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a broken market

Post #502 • March 25, 2005, 8:28 AM • 73 Comments

Felix Salmon, in a post entitled A Broken Market, does something that I'd like to see more of: apply real-world economic analysis to the art world. He concludes that caveat emptor, by way of advice, doesn't go far enough when it comes to buying art.

I have no critique of this (Salmon is a financial journalist, while I'm a finacial, um, what's the opposite of prodigy?) save one: he recommends buying multiples, presumably because they follow more rational market behavior than originals (and because they're cheaper). This ignores a huge middle tier of the highbrow art market in which one can obtain good works for less than what constitutes a month's income for a middle-class wage earner. The works may be less likely to appreciate than the big-ticket items in the upper tier market, but they're much more likely to gain value than multiples, and in the meantime one can experience greater pride of ownership.




March 25, 2005, 4:42 PM

Now that I've posted this, I realize that when I read "multiples" I envisioned those images reproduced by the thousands and sold in gilded frames at the mall. Maybe that's not what he meant. Printmaking, real printmaking, ought to serve up good collecting values as well as one-of-a-kind pieces. The gist of my point stands.


Todd W.

March 25, 2005, 5:19 PM

Just goes to show we all see what we want to see. When I read Felix's article, I took multiples to be specifically pointed at photography which is usually sold as limited edition series. But then, I saw what I wanted to see.



March 25, 2005, 5:44 PM

This article only talks about the high end of the market, which is just tulipmania all over again. It is vicious, bitchy, inhuman and antiart. Anyone who gets involved in it is a masochist.

There is plenty of good art of every kind out on the market for reasonable prices. All you need is a good eye, helpful friends, the time and willingness to trek all over and the ability to get pleasure from what you like.



March 25, 2005, 6:03 PM

Todd, photography can command some pretty hefty prices, so I don't think he meant "photos" by "multiples," but I could be totally wrong. I shot him an e-mail, so we'll see if he has anything to add.



March 25, 2005, 6:08 PM

The market's not broken; it's just blatantly corrupt and unethical, because what really matters to the operators, despite all their nauseatingly hypocritical lip service to art, is money and status.

Olpdpro is right, however. Good work can be had for reasonable prices, but it takes some leg work and persistence, not to mention a mind and taste of one's own, as opposed to buying-by-the-art-mags or going by the "experts."



March 25, 2005, 6:45 PM

Here's Salmon's last paragraph itself: You might be OK if you limit yourself to multiples -- just remember that prints on paper have to be kept away from daylight.

As far as I'm aware, "multiples" has always a very specific meaning in the art market, referring to any limited-edition work produced by a fine artist, usually implying methods like lithography, etching, or screen-printing. The word "multiples" also includes limited-edition sculptures, by the way. The term is synonmyous with limited edition, stuff you have to make sure is "signed and numbered" before you buy. Photography could be considered multiples, but the photography always assumes multiple output anyway, so the word "multiple" or "print" is rarely used in that context. It's just "photography." Everyone already knows a photo print isn't unique.

When it comes to traditional prints, as in lithographs etc, the big five are: ULAE (Johns, Rauschenberg), Pace Prints (Close, Frankenthaler, Muniz), Crown Point Press (Bechtle, Ruscha), Gemini GEL (Serra, Lichtenstein), or Alan Cristea (Hockney, Hodgkin).



March 25, 2005, 8:33 PM

I'd like to add that Tyler Green's (Modern Art News blog) response to the exceedingly dubious goings-on Salmon discusses,

"So art sells and a lot of people want to buy it. Great. But so what? And, er, isn't people wanting to buy art a good thing for artists?"

is exceedingly flip and shallow. It's exactly the sort of response I'd expect from an inside player, minus the agressive defensiveness one might get from a big-time dealer (who probaly wouldn't comment in the first place). This is Marie Antoinette-style indifference (assuming she actually said "If the people have no bread, let them eat cake").



March 25, 2005, 9:49 PM

Tyler seemed to recant but I can't find the related post.

It seems like some gallerist could make a nice niche for himself by taking the new car dealership approach, where they guarantee equal pricing for everyone and no haggling. Sounds like a pipe dream, but we might have said the same thing about car dealerships at one point.



March 25, 2005, 11:09 PM

Franklin - I look forward to reading the Consumer Reports issue containing the latest contemporary artworks rated with little red and black circles. Aesthetic impact? Red dot! Compositional balance? Handling of materials? Hollow circle. Oh well. Use of color? Chiaroscuro? Black half-dot. Uh-oh. Allegorical cohesion? Big black dot. Aw. Too bad. Rating: Not a Best Buy. Stick to artists which pass the Consumer Reports Labs rigorous testing procedures.



