Current artists: Amon Azizov, Wei Chen, Qiao Fu, Gao Min, Guo Kun Sheug, Artashes Karslian, Ji Yin Jin, Li Qun, Lin Ruo, Dean Lu, Ren Jien-Guo, Jorge Rivera, Sharif Sadiq, Peter Walsh, Xiang Yue Chuan, Dario Zapata, Zhuang Xuemin

Organized by Peter Walsh, Ongoing.

Why a Portrait Exchange?

At the heart of the Central Park Portrait Exchange is a desire to build new models for artistic exchange that will free people to interact as peers and to act as citizens engaged in an examination of the world around them. 

Artists are frequently hampered by centuries-old models of what it means to be an artist. There is the notion of the “genius” and just as often the belief that artists are “servants,” lackeys of their moneyed patrons. Less often artists are described as “citizens,” capable, skilled people who contribute to the public discourse.

Part of the problem lies in the formal modes of art-making that we’ve inherited. Portraiture as an art form, in particular, seems loaded with content, a complex mix of power struggles between artists and sitters. For many viewers it’s a form that seems inherently conservative. That makes it ripe for a thoughtful retooling.

As a drawer, I'm impressed by the speed and precision of the artists working in New York City’s Central Park. Yet I'm also interested in the economics of art-making. The professional portraiturists in Central Park get paid one price, artists in the Chelsea gallery district get another, and as a conceptual artist supporting myself with non-arts jobs, I frequently get no monetary compensation at all in exchange for my art!

On top of these issues, the City of New York and the NYC Parks Commission have forced my hand by instituting new park rules in the summer of 2010 that dramatically restrict the rights of many of the most of the talented artists working in Central Park and in other parks such as Union Square Park, Battery Park and the High Line.

For example, New York City’s Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe told the New York Times on April 16th, 2010 that artists working in New York City’s parks are “selling stuff that you wouldn’t consider expressive art.” In other words, he believes they aren’t artists and aren’t protected by the first amendment. One way to challenge this assertion is to create an art project that highlights the quality of the work created by professional artists working in the parks.

And so, the Central Park Portrait Exchange was born.

The Exchange began in May of 2010 and will continue during the spring and summer of 2012. Currently there are multiple suits by artists against the New York City Parks Department because of the Department’s new rules. These suits will be playing out in 2012 and 2013. Check in with this blog for updates on both the Portrait Exchange and the legal battles for artists' rights.

Central Park Portrait Exchange is organized by artist Peter Walsh.

Peter Walsh
Twitter: @walshpeter