top of page


925 Silver Collection

This is No Time for Art. This is Exactly the Right Time for Art By Bill Lasarow

Kara Walker, “The Jubilant Martyrs of Obsolescence and Ruin,” 2015, cut paper. Courtesy of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

This election year of 2024 renders frivolous many of the beneficiaries of what we still, rather narcissistically and archaically, refer to as the contemporary art world. I guess in the simplest sense we will always be that. Doesn’t seem so cutting edge today as when it first came into usage. It is now, to an uneven degree, dependent on its own distinct marketplace, full of risk and reward, anchored by corporate scale galleries (and their dealers) and the international art fair circuit (I stopped participating some years ago by choice). Not to mention some very high stakes, thankfully, without threat of violence.

It’s become a polite form of gambling. But it is an infinitely more interesting upgrade from the dreary gaming tables and (worse!) slot machines of Las Vegas (and no, I never gamble. Ugh). I could go on about Las Vegas, but this year (and perhaps beyond) both end up being vapid. Or worse, a destructive form of escapism and denial. Though I take no personal interest in either, I do not fail to grasp the pleasure and excitement to which so many are attracted.

Caravaggio, “The Cardsharps,” ca. 1595, oil on canvas, 37 1/16 x 51 9/16”. Courtesy of the Kimbell Art Museum, Dallas.

In times of dangerous, corrupt, and self-dealing leadership, particularly right here in the birthplace of modern democracy, we must shift our attention. This is a time for decisive action lest the worst nightmares descend upon America and much of the rest of the world. Excellent sales at Frieze or Basel will amount to nothing if our world reverts to a barbarous and medieval authoritarianism, a predatory culture practicing a zero-sum game, in which millions of lives will be degraded, ruined, or lost.This is no time for business as usual. Any artist or art world professional who ignores what is happening I hereby declare irrelevant, out of our time, aesthetically dead on arrival. This is not your time.Patriotism’s program has shifted dramatically back before the time of my own adolescence. For so many of us of a certain age who practice art, we have grown up and lived long lives in an imperfect but privileged atmosphere of freedom and security that is not only exceptional, it has been unique. Civil Rights, Viet Nam, and Watergate notwithstanding, the gains of the better part of a century are fully at risk.

Dread Scott, “What is the Proper Way to Display an U.S. Flag?” Mixed media installation.

The art world, however, has a whole lot to contribute in safeguarding the very best of modern democracy and preventing the very worst: its dismantling. We can deploy what we do best as artists: imagine, visualize, and create. We can utilize the expertise of our art professionals in curating, organizing, presenting, and selling. It’s a complex system designed to scout, identify, develop and showcase art, and it must be mobilized to bring those assets to the defense of democracy and a world order that has allowed art and so much more to flourish internationally. Our era calls for art that transcends being a mere collectible or commodity, but a vision brimming with purpose, emotion, and possibility. It is a language that known no geographical boundaries. It’s what we excel at. For centuries artists have shed light on history’s willful abuses, primarily covertly until the advent of Modernism. Visual images have communicated messages that are at once cultural and political. Their role has varied from marginal and incisive to immense and motivating, a true mobilizing force. What we seek, not only as artists but as citizens, is a reaffirmation and rebirth of the nation’s commitment to democracy and individual freedom. Today we must acknowledge the peril and prospect that after 2024 these fundamentals will be rejected in favor of authoritarian or totalitarian rule. This is only too real. Go fucking complain about the cost of groceries all you want; should Caligula sweep to electoral victory you will forget all about such trivialities as 3% inflation.

Duane Hanson, “Supermarket Shopper,” 1971, glass fiber reinforced polyester resin, oil paint.
Courtesy of The Neue Gallery, Sammlung Ludwig, Aachen, Germany.

Artists are so well suited to confront this challenge. Our training, our very identity as artists is to open peoples’ eyes and expand their minds. However, this role must be preceded by a private commitment to an aesthetic purpose and process if the art is to be genuinely significant. Artists must engage in reflection of order to come up with ideas that translate through diverse platforms that span the deep traditions of painting and sculpture, but are inclusive of photography, video, performance, installation, digital and social media, and other options of recent vintage. It is worth noting that a medium as hidebound as oil paint only came into use about 600 years ago. In terms of the economic infrastructure that drives the art world today, art fairs, museums, and galleries form the backbone. University art departments and art schools, community and emerging galleries, and artist collectives form an extensive and competitive feeder system. Since the start of the 21st century this system has grown into a global powerhouse that can be daunting but offers exponentially greater opportunities than the art world of previous eras.

Guerrilla Girls Demand a Return to Traditional Values on Abortion, march on Washington D.C. 1992. Courtesy of the Guerrilla Girls.

There is a long-standing myth that great art is won through overcoming a gauntlet of challenges. This, like the earlier stereotype of the starving artist, is incomplete. Realistically, to achieve greatness the aesthetic goals and talent that drives them must be ambitious, groundbreaking, visionary, fully engaged. There are those in the art world pursuing an illusion of greatness through shortcuts or corrupt means, but who dress their art up sufficiently to exert a gravitational force in the marketplace, where the rewards are conventional, even boring: Money and notoriety. More subtly, some highly motivated and hard-working art world professionals lose track of the integrity of their vision, of what drove them in the first place, for the simple reason that success requires an immersion that narrows one’s awareness. When reflective time becomes an unaffordable luxury the art train can boast a powerful engine, but still go off the rails. That is exactly what may happen to America after this year’s election.

Gregor Sailer, “USA, Tiefort City, Fort Irwin, U.S. Army, Mojave Desert, California, USA,” 2016, photograph from his book “The Potemkin Village.” Courtesy of Kahrer Galerie, © Gregor Sailer.

By contributing to the national course correction, the art world gains an opportunity to critique and adjust our own best practices. Lacking this, our own house will be in danger of burning to the ground, just as Steve Bannon has described and rooted for in his diatribes. Artists (with a number of other groups of people) collectively form a small but potentially important skill set in the larger project to defeat authoritarianism politically. Vladimir Lenin used the metaphor of an orchestra, with the singular leader serving as a nation’s conductor. Harmony and beautiful sound may be produced in a dictatorship, but it is an illusion, a Potemkin Village, a malignant form of trompe-l’oeil. The gift of freedom to express ourselves, both creatively and politically, really does hang in the balance. Freedom of speech is all about free expression even when unpopular. It is all about the exploration of ideas free of coercion. It is not about a freedom to deliberately lie, obfuscate, and falsely manipulate. If this does happen, and it will IF WE LET IT, the art world that so many of us cherish will be severely compromised at best, if not destroyed (temporarily at least) altogether at the worst. Has the art world awoken as to what we are all called upon to do at this pivotal moment? I say that it has. And this is exactly the time at which we are most urgently needed.

Bill Lasarow, Publisher and Editor, is a longtime practicing artist, independent publisher, and community activist. He founded or co-founded ArtScene Digest to Visual Art in Southern California (1982); the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (1987); and Visual Art Source (2009). Most recently he is also the founder and President of The Democracy Chain.

bottom of page