March 26, 2005, 11:01 PM

the post shows 9 comments; the "comments" page shows 12.



March 26, 2005, 11:17 PM

The "broken market" is a reflection of the broken art system. One reason for that is writing such as this (by Francine Prose) on Lisa Yuskagavage, which disgraces the latest issue of Modern Painters:

"...she's such a good painter...The first thing I respond to is the skill with which her paintings are made, how beautiful the surfaces are, and how pleasing they are to look at."

As far as I'm concerned, this is simply false. We're not talking interpretation here, we're talking eyesight. Prose is a literary type, not an art person, but based on this, she has no eye. That means she's not fit to write about art, yet Modern Painters has run her little puff piece. The four accompanying color photos of Yuskagavage paintings all clearly contradict her statement above, and I, like an idiot, paid MP to run this rubbish. No, I am definitely NOT renewing my subscription.



March 27, 2005, 12:19 AM

Weird: a few comments got pulled for guidelines violations.



March 27, 2005, 1:36 AM

Jack, you are running out of museums and reading material at a great rate.

Literary people only see subject matter. You have to tell them "what if you read a story that had a great plot but was terribly written". Then they begin to see the light.

I didn't see what you pulled, Franklin, but I am sure it was deserving. Thanks for sparing us. I don't think your guidelines can be improved upon.



March 27, 2005, 5:56 AM

You're right, Oldpro. I may eventually have to turn my back on the world altogether. Modern Painters is really no better than the other art mags. Leafing through it now gives me a vaguely queasy sensation, a mixture of distrust and contempt, as in "Yes, they've sold out."

As for Ms. Prose, she is indeed primarily interested in psychoanalysis, interpretation of presumed meaning and so forth. That's perfectly valid and legitimate, but when the art in question is so weak as such, I just can't be bothered.


Not Weird (confused)

March 27, 2005, 6:01 AM

Jordan got pulled for guideline violations(2ice)?!

I'm just confused b3/cause they showed up on the 'comments' page but not on the post again. is this normal?



March 27, 2005, 6:11 AM

It may appear valid and legitimate, but visual art is visual, and this sort of blather usually does little more than facilitate avoiding the visual.

In the quote you give she is saying that the paintings are "pleasing to look at", but any smoothly painted realism usually will get such a reaction.

Not from me, though, in this case at least. I find the "surfaces" of Yuskavage paintings airless, sour and unappealing.



March 27, 2005, 6:17 AM

Oldpro, what I meant was "That's perfectly valid and legitimate, when the art in question succeeds as visual art to begin with."



March 27, 2005, 8:10 AM

I know what you meant but what I responded may have sounded as if I was contradicting you, which I didn't mean to do.

I meant to imply that even when the art is successful the literary types avoid getting what's good about it by concentrating solely on content.


all literature is garbage

March 27, 2005, 9:38 AM

orignially posted by oldpro...

"I meant to imply that even when the art is successful the literary types avoid getting what's good about it by concentrating solely on content.

can you expand upon what you mean by "literary types expanding upon what's good by concentrating on content"?....

i am truly mystified.... content is indeed valuable, especially within a literary work.. the surface of a "literary" work can be important as well.... i would just like to further understand the point you are making....



March 27, 2005, 5:49 PM

Re #15: The Comments page has its own record that doesn't correct itself when the comment file is altered. Sorry about the confusion.



March 27, 2005, 6:02 PM

I choose my words carefully. I did not say

"literary types expanding upon what's good by concentrating on content"

I said

"...the literary types avoid getting what's good about it by concentrating solely on content."

Content, that is, the narrative or depicted part of a work, what can be said to be clearly "there", is an important part of any work of art, visual or literary. Literature can be said to be more "content driven" because it is constructed as narrative whereas visual art (most of it) does not have the time element.

Perhaps for this reason literary people often tend to see visual art as a kind of glorified illustration. (This is also a general condition, of course). Some years ago, when posessed of an even more intransigent attitude than now, I had occasion to write:

"They adopt an attitude of patronizing kinship, look at subject matter and other evident parts of a work, relate it to "real life" and find "symbolic meaning" and think that's all there is to it. I see it all the time. A while ago, in the culture section of the New York Times, Carlos Fuentes held forth about Velazquez' Las Meninas, eliciting unfathomable profundities from the disposition and attitudes of the characters in the painting. Nothing he wrote about had anything to do with the reason why it's a wonderful painting. It's a wonderful painting because of the way Velazquez put the paint on the canvas. If someone else had painted the same set of figures in the same setting it would long since have been forgotten, and Mr. Fuentes would have had to write about the inessentials of some other painting."

