Black & White Project Space and Perkeland* present Savonarola Suite by Gregory Perkel – an ambitious two-part visually stunning polyphonic conversation between film, sculpture, sound and photography. Savonarola Suite offers the possibility for viewers to interpret the history of the art market from multiple perspectives.
As part of his preparatory research for the Savonarola Suite, Perkel produced Investigation — a visual archive retracing and revealing four decades of the art market phenomenon of nonstop exhibitions, art fairs, biennials, etc. through monthly print issues of Art in America and Art News magazines (a total of some 700 volumes) —from 1977, when the artist first arrived to New York City from Moscow, until 2017, a time when the Internet had already reshaped every aspect of our lives. The Savonarola Suite documents the staged real-life destruction of those magazines by fire to mark the end of an era they reflected and clear the stage for a new cultural ecosystem to be supported by multiple forms of visual content.
In the middle of the 19th century, changing socio-economic conditions ended the millennium long servitude of artists to two powerful institutions: Clergy and Monarchy. In the new esthetic environment, artists were freer to reflect the realities of the societies in which they lived and to expand the boundaries of their art. In France, it was the Barbizon school that emerged, a movement that later evolved into Impressionism. In Russia, it was The Society for Traveling Exhibitions that became known as The Wanderers. New revolutionary ideas continued to percolate giving rise to Cubism, Abstract Art, Expressionism, Suprematism, Constructivism, etc. The new creative movements rose from passion and need for discovery; they were actively supported by a new class of the forward-thinking economic elite responding to the complexities and demands of the times they lived in.
By the mid-20th century American art collectors with their natural inclination toward the market economy had shifted their activities from shaping the cultural values to supporting art as a market commodity and subject to market forces of supply and demand. Simultaneously, the art world’s move to fragmentation of styles, manners and methods, made it more difficult to evaluate the quality of the new commodity but offered the ideal framework to shape a new organism — The Art Market.
To establish value of abundant supply of its new commodity, the Art Market had to create demand by attracting protagonists of the art world: artists, collectors, art lovers to brand names: brand artists, brand galleries and brand collectors as well as invent new forms of solidarity amongst the like-minded participants.
The Art Market ecosystem called for an artist to be represented by a Blue Chip (brand) gallery, his art to be collected by the 200 top (brand) collectors and auctioned at the highest price to be known as a top (brand) artist. And there has been no shortage of critics ready to transform the base metal of the art world—even a tin can literally full of shit--into gold. A glance at any auction catalog proves the point.
At the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century, the Art Market emerged as a new powerful institution; a separate, self-contained system of private museums, auction houses, galleries, collectors, critics, curators, press, biennials and art fairs where even the most talented but other-minded, ingenious artists who work outside this self-contained system are often doomed to oblivion.
Stepping away from a typical syndrome of our time, the “judgment mania”, Savonarola Suite unveils deep stratifications, ambiguities and dissonances in the art market recent history and clears the stage for a great dream: to build an ideal ecosystem in which artists can find a free space of action.
video: 20 minutes
film: 40 hours
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Paging through each magazine’s monthly issue chronicles compelling art market events that resonate poignantly with art market participants directly affected by its movements and the social relations it creates. Investigation provides a unique opportunity to engage audience to explore the complex, sometimes paradoxical evolution of the art market and contemplate the wide-ranging effects of information in those pages prior to their destruction by fire.
SAVONAROLA SUITE, 2017-2019
video: 36 minutes
film: 20 hours
CLICK & WATCH VIDEO
Documenting a fiery act of destruction by burning all magazines, one by one, called for the design and fabrication of a steel grating structure, named "Savonarola" in honor of the famous 15th century Italian monk Girolamo Savonarola who appealed to the citizens of Florence to burn “bourgeois” luxury items, including paintings, in the flames of a vast fire set in the central square of the city. Many answered his call, including the great Botticelli who threw his drawings into the fire and never touched a paint brush again. In fact, this ritual act by Botticelli became the conceptual framework for the Savonarola Suite.
As the incineration of the magazines begins, it becomes evident that the act of burning, by the very nature of fire, is giving birth to a new form of visual reality. Engulfed in the flames, each page becomes an odd, animated spectacle, a continuing flow and interaction of all the elements with each other. Reproductions, text, photographs, paper, ashes, smoke are dancing in the flames until they disappear and a new spectacle emerges on the steel grating—the stage of Savonarola, a performance now directed by the fire itself.
About the Artist:
Gregory Perkel, who was born in Ukraine in 1939, studied art in Moscow and moved to the United States in 1977, is an established conceptual artist who challenges the value systems of market economy. Over the years Perkel has developed his own unique structural language to interrogate diverse themes often working with source material and manipulating imagery to transform it into something totally new. In this way, he inhabits existing material, bending it to his will to form an original and sometimes unexpected narrative of his own (re)construction, creating new versions of a story every time. Among his conceptual installations are Consumed in Taplin Gallery, Arts Council of Princeton, N. J. (2010), Manuscripts of the Cardboard Culture in Hunterdon Museum of Art, N.J. (2007), Artist Against The State: Perestroika Revisited in Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York, N.Y. (2006). Gregory Perkel lives and works in New Jersey, USA.
"Experiencing his creations can be like traveling through time." —OK Harris, 2002
*Perkeland is an art production enterprise founded and operated by Gregory Perkel