Saturday, December 08, 2012

"Money is ruining the fashion industry!"

Prominent art writers and critics, including Sarah Thornton, Felix Salmon, Will Gompertz and Dave Hickey, have been attacking the art world, arguing that the staggering sums of money being spent on works are distorting judgments about art and undermining its long-term cultural significance.
Hickey: "Art editors and critics – people like me – have become a courtier class. All we do is wander around the palace and advise very rich people. It's not worth my time."

And again
They were adored, fawned over, hated, respected, energizing and revered. They brought hope, insulted the city and loved the city. They were negative, positive, cherished and polarizing.

And now they are leaving. Love or hate them, there is no arguing that Dave Hickey, famous art critic and genius-grant recipient, and Libby Lumpkin, art historian and curator, will go down in Las Vegas history.

There was Hickey's controversial stint in UNLV's art department, where he nurtured talented artists and aggravated colleagues.

There was Lumpkin's role in the first fine-art gallery on the Strip — Steve Wynn's collection at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art — which helped expand the perception of what could be a tourist attraction.
Hickey's gone off the rails recently, but The Invisible Dragon has lines I've never forgotten:
"I saw Robert's X images for the first time scattered across a Pace coffee table at a coke dealer's penthouse on Hudson Street…"
20 years ago.
Simply put, if you broached the issue of beauty in the American art world in 1988, you could not incite a conversation about rhetoric -or efficacy, or pleasure, or politics, or even Bellini. You ignited a conversation about the market. That, at the time was the 'signified' of beauty. If you said 'beauty', they would say, 'The corruption of the market', and I would say, 'The corruption of themarket!?'. After thirty years of frenetic empowerment, during which time the venues for contemporary art in the United States had evolved from a tiny network of private galleries in New York to this vast, transcontinental sprawl of publicly funded, postmodern iceboxes? During which time the ranks of 'art professionals' had swollen from a handful of dilettantes on the Upper East Side of Manhattan into this massive civil service of Ph.D's and MFAs who administered a monolithic system of interlocking patronage, which, in its constituencies, resembled nothing so much a France in the early 19th century? While powerful corporate, governmental, cultural and academic constituencies vied for power and tax-free dollars, each with its own self-perpetuating agenda and none with any vested interest in the subversive potential of visual pleasure? Under these cultural conditions, artists across this nation were obsessing about the market?- fretting about a handful of picture merchants nibbling canapés on the Concorde - blaming them for any work that did not incorporate raw plywood?
Under these circumstances, I would suggest, saying that 'the market is corrupt' is like saying the cancer patient has a hangnail. Yet the manifestations of this pervasive idée fixe remain everywhere present today, not least of all in the sudden evanescence of the market itself after thirty years of scorn for the intimacy of its transactions, but also in the radical discontinuity between the serious criticism of contemporary art and that of historical art. At a time when easy 60 percent of historical criticism concerns itself with the influence of taste, patronage and the canons of acceptability upon the images that a culture produces, the bulk of contemporary criticism, in a miasma of hallucinatory denial, resolutely ignores the possibility that every form of refuge has its price, and satisfies itself with grousing about 'the corruption of the market'. The transactions of value enacted under the patronage of our new 'non-profit' institutions are exempted from this cultural critique, presumed to be untainted, redemptive, disinterested, taste free, and politically benign. Yeah, right.

During my informal canvass, I discovered that the 'reasoning' behind this presumption is that art dealers 'only care about how it looks', while the art professionals employed by our new institutions 'really care about what it means'. Which is easy enough to say. And yet, if this is, indeed the case (and I think it is)I can't imagine any but the most demented naif giddily abandoning an autocrat who monitors appearances for a bureaucrat who monitors desire. Nor can Michel Foucault, who makes a variation of this point in Surveiller et punir, and poses for us the choice that is really at issue here…
The Times
Of course, rich patrons have always supported artists, Don Rubell pointed out, from the pharaohs to the Medicis. Today, multimillion-dollar sales represent only a silk-thin layer of a deeply varied and thriving art market. The art world, Mr. Rubell asserted, is “actually becoming more democratic.”
The tastes are, that's true. In democratic culture, objects of art are never going to be as interesting as language. That's something Hickey never understood.
[Gompertz] "Money and celebrity has cast a shadow over the art world which is prohibiting ideas and debate from coming to the fore,..."

...Hickey says his change of heart came when he was asked to sign a 10-page contract before he could sit on a panel discussion at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Art history is the examination of the assumptions of the people of the past as seen in the most complex products of their labor.  The serious audience for contemporary art more than for any other form of contemporary culture demands that their assumptions be met, not only that their tastes be confirmed but that they be justified, intellectually and morally, through the rigors of their own "untainted, redemptive, disinterested," and near omniscient sense of reason. The corruption begins less in the economics of the market than from the weakness of those who need to pretend that they're beyond it.  "Theory" is the history of the present written in the assumption that the future will agree with the assessment. As I've said before, it's an argument from original intent.

I'm not any more offended by the the party life of the rich at Miami Basel than I am by the party life of the rich anywhere else.

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