Buzz is an interesting phenomenon. If you had been at last December’s Miami art fairs where Melanie Schiff's work was prominently displayed at the NADA fair in the booth of the Kavi Gupta gallery, and where the assistants were all atwitter about her just being selected for the 2008 Whitney Biennial, you would have thought it a sure bet that Ms. Schiff was the next big thing.
I commented about the work at the time and waited to see her rise to fame, but even after the Whitney Biennial, I haven’t seen or heard a word. This is surprising because Schiff is a natural talent, inhabiting something of the rock and roll/color/snapshot turf of a Ryan McGinley, with an added touch of feminist self -portrait/performance work, and a talent for the Wolfgang Tilmans style still life of everyday objects. (This description is simply to place her in today’s artworld context rather than to imply that the works are derivative, because they’re not.)
The works in Miami as well as the Whitney Biennial were large, airy, beautifully printed, and nuanced in their mixing of elements. Schiff’s obscured self-portraits in particular (where she spits/sprays water at the camera, or covers herself in mud, or holds up Neil Young’s album cover like a mask) are standout pictures and add a welcome youthfully subversive strain to the genre.
I bring Schiff’s work up again first because I still like it a lot, and secondly as a way of illustrating how the art world works and positing the four main reasons why we’ve heard so little of her.
1) Her main gallery is the Chicago based Kavi Gupta Gallery. It’s hard to make it big when you don’t have either a big or hip New York (or European) gallery behind you.
2) As there haven’t been any major articles about her, one can assume she does not have the requisite knack for self-promotion.
3) This might be a case where the old beef about women artists being overlooked has some credence.
4) Buzz needs careful feeding, attention, maintenance, and connections.
Although I’ve always insisted that the art world is surprisingly genuine in that everyone involved truly believes in what they’re doing, this is different than saying that good work triumphs over bad. In other words, referring back to last week’s gallery round-up, I think Yvon Lambert genuinely believes that Andre Serrano’s pictures of excrement are interesting, provocative, and worthwhile works of art. The photographs have already been much buzzed about. All that remains is to see how skillful the gallery is getting the work reviewed where it matters (The New York Times has already bitten) and acquired by the museums and collections that count.
Let’s hope that with Schiff’s next show, the pieces begin to fall in place.