Friday, January 11, 2013

Art Market Monitor
Shane Ferro has post on Artinfo recapitulating the New York Times’s debate on the art market before migrating to an earlier exchange of views that started here on Art Market Monitor. She quotes Felix Salmon taking me to task for missing that “ prices are quantitatively completely bonkers.”
Ferro adds:
This question — whether paying wild sums for contemporary art signifies a healthy market or not — is where the real debate is.
I can see why the very large sums of money being paid for works of art is startling and unsettling. But I don’t actually think the nominal figure is indicative of whether the market is healthy. A person buying an airplane for their own use at $30 million is no more or less bonkers than buying a work of art for $30m. The plane may seem more substantial but if it costs a lot to maintain, isn’t used often and the same function could be served by . There is no way for economics to measure the value of that purchase to the person.
My comments at Artinfo
Maneker thinks spending 30 million on an artwork is like sending 30 million on a private jet. With a mind like his I wonder if he was working at Bear Stearns. 
A $30 million jet, as a luxury item -Warren Buffett's “indefensible”- fitted (let's just say) for 8 people with private bedrooms, a movie theater and rec. room, can be refitted for commercial use as a non-luxury item. A $30 million bauble that cost $300,000 to make is priced based on the desire of a small number of people, a very limited fan base. The question is: how long can it last? 
Maneker is happy to stipulate that the price has no relation to long term cultural importance. "The art market isn’t a measure of art historical value or worth." But the bet in speculating on art is that other people in the long run will agree. If they don't you end up losing money, or your kids do. Nahmad is given credit for a great sense of timing, in unloading first Marie Laurencin[!!] and now late Picasso. I doubt he paid that much to pick them up. What's the rule? If someone's selling you should ask why. 
Felix Salmon agrees with Gopnik: "The market for art is unlike any other, because it’s built on some notion of true, underlying value."
The market for fine art built on "a notion", and claims of seriousness of purpose. But Gerome, Bouguereau and Winterhalter were vewy, vewy seweous pepew. The stars of the Salon were every bit as serious as the Refusés. I witnessed a somewhat faded art star reminded gently of this fact. He didn't respond. 
I don't care about the money, I'm only interested in art. So for me the question is Hirst or Tarantino? Who's the biggest badass white boy on the block? 
One year Damien Hirst has a show entitled "No Sense of Absolute Corruption" The next year contradicts himself by covering a skull in diamonds guaranteed not to be blood diamonds. They should have been guaranteed blood diamonds, with certificates of authenticity and the names of dead children engraved on each facet. And all Tarantino did was make a movie with a psychotic Nazi as the hero. "Wait for the cream." Das ist die ewige Kunst.
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I'll add one more comment. I have no argument with anything lcgarllery wrote, but it deserves expansion. He's describing a small, elite market populated by self-interested parties who share also a common enthusiasm for art as such, if specifically the kind of art that can be bought and resold for profit.  The 19th and 20th century avant-gardes saw themselves as separating themselves from the past, and from common opinion, but there was the same sense that the makers and audience for the new work were part of the same group.  That's both a market model and a social model, and it can work.
But it's a problem now that the "avant-garde" and "respectable" art communities have collapsed into one another. There no tension between starving artists and rich patrons when starving artists are happily currying favor. The result of this is not that new art necessarily is banal, though much of it is, but all of it is weaker.

The model for fine art now is high style and haute couture, as fashion or outré anti-fashion. That's less an attack on the art than on claims to importance. Art objects made today have nowhere near the importance of objects made 400 years ago, because objects themselves are less important. Art journals are closer now to Vogue than to the New York Review of Books or LRB, but there's still the pretense.  Jim Hoberman as a film critic is a critic of visual art. The art he reviews has a market model, and one on a much larger scale than the market for fine art, which means that he doesn't hang out much with Hollywood producers. His social world is the world of the audience for art and for some degree also its makers. The funders are elsewhere. Meanwhile art critics who are not openly style critics become parodies. The most important intellectual defender of Gerhard Richter is a Marxist only the art world could produce: who writes catalogue essays for boutiques in 57th St.

Kipling put the problem well. "Every one knows every one else far too well for business purposes."

I have no brief against  Koons. If I want to bemoan the state of the world, it's all there. He makes art out of it. But he's not Bernini.  To talk seriously about Koons you have to talk about Warhol, and to talk seriously about Warhol you have to talk about Hitchcock.  To talk seriously about Gursky you have to talk about Zhang Yimou's opening of the Beijing Olympics. To talk about visual art today you have to be able to talk about Cronenberg's Cosmopolis. Will anything by Matthew Barney outlast "Terminator II"?  I doubt it, and I doubt it should.

There's good art in the galleries these days, but most of it isn't made in the US. The Chinese boom reminds me of NY in the 80s, when Larry Gagosian posed for Robert Longo: the dark poetry of capitalism. But Bladerunner came out in 1982, and it will outlast most if not all of the art of that decade. I think recent Chinese work is better too, but I am not going to get my investment advice from Vogue or Elle Decor.  A writer for the Economist cited the failure of a Sherrie Levine to crack a million at auction as a sign of trouble. The fact that she chose Levine's work as a model of anything shows how little she understands either art or markets.  There's more than one bubble operating here.
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