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money issues

Post #479 • February 23, 2005, 7:31 AM • 39 Comments

Via Artsjournal, Will Bennett for the Telegraph: Market growth: quest for new collectors.

The truth is that although many people have money to spare, most are not spending it on art and antiques in the way that perhaps their parents and almost certainly their grandparents would have done. Business at the top end of the art market is still brisk, yet there are problems further down the price scale because people's values and tastes have changed and their money goes on bigger houses, smarter cars, expensive holidays, private education and luxury consumer goods. There are fewer collectors.

These difficulties are revealed by the annual survey of members newly published by the British Antique Dealers Association, which represents the top 400 dealers in the country. Although business for some members was better than the previous year, when trade was blighted by the Iraq war and the Sars virus, the BADA admits that "the overall picture still remains one of a public reluctant to part with its money".

As someone who wouldn't mind interacting a bit more smartly with the market, this question has always intrigued me: How do you convince people to buy art? They don't need it, clearly. It's not useful. Is it simply a matter of flattering their taste?

Almost everyone in the art market is now trying to crack the puzzle of how to attract wealthy new buyers. Some are getting involved in the lively contemporary market and even the venerable Grosvenor House fair has asked its 90 exhibitors to show one work by a living artist this year.

On May 16, a one-day conference entitled The Art of Dealing will be held in London by all the main trade associations to examine the problems currently facing dealers. It was announced in the Antiques Trade Gazette under a headline asking "Where have all the collectors gone?" Finding them is the 21st century art market's equivalent of the search for the Holy Grail.

This overstates the problem, surely - the trouble of all business is to find customers. But it would stand to reason that for every Rubell, there ought to be a dozen people with more modest collecting ambitions, both in purchasing power and aspirations to with-it-ness. How do we contact them, organize them, and get work in front of them?

On a slightly related note, tomorrow from noon to 1:30, the Miami Beach Arts Trust is sponsoring a panel discussion on "Artist Real Estate Purchase: Is It Possible? or, Buying a home on an artist's budget." Bring a brown bag lunch to the North Shore Park & Youth Center, 501 72nd Street, Miami Beach, but RSVP to MiamiBeachArtsTrust@hotmail.com first. (Panelists: Andy Rogow is a fully licensed mortgage broker whose firm works with over a hundred lenders to provide financing for home buyers of all income and credit types. His specialty is working with members of the artistic community. Sage Hoffman is a realtor with Coldwell Banker, specializing in Miami Beach residential properties.She holds a Bachelors of Science from Georgetown University and an MBA from Rollins College. Yves Boucher is a 12-year resident of Miami Beach. A CPA by profession, Yves also has his Real Estate license and Mortgage Broker license.)

Comment

1.

oldpro

February 23, 2005, 4:47 PM

As a veteran of many years in the art business I can say with certainty that there are a few problems that can be clearly stated. What to do about them is another matter.


1. Oversupply. There are too many artists, too many dealers and too much art.

2. Overpricing. Art pricing does not follow market realities.

3. Unprofessionalism. I do not think there is any business that tolerates - even encourages -
the sloppy business practices and simple inability to understand the basic product common in the art business.

4. Bad public relations. Artists and art dealers are often withdrawn behind a wall of snobbish contempt for the public and the public is intimidated. This only works at the "highest" levels of the art business where the customer is sufficiently brainwashed to believe that he or she must have a particular work.

5. Product devaluation. Standards of craft have been devalued, esthetic quality has been
devalued, simple eye appeal has been devalued. When values go, value goes. When anything
can be art, art is not worth much.

2.

flatboy

February 23, 2005, 5:20 PM

To the Old Pro: Hard to pull chains with respect to your comment above.

3.

oldpro

February 23, 2005, 6:09 PM

I guess if Franklin can toot his horn once in a while I can too. Here is an excerpt from a recent entry on the NEW CRITERION web site (http://www.newcriterion.com/):

2.18.2005
Get thee to a gallery
by James Panero

Last month in this space I asked for your help on artblogs. Now, we already have links to two straight-up artblogs, which are daily reads. And recently I've picked up on artblog.net.

