Featured in
Issue 208

Learning to Love the 2010s

In our first issue of the new decade, we look back on some of the best (and worst) of the last ten years and find a few reasons to be excited for 2020

BY Amy Sherlock in State of the Art | 01 JAN 20

In January 2010, the erstwhile young British artist Michael Landy installed a five-metre-high, 15-metre-long Art Bin in the middle of South London Gallery. Into it, he threw a number of his own failed projects and invited other artists to do the same. At the end of the exhibition’s run, the load was consigned to landfill. Landy had form on this kind of public bonfire of the vanities; in fact, you could almost call it a new-decade ritual. In 2001, for Break Down, he destroyed everything he owned in an empty former C&A department store on London’s Oxford Street. Ten years later, into the Art Bin went pieces by Tracey Emin, Gary Hume, Julian Opie, Michael Craig-Martin and Gillian Wearing. The art-making public could apply to have their works trashed via the Art Bin website. Landy called the piece ‘a monument to creative failure’.

It was also, in sledgehammer-subtle yBa fashion, a comment on the fickleness of art’s value and the way this is generated – by the machinations of the market, the cultural capital of institutions, ‘brand’ recognition and, ultimately, as with everything, by keeping supply low and demand high. Damien Hirst, tongue firmly in cheek, threw in a painting of For the Love of God (2007), the diamond encrusted skull that, in 2007, sold for GB£50 million to become the most expensive work of art by a living artist. (Or did it? Rumours abound.)

Was Art Bin epochal? Probably not. It isn’t even my favourite trash can of the last ten years. (That award goes to architect Rafael Viñoly’s 432 Park Avenue, completed in 2016, which was inspired by a 1905 wastepaper basket designed by Josef Hoffmann. At 426 metres, it’s currently the tallest of Manhattan’s super-skinny megatowers – a new and not unbeautiful building typology that can only exist because income growth for the top 0.1 percent wealthiest Americans has dramatically out-paced that of the rest of the population since 2010.) But Landy’s work suggests an interesting thought experiment. Setting aside the environmental concerns that were scarcely raised ten years ago (landfill?!), what would you throw in an art bin for the 2010s? Which cultural events would you consign to Room 101 to gather dust alongside The Fate of the Furious (2017) and Madonna’s latest comeback album, Madame X (2019)? (For a far better Madame X, see the 1977 lesbian pirate melodrama by filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger, profiled in this issue.) Would you, on reflection, bin the lot – per Werner Herzog who, during a panel discussion at Frieze LA last February, claimed that ‘the whole of the 20th century was a mistake’? Or might you salvage something from the wreckage – as Andrew Durbin does in these pages with Lady Gaga’s ambitious album Artpop (2013), which he calls: ‘One of the best albums of the decade, and a still salient – if gonzo – portrait of shattered contemporary life.’

Michael Landy, Art Bin, 2010, installation view, South London Gallery. Courtesy: © Michael Landy, Thomas Dane Gallery and South London Gallery; photograph: Andy Stagg 

On the cusp of the 2020s, this issue of frieze looks at some of the most significant cultural shifts of the past decade through the public figures, technologies, images and companies that have embodied them. (The coverage continues online at frieze.com.) It’s not all destined for the scrapheap: the most positive changes since 2010 have involved retrieval and revaluation, rather than throwing out: from the ‘rediscovery’ of older women artists to the long-overdue attention paid to art histories beyond Western centres to a decade in which the art market finally woke up to black creativity. Across all cultural forms, artists of colour, differently abled artists, trans artists and queer artists are shaping the conversation in ways that, in 2010, many of us didn’t even know that we didn’t know. As Jennifer Higgie notes, looking back at the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of frieze: ‘With a few exceptions, race, gender, sexuality and class are hardly mentioned – something that seems extraordinary in 2020.’

We have some way to go. Almost 50 years after his show at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was cancelled for revealing too much about the dubious dealings of New York real estate, Hans Haacke has a retrospective at the New Museum. Alyssa Battistoni’s essay, situating the artist’s relentless scrutiny of institutional ethics in the context of the museum’s recent dispute over the unionization of its staff, reminds us just how much remains to be done. But change is happening. The five young artists profiled in this issue – Jamie Crewe, Lauren Halsey, Rodrigo Hernández, Thảo Nguyên Phan and Sung Tieu – give reason to be hopeful.

‘Disruption’ has been one (profoundly ambivalent) watchword of the 2010s, which has also been a decade of getting to grips with the profound societal, political and economic changes unleashed by Silicon Valley. WeWork, the millennial-oriented, co-working empire that Will Wiles investigates in this issue, is the latest high-profile, highly financed headrush to wear off, leaving us with a collective hangover. WeWork built itself on a notion of ‘community’ – working alone, together – hyped by marketing speak and facilitated by a non-place coffee-shop aesthetic that Wiles describes as ‘start-up cosplay’. That acutely contemporary sensation of collective alienation is something that Pablo Larios discussed back in 2014, writing in frieze d/e about how networked technology was taking its toll on IRL communities and the ways in which artists were fighting back. In an updated piece, he acknowledges that they might have lost that battle. (Although, it should also be said that tech has found different ways to bring people together: see Evan Moffitt’s reflection on how Grindr, launched in 2009, has changed gay life irrevocably.)

‘We forget the place we’re in,’ says Larios, quoting a book by the artist Juliette Blightman – although it could apply to many of us dizzy with the constant movement demanded by today’s cultural calendar. In an essay about why, despite environmental concerns, the art world can’t kick its addiction to flying, Kyle Chayka writes: ‘I remember how legitimizing travel felt to me as I tried to make my way through the art world a decade ago as a journalist and critic […] In retrospect, I feel both guilty at my own largesse and embarrassed that it wasn’t as extreme as others’. Was it worth the environmental price?’ Can we commit, over the next decade, to both less travel and less screen time? I think we have to. Otherwise we might look back on 2020 as the beginning of the end. 

This article first appeared in frieze issue 208 with the headline ‘Trash Talk’.

Amy Sherlock is a writer and editor based in London, UK.