Friday, May 13, 2011

Observations on the Art Market

There has to be something inherently wrong with a country where a major party wants to cut programs and services for the poor and elderly yet a Warhol or Picasso can be sold for 40, 50, or even $100 million. Just this past Wednesday Christie's New York took in $301 million at its Contemporary Art Sale a day after Sotheby’s New York did $128 million and Phillips de Pury $95 million. Math was never my best field but I think that makes $524 million in a matter of days. I know this is all supposedly private money but one has to wonder how collectors can amass such fortunes in the first place. CEOs ruin companies, ship jobs overseas, than pocket the profits before retiring to a life of leisure in their art filled mansions.

Personally I just think it is somehow wrong but at times that is a minority view in some circles. I have gotten into more than one argument over this with people whose thinking is basically that you shouldn't bite the hand that feeds. Many in the market don't support increased taxes on the wealthy because this would take away from a collector's ability to support museums, artists, and the like. It is as if the market has become addicted to the flow of money, bought and sold by the "New Medicis" of the Bush era. As government funding for the arts dwindles these so called 'patrons' dominate the art world today in a new pseudo Renaissance. They seem to call all the shots at major museums, art fairs, and even some major university art programs.

At same time the divide between the haves and have nots of the artist community mirrors the divide in our society in general. A smaller and smaller proportion of artists receive more and more of the funding and support. It sometimes seems being connected to the 'right' gallery is more important than an artist's talent. The artists themselves become of secondary importance to the gallery expérience.

While writing about the avant-garde movement over sixty years ago Clement Greenberg wrote that the movement was attached to the ruling class by “an umbilical cord of gold.” Ten years ago a professor of mine gave me a passage from a T. J. Clark essay titled "Clement Greenberg's Theory of Art" in which he wrote "Capital may be uncertain of its values, but it is not weary; the bourgeoisie may have no beliefs worth the name, but they will not admit as much: they are hypocrites, not skeptics." I could write a book about what I think either quote means but for now I'll leave it for you to think about. I will say that I think the umbilical cord is stronger today than it was sixty years ago.

If a post of mine ever caused me any grief this could be it but it is how I feel and contains nothing I haven't said at some time to one person or another. I just have never put all these loose thoughts of mine together before.

Rebellious to the end.

"Avant-Garde and Kitsch" by Clement Greenberg
"Clement Greenberg's Theory of Art" by T. J. Clark

5/17 update - and the big get bigger, "LONDON.- Christie’s announced Multiplied – an exciting new fair in the field of contemporary art. The fair will be held during the week of the Frieze Art Fair, 15-18th October ...."