... a correspondent for artblog.net wrote in:

Thanks for the reference to artblog.net. there is one fabulously intelligent fellow who contributes often who goes by the name "oldpro", but he wants to maintain his anonymity. if you will pan back into some of the older blogs you will see that we are desperately fighting the good fight in our corner of the art world.

Agreed.

4.

Franklin

February 23, 2005, 7:09 PM

Armavirumque link here. Thanks, James.

Oldpro, regarding #4, do you think the middle tier market wants to follow the example of the brainwahsed upper tier, or do you think they could be developed into an independent market?

5.

Zeke

February 23, 2005, 7:39 PM

Howdy!

I haven't read the article yet, but I would like to know exactly where the writer got the idea that "There are fewer collectors"? I would strongly disagree with him.

In whatever period of time he is talking about there are more people in the UK now then there were then. If he's talking about percentage of the population a) he should have stated that, and b) I'd betcha dollars (or should that be pounds) to doughnuts that he's wrong on that, too.

The real truth is when you write about the visual arts you can fabricate anything your heart desires and get away with it because there ain't nobody who is going to question you.

6.

oldrpro

February 23, 2005, 8:14 PM

It's complicated. as these things always are.

I have never seen a really intelligent breakdown of the art market, one that acknowledges that there are many markets, each with its own psychology and flavor.

The "upper tier" is mainly a trophy market, the $15 million Warhol stuff. These are the people who buy houses & airplanes & expensive cars and all that. I have never seen any evidence that these people know or care any more about the quality of their art then they do about the mechanics of their Beemers. We would all like to be in this category but it seems like a crap shoot. Some of the artists up there are wonderful and some are awful. I can't figure it out, for sure, and I am not sure what I would do about it if I could. Let's just note that it is a very small group, and lotsa luck getting there.

There is a subspecies of the upper tier, collectors who have lots of money but not endless money, and make shrewd moves to specialize in something where they can get a lot of art for not much money, make a splash, look very far-out and sophisticated get a lot of high-rep bang for the buck. There are the Rubells and de la Cruzes.

Then there are the niche markets, like western art, which can be very lucrative, but this is not what we usually talk about on the blog, not what most of us are into.

So that leaves what you call the "middle market", which, let's face it, is just about everything and everybody else.

Who are these buyers? Well, to really simplify:

1. The overthecouch folks, who were clogging Rte 1 all the way up to 95 last weekend trying to get the the Grove Art Fair. this is a vast market which has no idea about art but "knows what it likes". What it likes is usually not the kind of art us bloggers are interested in making.

2. The more educated, art-attentive people who do not have endless money but think they should have respectable art around. You often find them with walls full of posters, prints by famous artists and paintings by people they know or who have appealed to them somehow and do not cost a lot. This is really our target audience, but most of them, if they get enough money to get "serious", start buying trophy art and giving their old, not-so-famous art away to whomever will take it.

3. A subset of #2, the really serious passionate collector with an eye who doesn't have endless money. These are the Jacks of the world. They are a wonderful species and an endangered one. I have known very few of them. When I find them, or they find me, I have a tendency to give big discounts.

So we are left with the fairly small and unstable #2 group, which we are obliged to worm our way into and convince by means of personal sales ability, which most of us are lacking, or a gallery (same) or critical following (same), or rich patron (same).

Depressing, isn't it?

7.

Jack

February 23, 2005, 8:29 PM

I don't know about the antiques market, but when it comes to more or less contemporary art, part of the problem is clearly the enormous confusion and uncertainty due to the fact that anything (supposedly) goes and that one isn't supposed to be "rigid" or "narrow-minded"--because, after all, art is whatever the artist designates as such, and anyone can claim to be an artist. Ahem. Excuse me while I snort. Loudly.