My solution, as I said above, is to pose the question "What if you read a story that had a great plot but was terribly written?". Then they begin to see that perhaps how a picture is done is more important than what is depicted in it.

Another way to put it is to point out that every painting of the crucifixion has pretty much the same content, but we value some, as art, much more highly than the rest.

Prose did reflect on "skill" and "surface", which could be said to be an aspect of the "how", though I felt that she was seeing it merely as enhancing the "what". In this case I simply disagreed, and used the quote Jack supplied to launch my rant.



March 27, 2005, 6:17 PM

Modern Painters used to be a satisfyingly prickly magazine. Now they seem to want some of the readers that the other mags have, as is evidenced by the fawning over contemporary trifles like Jack's citation above.

Having seen some Yuskavages in person, the surfaces aren't unforgivably bad or anything, just prosaic. The coloration and subject matter are sexy enough and the drawing is decent from a cartooning standpoint, but anyone who's praising her surfaces must have read that once somewhere and is trying to reuse it.



March 27, 2005, 7:01 PM

Suppose one were to "apply real-world economic analysis to the art world"...

You would need to develop a model as a basis of the analysis.
A logical model would be the real estate market. The properties of real estate have some economic similarities to artworks.

Issues of connoisseurship aside, from an economic standpoint, the primary characteristic of an artwork is its uniqueness. Extending this idea we might start with a specific great work, then include others of a similar style or series and work our way through the neighborhoods.

Because of their uniqueness, great works of art will fetch high prices. It should be no surprise to hear the rumors a hedge fund paid millions for a particularly prized work. Rising prices garner attention and increase demand putting further upward pricing pressure on the object. Is the current price too high? Possibly, over the near term, but assuming reasonable connoisseurship and conservation (at question with DH's shark), the uniqueness of the works would suggest they will hold their value over the long term.
Prices will tend to cycle as interest increases or wanes and as works become available in the marketplace. From an investment standpoint the same pool of funds might be more profitably applied to works at a less favorable part of the cycle. Younger readers might note that Olitski once was held forth in the same way as "XXX" or "YYY" are today including the same doubting comments from the periphery.

Stepping down in the financial strata a level or two places us closer to the issues at hand. A retailer of a unique commodity faces a different set of issues regarding pricing. There are no competing products, the work is unique, and there very well may be several interested buyers. How does is a price established and who finally purchases the work? I don't know, moreover I wouldn't want to make a blanket characterization. I would suggest that the art market behaves psychologically like all auction markets . The observations presented in both articles are somewhat characteristic of a market which is being driven by speculation and emotion rather than the underlying fundamental issues of connoisseurship.

Ultimately, what I toss off as issues of connoisseurship become critical. This is obviously a wide ranging debate among critics but it is also the responsibility of the artist to address the issues in a way which expands the dialog.



March 27, 2005, 7:14 PM

The cover story of the new Modern Painters, by the way, concerns Damien Hirst and his new paintings of things like giant-sized skulls. Yawn. I haven't been able to bring myself to read it yet, but I must say Hirst himself looks about as profound as a PEZ dispenser.



March 27, 2005, 7:59 PM

Hey Jack, I too was surprised to see what Damien Hirst looks like. Of course, looks are superficial, and deceiving. But it amazes me that, well, he has so much influence. PEZ is a good metaphor. It applies to more than his looks. His art seems like sheep in wolves' clothing. Neat, well crafted, poignant, but of minor importance at its core.



March 27, 2005, 8:30 PM

Jack & Flatboy, right on about Hirst. "sheep in wolves' clothing is good", F.; I have used that reversed metaphor a number of times. It is the art business in a nutshell.

It is really bad form to quote oneself but I have done it once already here. This is from the blog about a week ago:

"Hirst's ideas and musings on art are solidly pedestrian and trite, as are the paintings, notwithstanding their conventional "shocking" getup. This is one key to his success. If you want to be really sucessful in this game make up your mind to be determinedly middlebrow and corny while tooting the avant-garde horn with all your might."

I don't know about "neat, well crafted and poignent". Those are characteristics I would say were utterly lacking, if anything.

Of course the work is selling from $250K to $2 million, flying off the walls. That's real money.

George, your analysis is interesting but does not comprehend the complexities of the art business, as I suppose nothing can. If you want to adduce the primary characteristic of a work of art I would venture that it is its uselessness, not its uniqueness. Works of art are "unique" insofar as they are not (usually) reproduceable, but not unique in terms of their character any more than houses are. And you cannot understand the contemporary market in terms of "connnoisseurship"; that hardly exists. It is an almost pure game of fashion and status.

