TED makes a visit

Posted on Sunday June 03, 2012

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend the first-ever TEDx event organized by the School of Visual Arts in Chelsea. For those who don’t know, TED is a forum for bringing together people from the Technology, Entertainment and Design industries to share ideas, via a series of 15-minute presentations. TEDx events are independently-organised but run using the TED approach.

The topic for yesterday’s event was ‘The true value of art is rarely what someone will pay for it’. The speakers examined this from multiple perspectives: artist,  art dealer, art consultant, art promoter, art academic, arts writer, art community organizer – pretty much everyone apart from an art consumer/collector, which might have added another slant, and helped us to get over ourselves.

David Ross, former director of the Whitney Museum, kicked TED off

Most of the speakers were entertaining as well as informative. Jim Kempner, owner of Jim Kempner Fine Art, is a former stand-up comic and produces a video series called ‘The Madness of Art’ which is worth a look when you’re taking the art world too seriously. Sarah Goulet, PR person from Pace Gallery (one of NYC’s majors), emphasized the gallery’s need to find an interesting story about the artist, to get media coverage – although her own surely well-scripted, multiply-rehearsed delivery said much about the degree of control behind this.

Journalist/playwright/performer Alexis Clements raised the idea of art being a way of asking questions when more rational and philosophical methods fall short. And independent art consultant Candace Worth helped us get marketplace-real, by asserting that in collector-land, the value of art is what someone’s prepared to pay – although this may be less than the dealer is asking.

For many of us though, the highlight was a TED Talks video segment featuring Shea Hembrey, who (over the short space of two years) created his own fake biennial, with 100 works made by 100 fictional artists, each with his/her own biography and style. More than any other presentation, it asked questions about what art is, and how one person’s work can be sold for a million when another’s work – with similar theme, depth and production values – ends up unsold. In short, it takes the piss out of the process of taking artwork to the marketplace, and deflates much of the claptrap that is written about contemporary art, whether as the artist’s statement, the curator’s exhibition explanation, or the arts writer’s dissection. As with Jim Kempner’s The Madness of Art, it’s a good sanity-restorer. Watch it at: www.ted.com/talks/shea_hembrey_how_i_became_100_artists.html .

The other highlight was the opportunity to meet heaps of other people from the art world, in the between-sessions conversations break and the after-party at the rooftop bar of the Dream Downtown, a hip hotel near the SVA studio building. I got to talk to NY-based German artist Heide Hatry, with whom I share an interest in the decaying body. Check out her work at www.heidehatry.com – though if you’re at all squeamish, don’t do it straight after a bacon and egg breakfast.