Trouble is (and I just don't get this) SO many people can't or won't make up their own minds and stand their ground. What is so difficult about telling this theorist, that curator, this museum director or the critic over yonder that s/he's full of it and can therefore go take a flying leap? Still, if people are insecure or unsure, why should they spend good money on something that they don't actually need and may well be ridiculously overpriced, not to mention put up with snotty attitude from gallery types and/or artists? Why not just get a bigger and better TV, take that cruise or get some nicely framed museum posters to go with new furniture?

8.

J.T. Kirkland

February 23, 2005, 8:41 PM

You all might find the following useful. There is a gallery owner here in DC named Martin Irvine. He runs Irvine Contemporary Art in Dupont Circle. In addition to running a pretty good gallery, he is a tenured professor in the Communication, Culture, and Technology Program at Georgetown University.

I recently met him and we discussed the art market. He is a firm believer that there is a market and it is actually quite defined. I thought he was very interesting.

He gave me a link to a Web site for his course, Introduction to Contemporary Visual Art: Theory, Practice, Institutions. It has a ton of great links to writings and notes on the subject matter being discussed here. I'm still trying to work my way through it all, but I thought many of you would find it interesting and resourceful.

The link: http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/CCTP738/CCTP738-syllabus.html

Enjoy!

Oh, also, great comments oldpro!

9.

oldpro

February 23, 2005, 9:16 PM

Thanks JT, and thanks for the URL, but I don't see that his syllabus has much to do with the art market. Seems more like a typically biased & very skewed Pomo version of recent art history. If I were taking his course we would be doing major battle within 5 minutes.

10.

J.T. Kirkland

February 23, 2005, 9:50 PM

See this section for the most direct addressing of the art market: http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/CCTP738/CCTP738-syllabus.html#9

Irvine relates the other sections to the market in class, or so he told me.

11.

Anna L. Conti

February 23, 2005, 10:04 PM

The boundary between buyers #1 and buyers #2 (OldPros's post #6) is very porous, both of these groups are bigger than you think, and both of them are susceptible to re-education. The two main barriers to buying art, that I have witnessed in potential collectors are:

1. Fear of looking foolish for liking the "wrong" thing. They don't trust their own instincts. They need reassurance that this thing they are attracted to in your studio or gallery, will not make them the butt of jokes when they get it home. Helping them overcome this fear is tricky - you want to reassure them, yet not seem so obsequious that you remind them of a used car dealer. Giving them information (ammunition) helps. Give it to them in easily understood sound-bites that they can repeat later to friends.

2. Fear of overpaying, or being ripped off. Or the mistaken assumption that they can't afford it. A sane, rational pricing system goes a long way toward reassuring these folks. As well as equating art with other "non-essentials" that they obviously have been able to afford. If they own fancy car stereo systems, new leather furniture, or any of the must-have new gadgets that didn't even exist a few years ago, then they can make room in the budget for art. It's just a matter of gently pointing this out, without making them defensive. and convincing them that art will bring them more pleasure, over a longer time, than a flat panel HDTV cine-sound addition to the family room.

12.

oldpro

February 23, 2005, 10:24 PM

Absolutely right, Anna. The boundry is not only porous it is a continuum.

Your point #1 is true across the board (except for the art lovers, who buy what they love & don't care) and oddly enough is more true in the expensive realms. The trophy buyers seem to be compelled to be "right", literally at all costs. This is why their collections are all the same.

Point #2, ironically, tends sometimes to negate #1. I think most art is overpriced, but it seems that the single most powerful convincing factor that the art is "good" is how expensive it is. Time and time again I have seen a dealer pick up an artist and double or triple the prices on the spot, no matter what previous sales or auction records say to the contrary. And they are probably right to do so. It is a truism in the art business.

The problem is that while I agree with everything you say about guiding and cajoling a potential buyer thinking about it gives me a depressed headache. I hate selling from my studio more than anything. There is nothing like a good dealer. They earn every cent they get. Unfortunately there are not enough of them.

13.

Anna L. Conti

February 23, 2005, 11:16 PM

Oh yeah, me too (gives me a depressed headache. I hate selling from my studio more than anything.) Just because I've noticed these things about what buyers need, doesn't mean I can come across with them. Time and again, I've been talking with a potential collector and I can't believe what just came out of my mouth. It takes a special kind of person to understand and communicate with both the artist and the buyer.

