10 December 2014

The Imaginary Museum

This article could've been a submission to the next edition of The Journal of 'Ugh', but instead it arrives by way of The Atlantic:

"But for art to have as much of an impact upon mass culture—and appeal to consumers—as those luxury brands have achieved, it will have to break out of its crystal bubble. It will have to follow the path that the food industry has for the last two decades or more, which has been the path of taking once abstruse and artisanal products and making them common fare. [...]

"'Anyone who is a serious member of the creative class,' Art Basel director Marc Spiegler told Reuters last week,' is going to come into our fair. We’re getting a lot of requests from CEOs and CMOs who’ve never come to the fair.' In other words, there is a legitimate turn taking place as the idea of an immensely lucrative contemporary art market ceases to seem like a sign some market bubble is about to pop. With each passing year, contemporary art becomes a more plausible tentpole for the global creative economy."

Of course, the whole piece serves as yet another megaphone of the marketplace triumphalism, a 'rah-rah' celebrating the wind down of this year's installment of Art Basel Miami.

There are so many problems with the thread of the author's argument that I almost get a headache trying to think of where to begin. But ultimately, the argument hinges on a number of socio-economic hypotheticals that fly in the face of the current state of things. For instance: As if an art fair is an ideal or even conducive setting for viewing art. As if every art fair is an equivalent to a Documenta, Venice Biennale, or a visit to the Gugg. And as if lots of collectors are like Charles Saatchi who -- be it for the sake of raising one’s profile or out of a genuine sense of cultural largesse -- share their collections with the public.

About that last item: Nevermind that the elevated prices brought about by the high-rolling market of recent years has priced out most museum and cultural institutions, the price of the average desirable acquisition far exceeding whatever funds they might have at their disposal. Instead much of the work ends up in private collections, often bought as a speculative investment, then shunted away into safekeeping and well out of public circulation then maybe sometime later put back on the auction block. (Unless, of course, they decide to donate -- once again, whether for the sake of public prestige, a sense of civic generosity, or as a tax write-off -- parts of their collection to art museums. If there’s been a surge in these donations in recent years, one which parallels the frenzy of the market, nobody’s mentioned it. Maybe the Pew Foundation’s already chasing those numbers.)*

In a way, one could argue that the article’s thesis tracks like a misunderstanding or distortion of the Beuysian equation of “Kunst Gleich Kapital,” extended to “Art + Money = Democratization.” Except, judging from the context, that the author’s idea of what constitutes “democratic” rests on the assumption that there’s a sort of trickle-down economics will come into play as a result of the perpetually-booming art market. Which I guess makes it the Chicago School of Economics version of Andre Malraux's "“Le Musée imaginaire." Praises be, edification from on high!

Say it with me: Ughh.

^ ^ ^

BTW: The image a the top is tom Eric Fischl's recent series of painting derived from photo studies taken at various art fairs. About which, note this article posted at -- oh, irony! -- the site for Christie's auction house. Final paragraph:

"Fischl does not paint the generous, open, multi-cultural city of Miami, infused with energy and Art Deco beauty, and lit by neon. This series is about the art world which, in his opinion, represents another country altogether."

Meaning that, in a way, it's a revisitation of his "Cargo Cults" series of beach paintings from mid-late 1980s.

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* This scenario is, of course, peculiar to the U.S.: where -- unlike other places -- cultural institutions and museums received little or nothing in the way of government subsidies, and therefore have to depend heavily on donations.

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