Saturday, November 24, 2012

Maneker: "If You Hate the Art Market, Do You Cheer Hirst’s Decline?"
This BusinessWeek feature on Damien Hirst’s market collapse is very compelling for the way it confounds so much of the complaining about the art market that came out in response to $1bn+ in Contemporary art sold last week. To recap, we’re told that the vulgar market and its hood-winked vulgar participants spend their vulgar money on work that’s been expertly hyped. 
And yet here we have the financial decline of Hirst’s market. Hirst is one of the most relentlessly hyped artists. He had a huge retrospective at one of the world’s most prestigious museums of Contemporary art this year to coincide with one of the world’s most visible events, the Olympics. He also had an unprecedented show at the world’s most powerful and influential gallery that was slavishly covered by every outlet in the art (and general) media.
The general public responded to the Hirst retrospective in record numbers. In terms of popularity, he remains the most famous living artist in the world. His buyers, however, were not impressed with the show spot paintings (perhaps that’s because the show revealed the entire project to be less interesting than first inklings.) 
Is this a measure of the wisdom or stupidity of the art market?

Whether Damien Hirst is a lasting or important artist is anyone’s guess. That’s not a statement of bemusement. The nature of art history prevents any judgment made now from being anything more than opinion. Given the vitriol directed at those who have a position in trendy artists, one might think the 30% decline in Hirst’s overall market documented in the BusinessWeek story (and greater losses individual works) would have someone like Alberto Mugrabi—who comes out here about his market-making position in Hirst and his family’s owning 100 works—in a panic.
Instead, Andrew Rice shows a sanguine Mugrabi discussing one of the works on offer at Sotheby’s last week:
Mugrabi pulls up the auction listing for Sanctimony on the Sotheby’s website. “This painting at the height of the market would have been $3.5 or $4 million,” he says. Sotheby’s estimates it will sell for $1.2 million to $1.8 million—a tempting price. “People are very funny, because they like buying things when they’re expensive,” Mugrabi says. “They don’t like buying things when they’re inexpensive. All of a sudden, they can buy the art for the same price as it was 15 years ago, but now they don’t want to do it.”
Felix Salmon:
I, for one, don’t feel the slightest bit confounded. Quite the opposite: I feel vindicated. If I do say so myself, this was a spot-on art-market call:

Marion Maneker:
Thank you for proving my point, Felix.
You, Thornton, Gopnik, Hickey and Saltz all say the market should be ignored but when it seems to side with you suddenly it has validity.
The very fact that you want to brag about a commonplace “market call” contradicts everything you’ve recently written about the art market.
My comment didn't make it.  Bits of it are below.

Most cultural hierarchies and markets have little foundation other than opinions over time; the more complex the society the more complex the form. At some point if any object/action/event becomes sufficiently embedded in the common language it becomes and remains a visible part of that larger self-supporting entity: it lasts. That's how silly cults become great religions. Bankers, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.  The bell renamed the "Liberty Bell" is part of a tradition, without that its just a bell, an object, like Duchamp's urinal and Proust's madeleine.

Individual minds sometimes create complexity. Great buildings no more or less than great philosophies are the product of great minds. People don't go to the Frick to look at John C. Johansen's portrait of Frick, and any oligarch or curator would be called eccentric who decided to build a collection around portraits of Philip IV. Unfortunately we live in a culture where economists (and economic writers) and other social scientists, descending from philosophers, are contemptuous of poetry, as fluff or worse, "an enemy of the people", as if Aristophanes were more dangerous than Plato.  George Scialabba's defense of Shaw over Shakespeare rests not on art but petty moralism. Shaw's argument is a Soviet Socialist Realist attack on entartete Kunst
… Search [in Shakespeare] for statesmanship, or even citizenship, or any sense of the commonwealth, material or spiritual, and you will not find the making of a decent vestryman or curate in the whole horde. As to faith, hope, courage, conviction, or any of the true heroic qualities, you find nothing but death made sensational, despair made stage-sublime, sex made romantic, and barrenness covered up by sentimentality and the mechanical lilt of blank verse.
Scialabba's argument is frankly reactionary.
There was nothing vital at stake, at least as represented by Shakespeare, in the quarrels between English Catholics and Protestants: they were simply religious factional squabbles, with political prizes at stake rather than profound moral or metaphysical differences. The Hebrew prophets and the Puritans were — even if one rejects their beliefs and ideals — moral and religious geniuses and heroes. Shakespeare’s protagonists may have been brave or loyal or in other ways virtuous, but they are all the servants of paltry, utterly conventional purposes, because Shakespeare (or Bacon) was a fine dramatic craftsman and very clever wordsmith, but no more than that.
Velazquez left us a compelling record of the decline of absolutism and the various philosophies that supported it. I'm not going to lecture him in his absence on his lack of concern for the Amerindians and Dutch.

From the comment:
"Felix Salmon is a finance writer; the others you mention are art critics [I forgot the idiot Thornton] and they seem to have agreed that if anyone bought Hirst it was best to buy to flip. You can ride a bubble if you read one; Dean Baker wouldn't disagree. Your response is the equivalent of arguing that the crash of 1929 is proof of the long term stability of the market.

The contemporary art market is founded on irrational exuberance and play money for billionaires. The fights are toughest when the stakes are smallest. Hirst will last as a minor P.T. Barnum, a showman. He had a good ride. All bets are off if he handled his own investments badly. Don't get high on your own supply."

I posted a second shorter comment making two points:

1-As a former gallery owner said to me, it's not the the art is now worth more, it's that money is worth less.  However large the Mugrabis stake, it's not enough to cause them any real pain.

2-Lasting value in the culture at large no longer follows the tastes of the rich; this applies to discrete objects no less than reproducible commodities or performance. The viewing audience has more authority than the buying one.

As I've said to him before, Maneker, whatever he claims still wants to associate financial and cultural value.  He's a servant of power. Lindemann has the freedom to be honest, and is almost in spite of himself. Here's a rave review of an exhibition of film props and scenery.

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