14.

Jack

February 24, 2005, 3:42 AM

Oldpro, I'm sure you know whereof you speak, but it seems to me the arbitrary price hiking you describe is just a very convenient and lucrative ploy to fleece those who can afford it and will tolerate it (assuming they even realize they're being had). Unfortunately for collectors, the ploy works well enough that it causes generalized inflation, even at lower market levels where buyers have to think much harder about how much they spend on art. Ultimately, I think this hurts the market, maybe not at the "money is no object" top end of it, but increasingly so as one goes down the pyramid. Some people simply will not buy if they feel they're being overcharged, even if they really like and want the art in question.

15.

oldpro

February 24, 2005, 4:12 AM

Jack, you write "it seems to me the arbitrary price hiking you describe is just a very convenient and lucrative ploy to fleece those who can afford it and will tolerate it"

Of course. And it has the added advantage of making the art look more worthy. The top end types simply do not believe that something is worthy unless they pay through the nose for it.

And, as you say, the trickle-down inflation is very damaging, not only in the instance you adduce but in the larger view it promotes that all art is a super-luxury item most people can't even think about.

A painting really shouldn't cost more than the good quality leather couch over which it may hang, unless auction prices put a real market under it. Unfortunately that's not how the dealers like to do it.

16.

Verne Gripes

February 24, 2005, 9:14 AM

Are we not giving very little credit to the potential customer? If they really are that bad in terms of taste and snobbishness do we deserve to have our paintings purchased by them?

I've witnessed plenty of fear when customers intially become collectors or collect a particular artist for the first time,and that seems reasonable; the last time I bought a camera it was a different brand than my previous two so I treated the purchase with the same anxieties as my very first purchase.

It strikes me that trust and consistency go a long way to establishing a market where customers can pruchase and be happy with their purchase and artists also be happy with the transaction. The object should be that both parties are happy, and not that a customer has been fleeced.

Has there not always been too many artists and too much art? Would we really want it to be different?

17.

oldpro

February 24, 2005, 4:04 PM

Verne: It was my impression that we (in this thread, at least) were being rather sympathetic to the customer and hard on the art business. And I don't understand the logic in "if they are that bad...do we deserve" in your second sentence.

I am all for "trust and consistency". I wish there was some way to establish and maintain it. But a market that values a Jeff Koons at $5 million and some of the best work of Jules Olitski, recently discussed here, at well under $25,000, is a fool's paradise.

No, it has not always been that there were too many artists and too much art. It is true now, and has been for a generation or so. When anything can be "art" anyone can be an "artist". I suppose if it keeps on this way everyone will be. I am what they call an "elitist". I think art is a specialty that should be undertaken by those who can produce something worthwhile.

18.

J.T. Kirkland

February 24, 2005, 5:14 PM

Hey oldpro,

In my conversation with Martin Irvine, we discussed the very idea you bring up in the Koons and Olitski example. He states that there is a structure to the price of Koons and his prices are validated in the market. Is his work worth it and does it deserve it? Apparently so. Put simply, Irvine related the prices of contemporary art to paying $150k for a car or $200 for a share of a start-up tech company. Currently there is perceived value in Koons' work, but it's possible that his market will go bust. The market will determine it.

As for anyone being an artist, sure, I guess that's true. I don't see the problem with that. It reminds me of when I was younger and lots of kids considered themselves baseball players. Sure they play in the street and once a while in a league, but they never played at a significant level. Meaning, they really don't impact me, my skills or my recognition. I don't care if they call themselves baseball players. It's quite meaningless.

