Is the Credit Crisis Changing Art?

In 2009 major changes are taking place not only in the world of politics and finance but also in the world of art. The commercial art market is shaking in the grips of crisis, with major auction houses drastically losing their revenues, borrowing millions to satisfy unhappy vendors, stuck with masterpieces that fail to sell. Meanwhile, new trends on the London art scene seem to be emerging…

Foremost, Mirosław Bałka has been recently appointed for the next edition of a joint project by Unilever and Tate Modern at the Turbine Hall, South Bank. The Polish artist, known for his minimalist, austere installations, is uncompromising and treats us to themes like genocide, war and a collective sense of remorse.

The appointment for Tate is the artist’s first private commission in the UK. The organisers ground it in Bałka’s great merit for his artistic research of collective memory, history and individual sense of responsibility. I went to Bałka’s latest exhibition at White Cube in Piccadilly to find out what they might have meant.

The work revolved around war themes directly as the viewer was invited to experience the horrors of a concentration camp, recreated in Bałka’s symbolic style. However, rather than robust installations the artist created unique experiences referring to our emotive nature, capable of connecting through strings of isolated symbols. I felt silenced with an overwhelming sadness.

Atrocities of war are a heavy subject, no doubt, but it’s good to see it coming to Tate, the most visited contemporary art institution in Europe. In the light of current global events it will be interesting to see Bałka’s response to the history in the making, and how he relates it to the past. Can we ever draw definite conclusions from our own mistakes as individuals, communities, nations? Do we collectively follow patterns of violence and remorse or can we finally evolve to a more sensitive collective being? I hope that Bałka‘s work at Turbine Hall will help address these questions.

Before he does, Whitechapel Gallery may have a say on the subject, starting its season in April with a project revolving around Guernica (1937), Picasso’s masterpiece painted as a direct response to the massacre of a village in the Spanish Civil War. The gallery is importing an infamous copy of this work from the Senate of the US, while the Turner Prize nominee Goshka Macuga is preparing an installation for the occasion.

With the fine art market sliding down, quietly but steadily, so it seems that good contemporary art is resurging into the mainstream. My recent favourite, Andro Wekua, has got a work already included in Christie’s Contemporary Art Sale and, on the other end, there are far fewer ‘smiley Hirsts’ floating on zeros than this time last year.

Watch out for those tiny galleries in Shoreditch, they may surprise with a poignant response to the latent subjects discussed in bigger art galleries. I get a notch that art in 2009 will be something for the soul and the mind, not the wallet.

The Unilever Series by Miroslaw Balka is exhibiting until April 5, 2010

Tate Modern Turbine Hall

Also mentioned:

Whitechapel Art Gallery
80-82 Whitechapel High Street
E1 7QX

White Cube
Mason’s Yard Site
25-26 Mason’s Yard (Off Duke Street)
St James’s

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