Friday, January 18, 2013

Art Market Maneker links to N+1 for a "hard to locate analysis" of Steven Cohen, markets, art making and collecting, by Gary Sernovitz, novelist and Managing Director of Lime Rock Partners

Maneker doesn't understand the criticism; the author of the piece doesn't understand the contradictions. Capitalism has always been theorized as permanent revolution. The aristocratic arts, following the ethos of the aristocracy, were signposts of stability. Following the logic of the new economic aristocracy (based on money not on land) the aristocratic arts now celebrate change, while the bourgeois arts -literature, theater- defend continuity, through memory, in the context of change.  The banker as novelist sees himself as the honorable bourgeois; the banker as collector of avant-garde art lives a bourgeois fantasy of individual pseudo-monarchic authority. The avant-garde artists fantasizes revolution in the cafe; the theoretician does the same in the faculty lounge; and the fine arts devolve into design, aesthetics, and fashion.

Edge and the Art Collector
Mandatory newness—and oceans of commentary on it—is an old problem. It’s now coming into its second century. After the March to Abstraction came the March of Ideas, when art became, in Harold Rosenberg’s words, “a species of centaur—half art materials, half words.” Yet the art world is still thriving, the papers report. The money is still flowing. The parties still glitter. New artists are declared important and great. And sometimes, they are.

But how hard it must be now for an artist when it seems that not only has every material form and format imaginable been tried to express Truth and Beauty but every idea has now also found material form. I watch in awe as artists rise to face that challenge, and even more so when they succeed. But sometimes I feel like I’m witnessing the strain. All artists respond to their inner life and the outer world and other art in some mix. These basic ingredients have not changed. But too often, after leaving a contemporary art exhibition, having hungrily wanted a powerful aesthetic experience, I wonder why I was left cold. It could be that I am not versed enough in the ideas of the centaurs to see the intellectual beauty. It could be, I remind myself, that most art in most times is just so-so; there never was an age of the ubiquitous masterpiece. But it also feels, sometimes, as if an edge has become the only ante to be exhibited at all. As if the edge has become the whole point.

...My guess is that the Art Collector himself is one of the rare people who can beat the market, given his intelligence, his ability to anticipate and exploit changes in patterns, and maybe most important his intuitive “stock sense.” But the Art Collector may have bought Hirst’s glass box because it reminded him of one of Wall Street’s favorite clichés: like a shark, if you’re not moving, you die. If you’re not managing more money, you’re managing less. His firm now manages $14 billion, with a reported $8 billion coming from the Art Collector and his employees. At times, the firm has managed significantly more. This is beyond the capital the Art Collector can trade himself. And so the Art Collector has built a cold-blooded strategy around becoming a trader of traders. When he hires you, a fuse is lit. At some point, whether years later or just as likely months, the bomb will be detonated by your own poor trading results. And you will be fired. But if before that happens you can generate good returns, you get to keep a remarkable share of the trading profits. (Bloomberg reports that it varies from 15 to 25 percent.) If you make a lot of money, you get to keep 15 to 25 percent of the profits of hundreds of millions of dollars at work: the Art Collector will give you more capital to trade. Freelance Nation, the Winner-Takes-All Society: the business model is like the hypertrophied organ of the pathologies of American life.

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