Each year, MA Culture, Criticism and Curation students present four final projects in partnership with organisations, artists, designers, writers or academics. After their completion in December 2019, we spoke to the graduating groups about their projects. For their final project, students Kana Higashino, Yuehan He, Junyu Lei, Angelica Moschin and Tina Wetshi formed ARtCH collective. ARtCH aims to bridge the gap between those in education and the art world by establishing a dialogue between professionals and students. The collective presented their first event, Players and Makers roundtable and exhibition which explored their research into the art world. Here, they talk us through the event and their findings.
When we first set out to discover some of the problems surrounding the commercial art world, we quickly discovered how naive we were. On a mission to better understand what we had tasked ourselves with, we conducted interviews with UAL staff and practicing professionals to uncover some specific issues and problems. People we spoke to included artist John Armleder, curators Nora Heidorn and Elliot Burns and Director of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Touria El Glaoui. From these conversations, it became clear to us there was a consensus that many elements of the economic system need to be rethought.
As a group of art college students, we thought it would be most effective to understand how such problems in our current art world model directly impact students. What does a broken art fair model mean to students? How do students position themselves in the art world; how can they have agency?
These questions led to Players and Makers – a roundtable discussion at Central Saint Martins with guests Maura Derossis, Stephanie Dieckvoss, Angie Illman, Calum Hall, Suwen Huang, Liam Newnham and Jacob Willer. Our guests discussed the relationship between academia and the art world and was moderated by members of ARtCH who led the conversation using research and data collected from students.
We asked students from UAL and beyond three main questions:
- Why did you choose to attend art school?
- What are your feelings about the art market?
- What questions do you have for art professionals?
The responses were framed as themes to be presented and discussed at a diverse table of professionals with different roles in the art world:
- The art school as a commercial institution
- The art world and elitism
- How do we value art?
- The role of the curator and new academic disciplines
- The future of the industry
The first theme was the suggestion that art schools operate like commercial institutions, necessarily making students part of the art world. Although, the table agreed that in many ways art school often doesn’t prepare students for the commercial aspects of the industry once they graduate. This prompted the speakers to discuss the role of academic institutions in a wider sense and the purpose of the art school curriculum. It also led the table to confront issues present in these institutions such as inequality and elitism which can be fuelled by intersections of class, race and gender. The topic of elitism naturally made the roundtable guests turn to ideas of how art is valued and who has the power in deciding “good art”.
In addition, talking about the role of curators and the future of the industry, the speakers discussed the rise of digital technologies and social media. In particular, they suggested that this has provided a new model where artists are able to directly connect with customers, questioning the position of curators and emerging roles in the art world.
The roundtable talk was accompanied by the Players and Makers exhibition which showcased research on the art market. It featured the work of artist and Chelsea College of Arts alumn Ernest Robert Kulik. Kulik uses satire to mock “pretentious” artists, embodying their egos in his work. The four artworks on display epitomised the key themes and topics in Players and Makers. Accompanying the artworks were six banners displaying questions and opinions from students the group interviewed.
The Players and Makers event brought to light important, often overlooked topics. The event and exhibition presented an opportunity for us to dissect the role of academia, the art institution and the art world. Through our research and discussions, it became very clear to us that changes need to start in art schools and colleges, to make larger changes elsewhere.
Our findings and research were discussed the following week at Credit Symposium, a collaboration between Modern Forms and the Art and Culture and Enterprise programmes at Central Saint Martins, with support from Art Review and Kingston University. ARtCH aims to continue to share their research and find new ways to support students as they make their way into the art world.