The Anatomy of a Developing Discourse, Part 2: William Powhida and the Art of Insider-ism

William Powhida, The Game (2010)
"The goal of the game is relatively simple,
get your work in to Met and make history."
Further to the Jerry Saltz and Frieze magazine “talk around art” incident I raised a few posts back, I wanted to extend that discussion and raise the work of William Powhida as one recent example of an artist's attempts to represent and provide critical commentary on the “unspoken” aspects of the contemporary art industry. Living and working in New York as a visual artist (with a specialization in drawing and painting), Powhida’s illustrations focus on exposing the mechanisms of power that influence the world of art criticism, acquisition, production, and circulation. Importantly, what sets Powhida apart from many other artists attempting to do something of the same is his direct engagement with the power of social media and the growing influence of blogging, posting, and tweeting in the circulation of ideas concerning art and the art industry. Much like his drawings suggest and to which they give form, the nature of the discourse is built upon a series of interconnections and pathways of knowledge and influence.

William Powhida,
How the New Museum Committed
Suicide with Banality
For example in 2009, Powhida was commissioned by Brooklyn Rail (a monthly journal covering art and politics in New York and around the world) to produce a cover for the publication and submitted a satirical drawing titled “How the New Museum Committed Suicide with Banality” which was based on the title of a blog of the same name offering a critique on the New Museum’s show featuring celebrity (and some suggest overexposed and overplayed) artist Jeff Koons. Powhida’s drawing extended the original blog into a carefully detailed drawing that not only named and connected all of the players involved in the exhibition, but also featured caricatures and ironic commentary on the whole affair. The use of individual "Facebook" like pictures and snappy short text in "Twitter-esque" prose also successfully pushed the conceptual reading of the work. But perhaps most ironic in the end (and something Powhida must come to terms with as an artist) was the purchase of one of Powhida's drawings by the very museum trustee at the center of the controversy. Jerry Saltz not surprisingly described the drawing and whole aftermath as “a great big art world stink bomb” (!).

William Powhida, Pressure (2007)
Powhida’s most recent Brooklyn Rail cover features “The Game”—a drawing that traces the dynamics of power based upon the players career choices moving from an MFA program towards celebrated art career. The summary says it all: "The goal of the game is relatively simple, get your work in to Met and make history. You need to follow a path through the art world from an MFA program towards recognition, representation, and museum exhibitions while picking up some supporters along the way who will help propel you into history. Like the real art world, whether your in or out is largely out of your control.We’ll assume you have some modest talent, but making history requires a lot of luck. The only decisions you have to make along the way are which paths to try to get ahead, whether or not to drink, and how you can best use your supporters influence to advance your career, the rest is either luck or chance, depending on your outlook on life. You can also play the ‘Bitter Version’ by following the suggestions for modifying the game play. Also, feel free to make your own supporters and new INS and OUTS. There’s at least 197 other collectors who matter and shit loads of ins and outs. Good luck.”

This work and other projects can be found on Powhida’s entertaining blog and see this interview with William Powhida conducted by James Kalm (art vlogger)

Further Reading:

Leffingwell, Edward. "William Powhida at Shroeder Romero" Art in America 95.9 (2007): 204.

Lindholm, Erin."The Art of the Crowd." Art in America online, February 16, 2010