The people who "invest" do not look for underpriced work. That would make too much sense. They almost uniformly go for the hot stuff at high prices and when the bust comes they hold up one or two items they got by chance in the process and boast, on their way to bankruptcy court, about how smart they were. I have seen this cycle spin, first hand, at least 3 times. Most of them are fools begging to be fleeced.



March 27, 2005, 9:00 PM

"neat" = rectangles, which inform much of his work, are clean looking.

"well crafted" = the shark tanks don't leak (often).

"poignant" = skulls are always a little disturbing.



March 27, 2005, 9:06 PM

continued ...

"poignant" = dead things are often disturbing too.



March 27, 2005, 9:17 PM

OK Flats. I guess you make your poignt.



March 27, 2005, 9:44 PM

OldPro. I don't know the all the complexities of the art business. I believe that the psychology of the art market is the same as other markets which rely on some sort of bidding process, manipulated or not. While not knowable, market behavior is more or less predictable and would confirm your comments on the boom and bust art market cycles for particular works. Further, I would describe the current market as "frothy" or "over heated" which is generally an unsustainable condition for any great length of time. Regarding the "uniqueness" of works of art, you got my point about comparing them to houses, alike but different. The big difference comes when there are two people vying for the same artwork, in this case the price can easily move well outside the range of similar works. This what I would expect.

I don't know methodologically how people "invest" in artworks. With investments in general, pricing accompanies perceived risk. With artworks, I guess that is what makes the blue chips blue chip. Certainly, rising prices foster publicity which in turn fosters prices rising again. At some point "investors" are buying just because the price is going up, again typical market psychology. We all know how it ends.

Regarding " connoisseurship", I used this word specifically as a qualifier with the assumption that it is a requirement but not necessarily the purview of the buyer. I would suggest that connoisseurship is critical issue. Both the artists and the critical community are responsible for contributing to this dialog. It seems unlikely that any critical process can remain static now that we have "pluralism" (man, I hate that word but you know what I mean) As such, I can't see how I can take any critical stance without also acknowledging how it fits into the overall environment. This means won't write-off all the different genera of work or thought different from mine. Painting needs to move forward inclusively.



March 27, 2005, 9:48 PM

The only thing profound about Hirst appears to be his shallowness.

I read the MP cover piece on him, an interview by Martin Gayford (who comes dangerously close to sounding like a sycophant--it's all very golly-gee-whiz). The work in question is a series of paintings now at Gagosian in NYC. They are mostly copies of found media images (it would seem that creating his own images is too much work for Damien, who probably needs to save his energy for coming up with fatuous drivel to dish out to fatuous interviewers). He blithely admits that "all the hard work" was done by a team of assistants; he merely supervised and applied the finishing touches.

He throws in the obligatory theoretical "concept," of course, as well as respectable-sounding praise of Goya and Caravaggio--though he gushes more effusively about a painting he just bought by John Currin. I need not elaborate on how THAT impresses me, though it fits.

All photos of paintings for this show strike me as banal, lifeless, slick and of no significant artistic interest. They look like they came off a commercial production line, which, in fact, they did. Utterly boring stuff.



March 27, 2005, 11:48 PM

Jack, any artist who has other people actually make decisions about how a work is going to look is asking for trouble.

I remember when Princeton got a gift of a lot of outdoor sculpture. One of them was to be engineered from a quick sketch on a photograph of the site by Picasso. Some Swedish guy and a team of workers spent months on it. The result was lamentable. Dead as a doornail.

Similarly, all those Oldenberg sculptures which lose all the humor and life of the original idea and sketch as soon as they are enlarged and installed.

"Pluralism" is a bad word for me, too, George, too often a code word for sanctifying cowardly indeciseveness under cover of "openess" and "tolerance". You can take any "critical stance" you want, pluralism or not. I think it is the job of each of us to have an opinion, preferably a self-generated one, and argue it out. Otherwise it is all mush.



