ATHICA, the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art in Athens, Georgia, is in a sort of renovated strip mall that also houses a hip-looking BBQ place, a florist, a yoga studio, some architects, and so on. It’s a narrow rectangle interrupted by two rooms built out for storage. In between the two rooms is the bathroom. I went to see “Yellow,” the exhibition currently on view, because I wanted to see what a contemporary art exhibition in Athens, GA was like. It was not that different from any other contemporary art exhibition: people drinking free drinks, crowding by the snack table. The artists wore nametags that said “artist,” which I appreciated. The show, while ostensibly organized around the color yellow, which featured in one way or another in everything at the show, including the drinks and food, was more about the disparity of self-worth between male and female artists. An 18” x 24”, thickly-crotcheted wren against a fragmented yellowing sky, circles of yarn achieving the effect of a thickly-painted Impressionist image—matter-of-factly titled Wren in Gold, by Sue Sellew—was $400; yellow oil brushstrokes on a 20” x 16” wooden panel, tediously entitled Ancient Geometry, by Moritz Kellerman, was $2000.
As we were walking up Pulaski Street, connecting two parts of my mental map of a city I have come to at least once a year for fifteen years, walking past all the renovated Athens houses, people drinking on porches, the sound of a distant movie being projected, I said with conviction to my friend Dan: “ATHICA shouldn’t leave the price up to the artist. It should price the art on a more uniform scale, give most of it back to the artist, and fund itself with a cut. Contemporary art institutions in cities like Athens should exist to support artists, not to try to magically invent an art market where there isn’t one.” Or something. I was drunk. I was saying that new money just does the same thing as old money anyway, thinking of the tech bro I was standing next to at Bi Rite in San Francisco who scoffed, “oh, that can’t be good,” at a wine that was only $24. A Pinot Noir, I think. It was probably great. Anyway my argument went like this: new money just apes old money, the art market is a terrible sucking abyss anyway, contemporary art institutions in cities where there is no market should consider that a gift, rather than an obstacle, a blank slate upon which to consider an art economy that does not involve cozying up to the scum of the earth.
The night before we had seen the Athens Community theater production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was enjoyable, goofy, raunchy, and featured the fairies of the forest in antlered hats with a distinct True Detective season one aesthetic. I was thinking about taste. What is taste? Who determines it? Why is their opinion about it important? Why do we still care about Kant, or European culture, which is clearly savage, violent, has plunged the world into economic and ecological catastrophe? I looked at my phone during the intermission and watched videos of brave women in Mexico City protesting painting violent statues Europeans had set upon the city in an attempt to claim it, and saw hilarious rebukes to seedy, likely Kant-loving men who, much like they had during the #metoo movement in Mexico, lamented that the women had gone too far. I hope they go much, much further.