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Saturday, November 06, 2004

National Book Award?

The National Book Award finalists have been announced and all five of the fiction finalists are New Yorkers! What seems to be the big scandal in the literary world is not that they are all New Yorkers, but that they are all unknowns - - two are first-time novelists and none has a national reputation - - and that all are women.

The fact that there seems to be very little outrage in the literary press that they are all NY'ers is probably because the literary press, like the art press, is all in NY and mostly covers NY. Why do we even call them the "art world" or "literary world" anymore? Or National Book Award or American Academy in Rome or Whitney Museum of American Art? Why does Caryn Coleman have to celebrate the fact that Artforum has made mention of some exhibitions in Los Angeles, our second largest population center?

Germany, a nation the size of one of our states, has at least four individual art centers routinely attracting international critical attention - Berlin, Cologne, Liepzig, and Dusseldorf. We have a good twenty-five cities with populations greater than Leipzig and Dusseldorf, but how often do you hear about what is happening in Denver, El Paso, Memphis, Indianapolis, or Milwaukee - let alone Philadelphia, Phoenix, or Detroit! Can you even imagine a show at Marianne Boesky of the hot artists of Nashville?

The culture wars have clearly been lost and the wagons are circled, with critics and curators sent out on quick missionary visits from NY to art institutions across the country, not to discover or learn, but to spread the word of that already sanctified by the NY market. Ask almost any "top-ranked" MFA program graduate student about his plans upon graduation and you will hear of a move to NY, as recommended by the visiting critic/curator/artist. Is this cultural brain-drain going to help make the so-called red states any less so?

There has been a steady consolidation of power in this country, the consolidation of political power as well as the consolidation of cultural power. The consequences of the consolidation of cultural power to NY and the power base's choice to ignore and exclude the rest of the country, to force so many of our writers and artists to move to NY for any hope of recognition or success, can be plainly read on the Electoral College map. It's hypocritical of the cultural power players to bemoan the results of an election they are clearly not only complicit in, but abetted.