Brooklyn-based artist William Powhida is known for his works that
satirize and scrutinize the art world, taking on the biggest names and
institutions in smart, detailed paintings and drawings as well as event
and performance-based projects. His current work in progress, #Rank Miami, aims to lift the veil on one of the industry’s most extravagant spectacles – the art fair.
Last winter, Powhida and artist Jen Dalton hosted #Class at Ed Winkelman Gallery in New York. Transforming the gallery into a classroom-style think tank, the pair solicited the participation of critics, dealers, artists, academics, “art-lovers and art-haters,” and the general public to discuss the complexities and paradoxes of the art world. A series of events and conversations took place, including “$ECRET$ OF THE NEW YORK ART WORLD,” in which visitors were invited to reveal who in the city’s art industry owes them money, and “Labor Class: Learn What It Is Like to Construct a Masterpiece,” presented by a longtime art fabricator for artists like Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois, and Frank Stella.
Following the success of #Class, #Rank Miami will explore the problems with art fairs and the art market. Taking place during this year’s Miami art fairs, Powhida and Dalton will host three days of “non-gala events, non-curated performances, and non-hierarchical discussions on the topic of the class structures of the art world, with a super-special focus on the art fair experience.” Proposals for topics and performances were solicited and some of the planned events include Building Backbones by Diedre Krieger, which invites artists to read rejection letters from grant applications, residency, or exhibition submissions and Platea’s Sorry I Couldn’t Be There, a crowd-created video series that will highlight concerns about geographic access and who’s left out during large art fairs.
“I’m looking forward to getting a little more clarity on why so many people are ambivalent about participating in the art fairs and the art market in general,” Dalton told The Art Reserve.
Powhida says that his trouble with art fairs started years ago. “When I first went to The Armory Show, I wondered ‘is [this] what artists keep in their flat files?’ I expected more from art and the fairs seemed to reduce the experience of art to medium sized, discrete or episodic works instead of thematic exhibitions by a single artist. The form of the art fair has always been troubling, and then during the boom, well, they got to be rather disgusting displays of wealth and status. The Artforum VIP line two years ago was around the fucking block, and anyone important had already fled the masses.”
Last year, Damien Cave of the New York Times profiled Powhida, asking him simple questions like, “if not the art fair, what else?” and “what’s wrong with the fairs?” Powhida says he hopes to return from Miami this year with answers to those questions.
“I hope we can push the artists towards critique, discussion, and possibly some solutions,” he says.
While Powhida has found success in event and performance-based works, he is most well known for his paintings and drawings. He often uses text to lay bare his opinions and grievances, skipping the use of codes or abstractions that a less confident artist might hide behind. His caricature-ish depictions of art world insiders also speak to a fearlessness, regularly skewering hotshots like Larry Gagosian, Jeff Koons, and Jeffrey Deitch. Some past works include a list of tips for artists who want to sell (“Maintain a vague political subtext,” “Just sell your soul to Larry”), a drawing detailing the controversial Dakis Joannou-curated exhibition at the New Museum (titled How The New Museum Committed Suicide with Banality – Joannou bought a print from Powhida’s dealer), and a mock press release announcing the acquisition of Powhida in his entirety by the Broad Art Foundation.
Powhida has been criticized a few times for riding the art world hate-wave too far and for too long, suggesting that since he has received recognition he is now inside the system and shouldn’t critique it.
“I’m not pretending to be an outsider. I’d like to go as far inside as I can,” Powhida says. “I’d like to walk right through the middle of the circle with a notebook of observations, and if I also come out with a bag of cash, that’d be fucking great.”
William Powhida and Jen Dalton’s #Rank Miami events will take place December 1 – December 4, and will be held at Ed Winkleman’s space at SEVEN, in the Wynwood district of Miami. For more information, visit www.seven-miami.com and www.hashtagclass.com