March 28, 2005, 12:11 AM

perhapes i should clarify to not wierd (confused) that pricing your own work, in conjunction with an art dealer can result in confusion. when agreeing upon a satisfactory price, someone will come along and state that either the prices are too high, or that the price requested is too low. things also considered are the artists age, gender, resume, medium, and all the other stuff besides the visual artifact. a relatively inexperienced curator stated snidely " i like red dots " and "he priced right" - while the dealer had origionally sugested that my paintings be priced higher. i'm confused!
it seems that when your work has been collected at a certain price range, it does the collector a diservice when you drop your prices for greater accesability.

i agree that an artworks uniqueness (in that the artwork conveys a harmonious balance of human feeling and objective principles) should provide a collector with the clues reguarding the artworks value - content, colour choice, scale, and format are a matter of taste. (i once had a collector show up to the gallery with a tape measure and a colour swatch - she decided not to buy a painting because it would'nt fit on a certain wall in her house)
hirst's paintings are highly valued because they 'fit' in bank lobbys, hotels, clubs etc.
his paintings are coldly traced out and filled in by artisans - devoid of feeling and passion.
wow, they reflect this moment in time; cold and dispassionate!
they are social space objects.
private collectors prize them because of this.



March 28, 2005, 12:40 AM

Jordan, Hirst's pictures are not valued because they fit in hotel lobbies. I doubt they are going in many hotel lobbies. What hotel would want one, at those prices, yet? They are valued because of fashion, and that is a complex thing to pin down.

Pricing is another complex matter, and is being practiced in a complex way, as outlined in the information Franklin has given us, at least at the high end of the market. The more foolish and eyeless the collector the more he or she equates value with price, hence high prices.

Most art is overpriced because it yields no tangible return and therefore depends on opinion for value. A history of sales is needed for any art to even be considered "properly" priced. Art lacking such established pricing, lacking a secondary market, should be priced like furnuiture.



March 28, 2005, 1:11 AM

OldPro. Regarding "pluralism", the semantic difficulty here is natural. I do not view "pluralism" as a "code word" for some sort of critical discourse which is applied to all works indiscriminately with the potential shortcomings you allude to.

I would apply it only as a descriptive qualifier for the art world environment which has evolved from a monostylistic to a polystylistic environment. My speculation is that this shift occurred at the end of Abstract Expressionism with the advent of television. Of course this did not occur overnight, it has taken 50 years but Pandora's Box has been opened and it appears there is no going back.
We now live and create in a polystylistic era.

To me this perspective has interesting ramifications. It allows me to view various works, regardless of media, in an appropriate enclosing context. Applied to painting, it allows me to view paintings in specific subsets so I can make a critical evaluation that is specifically applied. This is essentially a monostylistic process applied in a polystylistic environment. It is an inclusive rather than exclusive approach to the problem.

At any point in time one style, or subset of styles, will be commanding the most attention. I think this must be an important signifier for the culture. It is interesting to note that if you look at recent contemporary art from China, the various styles resemble the western polyglot. I would suggest that, regardless of what external influences might have influenced the Chinese artists, they chose the one they resonated with most personally.

I believe the reason a style subset gains influence is because it is the most resonant with the culture regardless of commerce. I use the word "influence" as a measure of attention and not as a code word for quality. It is important to make this distinction, as it is possible that "quality" work fails to adequately resonate with the audience and as a result receives less attention. This does not mean the work is bad, on the contrary I've defined it as quality work, it just means it is getting less attention. I think it is a matter of choice whether or not one aspires to popular attention and directs the path of the work in that direction. It's not better it's just different.



March 28, 2005, 1:46 AM

I am having some problem following your arguments, George. Too much "resonance with the culture" and such like.

"This is essentially a monostylistic process applied in a polystylistic environment." Sure, Just like we do in everyday life, going to the grocery story, for example.

"Pluralism" , as such, has been around since the advent of Modernism. It is only within the last 30 or 40 years that it meant everything is acceptable.

"'quality' work fails to adequately resonate with the audience and as a result receives less attention." This is an old story. What makes it different and less predictable now is the huge size of the art world and everything in it.



March 28, 2005, 4:03 AM

OldPro, In my view, the term "pluralism" is misapplied when used as a critical position where "everything is acceptable." I take pluralism to mean that diverse stylistic practices are the norm. I don't see this as naturally leading to a relaxation of critical rigor. I'm sure you would argue that it has and I would suggest that the critical dialog has to include the new forms. Moreover, I would suggest that a criticism which cannot deal with diversity is old fashioned and doomed to fail.

What I mean by resonate is the audience is engaged and interested in what we are doing. As you noted, the art world is now a huge size. In fact because of the internet the world is also smaller at the same time. I have no doubt that there is an audience with an interest in "quality" work (as you would define it, for example) At the same time there certainly is an audience for Duchamp, Pollock, Johns, Stella, Olitski and even Koons. I see you cringing at my lumping this group together, but it appears to me, that as time passes these artists will achieve historical importance. We don't have to like them for this to be true but any decent critical philosophy has to have a methodology which is inclusive of them all.