On my Web site I get lots of artist submissions from people who feel like they are entitled and should be hanging in the National Gallery of Art. You look at the work and it's bad, very bad. Their lack of recognition should say something, but artists hold out hope that someone will come along and recognize their efforts. I was the same my senior year in high school when I hoped to be drafted. Those who got drafted and those hanging in the National Gallery did something to deserve it. But just as people always say that XYZ professional baseball player sucks, so do people about famous artists. Clearly, the ballplayer doesn't "suck" or he wouldn't be in the Major Leagues. The market has validated his position. The market is currently aligned to validate Koons and he garners big prices. The market may correct itself, and honestly I hope it does for some artists. But we can't blame the artist, only the market (you know, don't hate the playa, hate the game). There's more that goes into the price than "quality," and I'm sure you'll all agree on that.

Perhaps Jeff Koons will end up being analogous to the Pets.com companies of the Internet boom. He too may go bust. In the meantime, he has real value.

19.

Verne Gripes

February 24, 2005, 6:38 PM

I too see a kind of validation in what the market values something at though I don't confuse it with quality. It only takes two people to genuinely love something by Koons or anybody else awful and the market price can go through the roof - if those people have the funds to push it there. The work itself is not better because of the price, but nor is it then bad because of its seeming over-inflation.

The market basically is just that, a market, not a league table of quality. The greater travesty would be if Olitski wasn't in the league at all - which is not the case. Fame and investment among other factors are always going to skew such a table way beyond taste.

The logic of my earlier point "If they are that bad...do we deserve..." only makes sense if you accept my first point. Categorizing one group of the middle market of buyers as having "no idea about art", and another group of this middle market as snobbish to the point of disowning art they earlier purchased in place of trophy art they can now afford, well it strikes me as less than sympathetic and if actually true I was simply asking why we would even want such people to buy our work.

In my experience , people who I might believe - and indeed they might profess themselves - to not know about art, don't actually buy any, except for the foolishly rich. And I haven't witnessed a particularly high level of snobbishness - or whatever the term might be - that characterizes the people buying only what they can most afford rather than wjhat they like.

But yes OldPro finding one's way ,let alone justice, in the market can be depressing, and certainly frustrating and challenging. But I believe that if truly anybody can be considered an artist - from a 4-yr old girl to a famer who painted nothing more than two clydesdales his whole life - that what does distinguish us is our drive. We are artists all the time, driven to be what we are, even if we're not really all that great.

20.

oldro

February 24, 2005, 6:39 PM

JT: Obviously Koons's prices are justified because the market "validates" them. That is simple economics. I was making a comparison between artistic worth (which in the past has eventually, to a large degree, been justified by market worth) and market worth as of any particular moment. I thought that went without saying, but I am often mistaken in making that assumption.

Saying that baseball and art are analogous because the market justifies both misses the point completely. Neither then nor now nor in the future can there be any argument that Willie Mays was a great player. It is measurable. In art fashion rules, not skill, and overinflated reputations topple regularly, consistently and precipitously.

21.

oldpro

February 24, 2005, 7:00 PM

Verne: Forgive me, but your last paragraph - " truly anybody can be considered an artist" - equates being an artist with being virtuous. Please don't do that. Making art into something sacred and highfalutin is part of the problem. Art is just a job, and if we do it well we contribute something good to the world, that's all.

I will certainly allow that my description of the groups of art buyers is unsympathetic. Having been an artist for these many years has not exactly made me sympathetic toward them. They are not so much snobbish as sheepish. People that act the way I describe (and they do, believe me) are people who are driven by what others think of them, not by inner strength and conviction. The rare true art lovers are a gift from on high. Believe me, i appreciate them, sales or no sales.

You say "why we would even want such people to buy our work". Well, we don't, I suppose. But who can afford the luxury? I have never turned down a sale. And I have sometimes been punished for it when a painting goes up in an obscure auction and gets clobbered. Its just business.

22.

Verne Gripes

February 24, 2005, 7:29 PM

I consider art neither sacred nor highfalutin, though it can be good or bad. The only word I used to describe an artist in the last paragraph was 'drive'. It equates being an artist to having conviction, not virtue. If one is driven, one works. If one keeps working then the work should keep improving. Virtue is irrelevant, and being virtuous no more appropriate to artists than actuaries.

