The Vanishing Middle
New Yorkers have witnessed a wave of mid-tier galleries close shop over the past year. Is this part of a wider trend? Does the hollowing within the economy, art and otherwise, of the space between globetrotting plutocrats on the high end and struggling flextimers below parallel or portend other erosions? We hear about collapsed contexts, obsolete grand narratives, discredited institutions—what other middles are disappearing? What about artistic practice itself? If our condition is postmedium and postdiscipline, then what syntactic glue is available to make adhere the paratactics of individual experience with the hypotactics of such broad abstractions as identity, capital, empire, power and the like? Is our very social structure another endangered middle? “It is no longer clear,” writes network theorist and art world darling Bruno Latour, “whether there exists relations that are specific enough to be called ‘social’ . . . ‘society,’ far from being the context ‘in which’ everything is framed, should rather be construed as one of the many connecting elements circulating inside tiny conduits.” Should we cheer the waning of the middle, seen as a fiction of the transcendently level-headed and even-handed, as insidious as any other ideology that attempts to disguise asymmetrical privilege as natural and universal? Does the loss of the middle promise opportunities as well as dangers? If so, for whom?
LANE RELYEA is chair of the department of Art Theory & Practice at Northwestern University and the author of Your Everyday Art World.