March 28, 2005, 4:19 AM

I don't know what Hirst's paintings (or rather paintings supervised and touched up by him) are selling for at Gagosian, but I imagine they're going for very serious money. The very idea of buying this kind of stuff for any substantial amount makes no sense to me, except as the crassest sort of financial speculation. Even if I was a "money is no object" collector, if this type of work was offered to me at what I assume to be Gagosian's prices, I'd laugh my head off--as in, "You've GOT to be kidding." Of course, Gagosian's not kidding, and I expect both he and Hirst are laughing all the way to the bank. Really, really sad.



March 28, 2005, 4:24 AM

Pluralism has a political spin which carries an "anti-elitist" message. It may not "lead to" a relaxation of critical rigor but it is part of the conspiracy against it. Just look at the criticism!

No "decent critical methodology" is obliged to be inclusive of anything but the best art. We are not cataloging species here. In the past the second and third rate stuff fell away and "critical methodologies" were applied to what was left, which, in my judgement, was the better work.

I don't cringe when you lump these artists together; the art business lumps them together already. That's the way it is. It may appear to you that it will be lumped that way in the future. It won't. The best art always finds its way to the top, and, unless our system is entirely in decline that's the way it will happen again.

A little toughtning up of "critical methodologies" would be a welcome stimulus to the process.



March 28, 2005, 4:25 AM

Jack I believe it said in the Times $250,000 to $2,000,000



March 28, 2005, 4:40 AM

"Pluralism" has a political spin? Not to my ear. I used the term neutrally in my latest essay for newCrit. I like George's "polystylistic." At any rate, the situation in which anything goes is relativism. Pluralism assumes localized standards; relativism assumes that all standards are baseless.



March 28, 2005, 4:44 AM

George, I like current art theory as well as any other. It is no worse than, say, Mondrain's theosophy. Thus I agree with you "that a criticism which cannot deal with diversity is old fashioned and doomed to fail" but only because most if not all criticism fails, whether old fashioned, new fashioned, bigoted, affirmative action friendly, whatever.

When OldPro says "No 'decent critical methodology' is obliged to be inclusive of anything but the best art" I can't really disagree, except to say when theosphy included Mondrain it didn't make theosophy any better (and it needed help because it really sucked).

Art does whatever it does without needing theory. But theory can be lots of fun, especially in grad school critiques, where the trends always win the battles but don't have a very good record for winning wars. The theory of the day, the theroy of the month, the theroy of the year - all seem to disappear long before the war is over.



March 28, 2005, 4:55 AM

C'mon, Franklin. Pluralism is quasi-sacred. I'll relate some anecdotes to you some day.

That's right, Flatboy. Theosophy was all the rage back then. But who talks about Madame Blavatsky any more? How many people reading this even know who she was?

She has dropped off the screen. Jeff Koons will drop off the screen. Postmodernism will drop off the screen. I have seen it happen over and over again. It is persistent, inevitable and ruthless. Thank God.



March 28, 2005, 5:30 AM

OldPro, OK, I pose the question, who decides what is the "best art"

Maybe a better question would be, how much time must pass before we can trust the judgement?

Will the best art of an era, be the art which best defines the era, despite the eras "quality" discourse?

Sometimes for fun I'll play A-List, B-List with a friend. We'll open up an art book and thumb through the pages, he's A-List, he's B-List.
It's fun and of course, it's just an opinion.

If we are to toughen up the "critical methodologies" then we need to extend the dialog to include what we expect from art. Earlier when I used the term connoisseurship, this expectation of "quality" was partly what I was referring to. For example, it is not sufficient to just refer to "quality" with the assumption that the collector, student, critic or another artist will understand what we mean. It is this assumption and the lack of public dialog, which leaves the specific critical topic, a part of connoisseurship, undefined. Anything poorly defined is subject to manipulation. I'm not sure what the solution is but some sort of comparative analysis might be appropriate.

I am not swayed by broad statements dismissing one artists or another's work just because it's not liked. It's easy to make a quick dismissal of someone's work. Unfortunately this leaves the reader with little to go on, other that so'n'so didn't like it. It is one thing to just criticize. It is another entire dimension to offer forth viable analysis and alternatives. Who reads this blog anyway, are we all just backslapping each other in mutual self support or can it act as a forum to actually change the critical discourse? I think the latter is the case but time will tell.



March 28, 2005, 5:35 AM

Oldpro (#40), anybody, no matter how rich, who pays that kind of money for Hirst's (?) stuff at Gagosian because s/he thinks it's worth it as art (as opposed to for ulterior motives) is, well, words fail me--but demented and/or idiotic seem tolerably apt.