That people who buy art behave sheepishly I am aware of; it is the purported scale of that existence that I question.

23.

J.T. Kirkland

February 24, 2005, 7:45 PM

oldpro -

I hate to say it, buddy, but you've missed the point. No one would ever compare Koons to Mays. Mays would be like Monet. No one doubts Monet is a great artist. But like Koons, people doubt if Roger Cedeno is worth his $5.375 million salary from 2004. I've heard tons of fans and critics say he sucks. But he plays at the most elite level. He's clearly good. And the market values his skills at $5mil. But my guess is that no one will remember him in 10 years... the simple economics you speak about.

You say, "In art fashion rules, not skill, and overinflated reputations topple regularly, consistently and precipitously." Just like cars, stocks, ballplayers, etc... Fashion may rule, but it is not the sole variable. Artistic merit cannot be measured in and of itself. It takes a network of collectors, critics, public, curators, etc, to make the market. Clearly Koons has artistic merit or he wouldnt be in the game. His work gets him in the door. He has skills and talent just as Cedeno does. Now, there's a lot of other factors that drive up value. Fashion for Koons and perhaps a great agent for Cedeno. In 20, 50, 100 years we'll know how Koons fits or not. My guess is that it will take just 5 years to know how Cedeno fits.

Finally, you say Mays' talent is measureable. That's true, to a point. We have batting average, homeruns, RBIs, etc. You also have a ton of hype around Mays. He played in the good ol' days. He was a nice guy with a great smile. How does talent and popularity contribute to Mays' measurable status? But what are the stats in art? The stats are the things you are against - auction prices, museum collections, solo shows, etc. So while the stats suggest Koons is a great artist, you refuse to believe them. But, even in baseball we don't know if we can believe the stats. There are eras of the dead ball and live ball. 500 foot fences vs. 380 foot fences. Steroids vs. no steroids. And on and on.

Perhaps that $25k Olitski really isn't that good. There's too much information and smart, rich people in the world for the value to be missed. If it's such a great value, perhaps you should mortgage your house and buy the Olitski.

24.

J.T. Kirkland

February 24, 2005, 7:52 PM

Another example is Barry Bonds. He may be the best player ever. But his attitude leaves a lot to be desired and some people will actually go as far as to say Bonds sucks. Clearly he doesn't but other factors cloud some people's reception of him. Maybe it's the same for you and Koons. His talent alone may not warrant $5 million, but he isn't a bad artist. Not at all...

25.

oldpro

February 24, 2005, 8:00 PM

JT, having a discussion with you is like having one with Potato. it is exhausting. Everytime I make a clear simple point you take some wacky spin on it that was never there in the first place, and, as with Potato, the only way to reply it to untangle it, strand by strand, and set it right. I have reached the end of that rope. Sorry.

26.

oldpro

February 24, 2005, 8:08 PM

Here's what you said, Verne:

"But I believe that if truly anybody can be considered an artist - from a 4-yr old girl to a famer who painted nothing more than two clydesdales his whole life - that what does distinguish us is our drive. We are artists all the time, driven to be what we are, even if we're not really all that great."

This has all the sanctimonious flavor of stuff like "we are all unique human beings". I have no room for that kind of thing. Sorry.

We are not "artists" all the time. Art is a specialty. If we are making art we are artists. If we don't we are not..

27.

Jack

February 24, 2005, 8:12 PM

It seems germane to mention that Vermeer, now universally revered, was not widely appreciated while he lived in the 17th century, and was thereafter forgotten until his rediscovery in the late 19th century. Examples of the opposite phenomenon are quite numerous.

28.

J.T. Kirkland

February 24, 2005, 8:19 PM

oldpro -

That's the response I was expecting. You're so smart that you aren't really that smart. Points have been clear (on both sides) and typically when you drop out of a conversation it's clear why.

You've admitted to being elitist (which you used to deny), but I think you are also bitter by the success of people like Koons. Your response to them is that they aren't good. Oldpro's paintings must be good, however, right?

