Monday, April 17, 2006

Art for Market Sake

this a riff off of an excellent ongoing post at
Artblog Comments regarding the form and function of art and all the collateral damage that goes with that. I recently read a statement by writer and artist David Robbins (Thanks Frieze) that the current function of Art is to succeed in the ART MARKET. The modernist project to explore functionlessness has resulted in this great irony. Art's primary role seems to be only a conduit for venture capital - a portfolio diversification that allows the buyer/investor the illusion of importance and influence, in some cases this is obviously a reality but not every collector is a Rubell.

This market observation makes sense - beyond a modest Marxist critique - that we seem to be getting more and more drawn into the financial prism of the now, international art market. This surely is a natural side affect of globalization but
WHY has this happened? What has ushered in Art for Market Sake?

In addition to globalization and new financial outposts (too big to cover here) , one answer is probably the MFA machine and the corresponding youth quest. We are churning out 'masters' to the tune of 10,000 a year in the US alone. With so many artists - for those that can find a way to sustain a studio practice - there needs to be an expansive retail mechanism. Its simple, supply requires demand. So demand is created through the cultivation of new dealers and by natural extension, new collectors and in some cases the reverse. The lines are easily blurred - not many working class galleries popping up! This cultivation between dealer and collector is key, because let's face it, artists will always be lined up at every gallery begging for a show - even if that gallerist is a money laundering sociopath! Cultivating demand with collectors is what fuels the market - where all this money is coming from, I can't begin to guess. I suppose somebody's shares in Bechtel are paying off.

On the surface, at a basic commerce level, this sounds good for a lot of artists and good for the gallery biz. More artists can make a living, more galleries can make a living - we should all be happy. If you're not then you obviously aren't good enough to compete and your whole world view is shriveled by resentment. How dare you complain! Perhaps, but is the current wealth of the art market good for ART? Who decides? artists, critics, collectors, gallerists? Are they even connected to one another beyond the art transaction? Are they?

For me, in thinking about Demand, we have to ask about Value. If your spending big bucks don't you want the
Best, aren't you being offered the best by art experts? Possibly not and by the look of things in Chelsea - certainly not.

So what is valued? Many important things are still valued obviously - but it also seems that increasingly, value in and of itself is not - I know that we can't use such judgemental words
but we must try. There has to be some logical grounds for the word and its application, otherwise we're just mired in some psuedo faith of subjective inclusivity. Value has to be part of the equation beyond financial value - but again what is valued? Is it nameable?

As mentioned here, its as if Art isn't so much a part of the general critique. The personality [read brand] behind the art is what is important. Exhibit A: Matthew Barney - no greater brand than that - big budget, big star and big ears. The brand is a strange synthesis of the artist and the gallery, as well as the very outlets used to position the brand in the first place. We don't talk about art in NYC , we talk names and locations and prices, its a foreign language of association. Its as if a Mark Lombardi drawing has begun to breath and crawl through Chelsea like some depraved monster.

It is the career project that is primary - are you 'cool', and young and connected? Have you been spotted on ArtNet or in Paper magazine recently? Do you run with the fashionistas and taste makers? (by the way, how many times can As Four be pictured in Paper magazine?) Are the
right collectors on your CV? Are you a hot young investment? Can I be popular and affect 'downtown' by buying your work? There seem to be a lot of Joneses out there!

The hip brand factor fueled by the student flavor of most gallery programming has us drowning in an Urban Outfitters aesthetic - an adolescent fantasy freakout of recycled suburban hedonism and self worship -a reflexive narcicissm of gadgets, glitter, goo and gonads. Please, no more cartoon birds, deers, and wolves surrounded by odd assortments of wood grain! The art career project becomes a tragi-comedy paralleling the movie and music industry (and at worst indie fashion lines) There is art for sure within that coupling of music and film but it is secondary to the spin and product nature of those industries. I'm sorry but the artworld version of this can't help but feel stilted and provencial in comparison, art isn't that hip after all! Art School Confidential anyone?

If personality or cool is valued above art historical context, if career and art market success has primacy over content and form - for artists, gallerists, and collectors alike, then how do we measure oursleves in relationship to the larger continuum of Art? And what of the responsibilty of being an artist during a time of global crises?

What are we making this for?


Art Powerlines said...

and you know...urban outfitters are republicans!

DilettanteVentures said...

Made a tangentially related post that cites yours.

highlowbetween said...

Thanks for the link at dilettanteventures! Yet another astute observation on this sort of broad subject. I can't believe I didn't think to get an MBA!

Lisa Hunter said...

Some astute commenters have compared the current art market with the black tulip craze in 17th century Holland. I say, make the art you need to make. Once the speculators have dropped out, you'll still find people who love art, just as you'll find those who genuinely love tulips.