Beginning in 1725, the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris France hosted annual and biannual art exhibitions at the Paris Salon. In 1748, a jury was introduced for the selection of the pieces, which made the influence of the Salon in the art world indisputable. The Academy not only decided who would show, but they also created a hierarchy of artists. Giving preference to an intellectual effort rather than mere accurate depiction, the Academy set a pyramid of skill in the following order of importance: Historical painting, portraits, genre, landscape, animal paintings, and still life. After years of the Academy’s omnipotent era in around the 1830s, the rejected artists began mounting exhibitions in smaller galleries throughout Paris. In 1863, the French government sponsored an exhibition with the rejected pieces in an annex at the Paris Salon referred to as the Salon des Refusés, which showed pieces by artists such as Manet and James McNeil Whistler. In 1881, the French government withdrew from sponsoring the event and the Société de Artistes Français took over. Later on, several groups disagreed with the original society throughout time and other independent artist organizations where formed.
Modernist artists made sure they broke every single rule of academic style. They experimented with medium, painting application, abstraction, concept, and everything they could think of to rebel against the set norms. So how come did art went back into the usual setting having curators and being displayed into selective art galleries? It was not long until they went back to the established model; they kept the same structure but the power changed to new hands. Then in the 1970s, there was another strong current of artists, such as Robert Smithson, who wanted to stay away from the gallery space by using nature as their exhibition space or Christo and Jean-Claude, who are famous for their fabric installations and wrapping famous buildings such as the Reichstag in Berlin.
Throughout contemporary history, there has been some artists who keep doing interventions in non-conventional art spaces. Banksy, for example, one of the most widely-known artist this moment, who invades the public space with monumental activist murals and installations throughout the world. Recently in San Antonio, we had the Vacancy series, which included two art exhibitions one at an apartment complex and another one at a staged barber shop, while Seven Minutes in Heaven took place at the Fox Motel. However, is taking the art outside of the gallery space enough evolution from the previous academic system?
We are still given a formal education that brands us as artists. We are judged by curators, critics, and gallery owners who still decide quality of a piece. Some type of aesthetic is preferred upon other less contemporary aesthetics and still we, as artists, are still feeding the system of value created by the art institution. Inside the gallery space or outside the established norm artists (specially now in our globalized world) need a backing that establishes their reputation and sets them apart from the big crowd. Online sales are driving the autonomy of the artists further by being able to sell their work without the person in the middle, but the most successful art sales platforms are still selective and work under the same system. So are we past academia and do we want to be past it? The art institution as flawed as it is gives artists the opportunity to stand out in such a challenging market. We definitely need to look for other options that will promote evolution not only in our creative path but also in our industry since worldwide competition has overly increased in the art world.