It reminds me of a Dad who coaches little league baseball critiquing players in the pros. Neither the coach or you play on the eltie level, and you should come to grips with it.

You may "make a clear simple point " but it doesn't mean it is sound or accurate, and it doesn't mean that it doesn't warrant a response.

So, seriously, why aren't you buying the vastly underpriced Olitski?

29.

Verne Gripes

February 24, 2005, 8:32 PM

OldPro you are seeing and saying something I didn't say, have never said, and don't believe. Not even remotely.

You complained that everybody can be considered an artist nowadays and that anything can be art. I pointed out that I don't accept that because an artist will have the drive to be an artist. I'm talking of the same inner strength and conviction that you stated you cherished in buyers.

When I put down my brushes and eat my dinner I'm still an artist because that's what my job is - I'm not claiming that eating my dinner is actually making art. When an actuary uses the restroom he doesn't cease to be an actuary. I used the phrase "all the time" meaning all of your life. People who specialize in making art tend to do so for their life if they really are an artist and not just a cynical opportunist in passing fashion.

The people without conviction don't continue to produce work - and that's the distinction I was making. I have no idea what on earth you talking of when you speak of sanctimonious flavor of stuff like "we are all unique human beings". I don't care how unique the 4-yr old girl is or the farmer who only paints Clydesdales - they're not special, they're not sacred, they're not artists, and artists aren't any better people than they are but they hopefully do produce better work.

30.

Hovig

February 24, 2005, 8:47 PM

Oldpro wrote: Making art into something sacred and highfalutin is part of the problem. Yes. In fact it's the problem.

Anna mentioned: Fear of looking foolish for liking the "wrong" thing. Yes, and I'll go farther. Art-buying has become an obligation.

It's no longer a simple pleasure to buy art. One must purchase the "right" art, or must "understand" what they've purchased. Otherwise they're not buying "art," they're buying "decoration." It's a rare person who'll say, "I like it," and stick to their guns when lectured.

This pressure comes from both sides. Contemporary curators look for work that's "relevant," but conservatives mock the same. You need to know Duchamp in either event, either to appreciate his relevance, or to avoid his influence, depending which crowd collars you first.

People on both sides are looking for something, rather than at anything. People treat art as a bolt seeking a wrench. For better or for worse, the bolts are the art, not the wrenching. By this I don't mean conceptual art is invalid, or that art must be "self-contained" (a concept I find questionable anyway), but that an artwork should not be taken as a specimen to either advance or obstruct a viewer's ideological purposes.

I still think the problem comes down to the the museum being elevated to a church, and the idea that all artwork's natural endpoint is among its hallowed halls. This is where the gulf between oldpro's observations #1 and #2 in comment #1 above comes from. The high end is the world of museum supplicants and aspirants, the low end is the world of artistic heathen and agnostics. There's nothing in-between.

The current problem will remain as long as the museum remains the ultimate destination and the final arbiter of taste, as long as masterworks continue to go in one direction only, and as long as the first thought that goes through a person's mind when they see a work at a friend's house is whether the work is of museum quality, or "worth anything," or intellectually distinctive.

31.

J.T. Kirkland

February 24, 2005, 8:53 PM

Verne -

But oldpro made "a clear simple point" so you're wrong. Sorry.

Honestly, I'm with you. I didn't read any of that stuff that oldpro put into your statement. But it looks like now you're the one untangling his comments strand by strand. Ironic...

32.

oldpro

February 24, 2005, 9:09 PM

Now you are back to your old form, JT, giving me motives, telling me I am bitter, "not smart", implying I am inconsistent, not "coming to grips" - the whole bag of tricks people reach into when they can't manage a straight discussion. I don't need this and I will not respond to it.

