Welcome to the XXI Century!

by sgarzon

Every time I enter an art gallery in Sacramento I remember the very particular greeting that my Spanish teacher used at the begging of every class: “Welcome to the XXI Century!” – He used to say.  Thinking that he was just trying to be funny I never really understood what he meant until now. Having gone through my B.A in Art History and being exposed to the complexities of time and philosophical ideas that frame the meaning of modernism, post-modernism, contemporaneity, and neo-modernism, I realized that most people don’t really know where we are, and what it means to be located within these concepts of “time.” I would even dare to believe that most people think that artists like Picasso are still “alive” in the sense of being the most cutting edge artists today.  Well, welcome to the XXI Century and to a Globalized world! Today (contemporaneity), we most commonly locate ourselves in Post-Modernity, but  Post-Modernity is not a place in space, but a way of thinking that characterizes our time in history.

A particular aspect of contemporary art and postmodern thinking is the notion that we are now in the post-skill era, an era brought about by conceptual art and the digital world. For the past few decades, the art universe has felt that too much has been said pictorially on the canvas, and ever since artists have produced highly intellectual art that veers away from conventional art techniques.  Outsourcing to performances, installations, video art, Internet art, and other unconventional mediums they have achieved to express in incredibly brilliant ways what it means to be woman, man, immigrant, child, black, white, yellow, disabled or any other condition that confronts our humanity.

Visiting the art galleries in second Saturday and during other special events I find myself looking at painting, painting, and more painting! Being in the era of “post-skill” and yet having to look at mostly bad, but partially okay painting is somewhat depressing. Very few times we get to see installations, art performances,political subversive street art or at least some sort of  dynamic art that incorporate and engages audience to be part of the construction and the experience of art.

Some artists complain that gallery owners are closed-minded because they refuse to represent artists who are doing contemporary art, which is mainly because audiences lack appreciation to everything else that is not regular landscape and flower paintings. Based on different observations, comments and the current gallery art selection, it seems that Sacramento is generally retrograde when it comes to showcasing art.

Different elements play a role in being so behind when it comes to offering an engaging, dynamic, smart and interesting art scene. However, the one that is probably the most absurd is Sacramento’s ridiculous SELF-CENTERDNESS. Everything in the art is about Sacramento, Sacramento artists, Sacramento people rarely ever considering what happens in other places around the nation, the world or even how Sacramento is connected to these other locations. Moreover, painters paint about themselves, their individual experiences with other Sacramentans and their institutions. Tending to look inward, Sacramento is absolutely disconnected from the global art scene. Very little is being said here regarding postmodern theory, contemporary art or the sociopolitical events that are shaping our world today, such as the revolutionary wave in the Middle East or the humanitarian crisis in most places around the globe.

Sacramento is not behind in the history of art only because it continues to use conventional art materials and techniques, but because the themes that are conveyed and discussed throughout these works of art are disconnected to the global art discourse.  What makes a creative skillful person a true artist is his/her capability to transform individual experience to collective experience. The capacity to say something about human experience, which is the experience that we share with others, that is: other women, other men, other immigrants, other blacks, other whites, or simply the “others,” and connecting to them in the core of our humanity. Today, most, but not all creative professionals in Sacramento are painters, photographers, sculptors, crafters but not necessary artists because they lack the capability to connect, to speak, to say something important other than something about themselves. In the case of formalist artists, it is important to be aware of the dialogue happening in art regarding form, which today thinks very much in the lines of conceptual art or creating dynamic and engaging experiences with viewers, who get to participate with materials, textures and forms.

I hate to fall into generalization, and I DO recognize that there is a lot of talent and interesting artists in Sacramento. However, it is also crucial for us to acknowledge that moving forward toward a more current and relevant art scene requires that we  push forward the following key elements: more effective artists, more appreciative and educated audiences and riskier and smarter art galleries. The effort is collective not individual, it is also global not local!