no chance of developing an art career in Los Angeles without attending one of several high-profile MFA studio programs,” including ones at institutions where Kraus herself has taught. (Since the late 1990s, she has held teaching positions at a number of schools in California, including UC San Diego, UC Irvine, and Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design.) The MFA is a “two-year hazing process” “essential to the development of value in the by-nature elusive parameters of neoconceptual art. Without it, who would know which cibachrome photos of urban signage, which videotapes of socks tossing around a dryer, which neominimalist monochrome paintings are negligible, and which are destined to be art?”
Duly initiated in sock videos, artists graduate to a handful of galleries, where their advanced degrees reassure collectors intending to get their money’s worth. The MFA is a quality assurance stamp, certifying that no matter what a piece looks like on the surface, it is guaranteed to be full of art-historical references. Alternative exhibition spaces are “dead-end ghettos, where no one, least of all ambitious students, from the art world goes.” While curators and professors consider the continuum between MFAs and galleries a “plus”—“what makes LA so great,” chirps one gallery owner, “is that the school program is actually a vital part of the community”—Kraus had her doubts. What “community” were these people talking about? “It is bizarre,” she observed, “that here, in America’s second largest city, contemporary art should have come to be so isolated and estranged from the experience of the city as a whole.”