Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Art for Market Sake II

Art’s willingness, even eagerness to be absorbed by money -- to estheticize money, as it were -- suggests that art, like every other enterprise, from the cultural to the technological (and culture has become an extension and even mode of technological practice in many quarters) is a way of making and worshipping money -- a way of affirming capitalism. Indeed, it is a way of signaling the triumph of capitalism over socialism, that is, the unimpeded pursuit of money and profit at the cost of the common human good that might be achieved by the re-distribution of capitalist-generated wealth.
- Edward Winkleman
Winkleman has a good post to today regarding his frustrations with the current fad - money. Rather the saturation and slavish devotion towards money being exhibited by the players of today's artworld - artists, gallerists, critics.

He sites this commentary by Donald Kuspit on as a source of irritation.

I will suggest that the irrational exuberance of the contemporary art market is about the breeding of money, not the fertility of art, and that commercially precious works of art have become the organ grinder’s monkeys of money. They exist to increase the generative value and staying power of money -- the power of money to breed money, to fertilize itself -- not the value and staying power of art.
Many years ago Meyer Schapiro argued that there was a radical difference between art’s spiritual value and its commercial value. He warned against the nihilistic effect of collapsing their difference. I will argue that today, in the public mind, and perhaps in the unconscious of many artists, there is no difference. The commercial value of art has usurped its spiritual value, indeed, seems to determine it. Art’s esthetic, cognitive, emotional and moral value -- its value for the dialectical varieties of critical consciousness -- has been subsumed by the value of money.
Let's ignore the fact that this edict is on ArtNet which purports to service the auction sales watchers. Winkleman's complaint is this is lip service and hand wringing with no actions. He may be right and some may argue that a critic is by nature an observer and not a mover. However that ignores the power of many 'name" critics such as Kuspit and his counterparts - "name" artists and gallerists. Kuspit is righ to observe that Art currently is serving capital more and more. We must realize that the current obsession with fairs and markets is an evolution on one hand but also the clammering of an elite wealth class and their managers - the banks - to further establish art as an asset class for their own purposes. An art collector can claim their collection of art as a financial asset whereas an artist can only claim her work as a 'collectible". One party can get financing because of their asset, the other can't.

Contemporary Art is effectively the new dot com bubble. It is unchartered waters for investors and many see it as a get rich quick scheme because it is largely new on the financial radar and almost completely unregulated by tax authorities. It is the wild west particularly in more raw markets such as Asia. It is also a chance to frame the debate for a social class that is largely naive in financial and wealth management matters.

It is important for artists to realize that the tradition they are involved predates capital and will post-date capital. Yes a post capital world is possible based on historic precedents! That we as a group need to look at what Value means and find a real definition of Value so that WE get to frame the discussion. Commerce will always play a roll - we have to eat, and we have bills. But it is the artist (and by extension gallerist, critic, curator) who must define Value for those who want to engage us and participate in this enduring human endeavor.

I'll close with this by Kuspit:
The list implies the conflation of critical value and social value, where social value tends to be reduced to national value, implicitly understood as a bottom line value. To say this another way, price is political warfare carried out by economic weapons. Price signals a partisan national choice, and with that supposedly national art values.
Let me emphasize that while these art money comparisons raise art value comparisons, the market offers no conceptual follow-through or rationale for its prices. Indeed, whatever the national differences, it tends to preclude critical discussion of artistic differences, even as it crudely signals them. Money’s reason for being is enough to make the being of any art rational and give it critical import.

image: Justine Smith via pennyliscious

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