I couldn't deal with your last response because it wandered all around the point. I was simply (desperately) trying to make the very obvious and simple point that success in baseball is clear, plain and consistent and that success in art depends (to a large extent) on fashion rather than skill or ability etc etc. Jack even dropped in the point about Vermeer - OK would this ever happen to Willie Mays? No. Was it obvious to everyone in 1960 that Willie Mays would alway be considered a great player? Yes. Is it obvious in 2005 that Jeff Koons will always be considered a great artist? No. In Baseball you know, in art you don't. OK? Do I have to footnote myself? You were talking about "Barry Bonds attitude", among other a zillion other non-sequiturs, for crying out loud. This is the "clear reason" I dropped out. You know damn well I love carrying on an argument - this is on the record - but I will not run around in circles. I wish I hadn't started the whole discussion.

I have never denied I am an "elitist". On one recent occasion on this blog i said so straight out. So on that score you are plain wrong.

Verne:

You are absolutely right. I misunderstood you. I didn't see the "if", or it didn't register.

However you go on to say "we are all artists, all the time" - do you mean that to specify the dedicated artists with drive or literally "all of us"?

33.

oldpro

February 24, 2005, 9:26 PM

Hovig:

I think what you are saying is good.

I don't know what we can do with the museum/church problem, practically speaking. Art has become one of the most monetarily valuable things we have and all that institutionalizing is inevitably going to go along with it.

It is all a matter of size, really. I used to collect wine many years ago & had a cellar of about 600 bottles fo first growth Bordeaux, among other things. I think the most I ever paid for a bottle was about $25. I used to go to gatherings of wine lovers and pick up tips and do tastings and then sit around with friends and try this and that. It was great fun and we all just considered ourselves hobbyists having a good time.

Then all of a sudden (so it seemed) wine got to be a big "prestige" item. the bottle I paid $25 for got to be worth $250 and then $750 or $1250. My wine guy couldn't get me anything any more. My friends couldn't afford it, and neither could I. Wine tastings either cost a fortune or amounted to "discovering" cheaper wines. I would look at a bottle of '53 Margeaux or '61 Latour and think not how good it would taste but how much it was worth. The whole process got painful. I sold the lot. Made a lot of money, but the fun was over. Not a good trade, really. That's what has happened to contemporary art in the last 50 years. Too bad.

34.

Verne Gripes

February 24, 2005, 9:30 PM

Yes, the "we" followed on directly from the preceding sentence and referred specifically to artists as I distinguised them - with drive.

I promise you that I do not believe my mother is an artist - even though she once claimed she was.

I had just twigged myself that you must have missed the "if". Now I must go back to work - or the restroom.

35.

J.T. Kirkland

February 24, 2005, 9:36 PM

Dammit, I wrote a nice, fairly clear and simple response, but somehow lost it before it got posted. I don't want to retype all that.

Here are some bullet points:

- Koons is not Mays.
- Bonds has great stats but is perceived very differently from the public. Why?
- Stats aren't so accurate. Though Bonds passed Mays in career homeruns, what does it mean? Homeruns are different now than they were then.
- I don't know of anyone who says Koons is a great artist. Talented and expensive? Without a doubt. Great? Doubtful.
- My quote was, "You've admitted to being elitist (which you used to deny..." So you just validated what I said. On that score I'm right.
- Another of my quotes was, "You're so smart that you aren't really that smart." I didn't say you weren't smart. I think you are very smart, just not as smart as you think you are.

And lastly, I'll ask my clear and simple question again... Why don't you buy the vastly underpriced Olitski?

36.

oldpro

February 24, 2005, 9:46 PM

So JT,

Koons is not Mays? Where did I go wrong? I must have lost my head there.

Home runs are different now? I see. That explains everything

I used to deny being an elitist? When did I do that? I thought I said....

Oh, shit, I give up. You're right. I'm just not smart enough to cope here.


I can't afford a $25K Olitski. But I have gotten a lot of friends and associates to buy them when they come up at auction.

37.

J.T. Kirkland

February 24, 2005, 10:01 PM

oldpro -

That was the worst reply you've ever made here. Disappointing, really.

And man, I need associates. It sounded so cool when you said that.

38.

oldpro

February 24, 2005, 10:16 PM

Sorry, JT. Let's just end it there.

39.

J.T. Kirkland

February 24, 2005, 10:24 PM

Deal.

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