March 28, 2005, 6:02 AM

Flatboy. I'm not sure I know what the "current art theory" is.

My problem is that I think humanistic philosophy is in big trouble. They deconstructed the clock and now can't put it back together again. I am not a student of philosophy, primarily because it bores me to tears but for those who are, the hot new thing seems to be "Critical Realism"

In my opinion a humanistic philosophy (like esthetics) should provide an analysis and a dialog which is testable, repeatable, backwards compatible and flexible enough to include unforeseen future developments. As a structural model I would suggest the logical concepts behind object oriented programming languages could be a good starting place. I realize that an OOPs methodology may seem overly strict and confining, it is not. It is the very nature of this kind of logic which allows extension and application to new problems without negating past analysis.

FWIW, I agree with OldPro when he says Pluralism carries an "anti-elitist" message, this was the implied message when the term was first used.



March 28, 2005, 6:07 AM

This very page is written in OO PHP, so I'm interested. How does it relate to Critical Realism?



March 28, 2005, 6:11 AM

Well George, you are not the only one who is not sure exactly what current art theory is. It varies, I think, from situation to situation, but some form of postmodernism (a slippery ism that morphs like a virus almost every day) is usually what dominates. A least that is what they call themselves around here in grad school, the up-to-date crowd, anyway. When I read the art mags, seems like our local up-to-date is defined by what appears in those mags.

There is no harm in being up-to-date. It is just that there is no benefit to it either. If you like yak yak about art (and I do) it is fun, but hardly a substitute for suffering in the studio.



March 28, 2005, 6:15 AM

Franklin, OOPs and Critical Realism? No relationship
The OOPs programming language model is my proposal. The philosophy of the general structural logic is well designed and tested. I think it could provide a workable framework for the field of esthetics.



March 28, 2005, 6:29 AM

flatboy, Regarding... "you are not the only one" ...
Ain't that the truth.

Worth remembering are the paintings that bring you to tears.
It's probably only a handful but it's an experience worth remembering, not for the paintings per se but for the memory of the experience itself. Hit that point again in the studio and you've touched the third rail without need for a "quality" dialog



March 28, 2005, 6:57 AM

George, you decide what is the best art. You alone. No one else.

You just got finished saying it.



March 28, 2005, 7:49 AM

Oldpro - Heh. At least I can say that I ate at Madame Blavatsky's house a few times when I lived in Philly. Good times.


all lit is pretty much worthless

March 28, 2005, 7:53 AM


thanx for the clarification... I do enjoy your posts

there are so many schools of literature, many of which are fundamentally contradictory, opposed and have nothing to do with each other, that it can be difficult to classify or comment upon it or them as a whole... I think I understand the trend of "patronizing kinship" which literature can take towards visual art or life for that matter... i would further say that literature in general has become a debased art, or perhaps it has always been by nature.... however I would assert that the lit i can enjoy almost by definition focuses on style over substance, and that the principle of technique over content can indeed be present within it


that guy in the second to last row

March 28, 2005, 8:27 AM

cspan 2 has Roger Kimball talking about: "The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art" until 1am.... I know some of you are still awake. Its pretty good.



March 28, 2005, 8:27 AM

Tyler Green made an interesting point just now: when fairs are as important or more important than biennials (I'd argue that ABMB is the biggest art survey of the year -- period), critics and art journos should pay attention to how they work.

I think this is an astute observation, and may signify something positive. Tyler is noticing that the art world is succumbing to market forces after all.

Perhaps the ABMB/Armory phenomenon is a tipping point, the curator and dealers starting to cede power to consumers. I can't make a convincing case for this yet, but I have a feeling this market-based model is going impact the industry significantly. Damian Hirst might be the last of his breed, and maybe it's not dealers who will make buyers beg -- as oldpro said he's witnessed himself -- but just the opposite.

Given the remarkable financial success of ABMB and Armory, I think we're witnessing a sea change in the art market. And every time there's a free market with lots of information sharing, good things can happen. Eventually, anyway. I can't prove that this will return "quality" art to the fore, in the way the readers of this blog would enjoy, but I have a feeling it will at least start to weed out art whose perceived quality rests solely on the words of curators and their art-crtiical partisans.



March 28, 2005, 11:44 AM

'oldpro (cliche) 'beg to differ' upper east side LOBBIES...



March 28, 2005, 5:00 PM

Hovig: Thanks for the bit about the restaurant at Blavatsky's house. I didn't know about that.

I think your observation that the art market is doing something new may be true. I even think it may, in the long run, be good for art. I just wish it was not only us art types who are seeing it. It needs to be analyzed by someone with training in social psychology, like the people who wrote "Madness of Crowds".

All lit: I didn't want to emphasize "style over substance" or "technique over content", at least in so many words. I just don't think it should be the other way around. It seems awfully easy for people to talk about and value what is most evident about any kind of work and forget that good art has everything working totgether.

Jordan: I believe that originally you were making a general point that some art sells because it is large size. I would say it is more that sometimes art tends to get large when an artist establishes a market. And I further doubt that any lobbies in any buildings have much in the way of Hirst work. It is too expensive and probably too abrasive; after all, he trades on the "non-sofa" character of his work. That's what makes it "real" and "tough" and all that kind of BS.



March 28, 2005, 6:06 PM

I'm with Hovig in #55. Bad judgment plagues art in a way that it doesn't plague, say, science, because as soon as practical considerations have to be addressed there is no room for nonsense. The market is the closest thing the art world has to practical considerations - people trading their money for something detectable if not measurable. In the essay linked above I talked about how the market tended to correct the academy, and I think more power in the hands of consumers would restore its ability to do so.



March 28, 2005, 6:18 PM

I don't know, Franklin. The much vaunted art fairs, certainly ABMB, are clearly geared toward wealthy collectors. Many if not most of these people, however loose with their money, are not buying out of truly personal taste and conviction, but rather based on what the establishment tells them, on what they think they're supposed to buy. As long as that's the case, I can't see any substantial change in the situation, only in the details of commerce.



March 28, 2005, 7:20 PM

I am hardly a pollyanna here, but my instinct is that big markets and piles of money can't help but do some good for some good art at some time.

Those of us devoted to craft and professionalism may be sickened by the excess and blindness of the market, but at least we can hope for something to come our way.

We might also hope that the new enormousness of the market may induce it to separate out, so that someone painting colorful landscapes is not competing with some one piling candy in a corner. However I predicted this 30 years ago and it hasn't happened, not really.

And I agree with Franklin that the "consumer" - as a kind of general abstraction, anyway, is better equipped to choose art than the academy, though right now they are mixed into a kind of lethal brew.



March 28, 2005, 7:24 PM

Many people don't do anything out of personal convictions, Jack; your points are well-taken. But among the main local collectors we have the Goldmans. We also have Marty Margulies, who has purchased the work of unknowns along with quite a bit else, purely on the basis of his pleasure. (He has my work in his collection.) The market is more likely to evince independence of judment at this point than the academy.

As long as there has been a currency-based economy, art has been a fashion-driven business that the rich have frequently co-opted for personal glory - tastes even turned against Rembrandt towards the end of his life and the Medici were basically a bunch of despotic bankers. Fashions cycle madly but if you have conservative ideas about what it means to dress well, you don't change your wardrobe every six months precisely because the mad cycling appears as such - you hold out for valid innovations. The academy hinders this process by legitimizing artists beyond their staying power, delaying the "discard" part of the cycle long past when it should occur.

To beat this metaphor to smithereens, suits change a over time but people dressing conservatively continue to wear them. They don't mutate every time hemlines move and they don't disappear altogether. And I would argue that this is the case partly because the market has much more influence on fashion than art.



March 28, 2005, 7:30 PM

That is to say, relative to their respective academies, the market has much more influence on fashion than art.



March 28, 2005, 7:41 PM

Absolutely right, Franklin. I courageously wear a T shirt, shorts and sandals every single day despite the pressure of wild gyrations of fashion.

We went to the Margolies warehouse a few weeks ago and were numbed by miles of dopey photos of buildings by German photographers punctuated here and there by hideous hanging things and an elaborate one-liner "superheros old age home".

This is a totally fashion-driven collection. it seems to me that if he ever gets anything worthy, like one of your paintings, it is just a errant function of the huge suck of the vacuum.



March 28, 2005, 8:22 PM

Thanks, Franklin.

Jack - You're right, the wealthy will always play by their own rules. For that reason I think it's equally likely that they'll leave ABMB behind, to cater to the affluent-but-not-wealthy crowd (keeping the next Damian Hirst safe in the wings). Even so, the ABMB/ Armory phenomenon should still help to bolster the middle tier of the art market, which I believe many here miss.

But let's face it, the art market is based on the regular sales of expensive handcrafted decoration (no insult intended). That's a tough business model to sustain in the long run. Even at the low end, you're paying a grand or two for a decent canvas, and the poor guy painting them's gotta either have a "real job" to eat, or tries to pump out one a week, with no guarantees what's painted will sell. The art market may be what it is, inherently. Let's just hope art fairs make things stronger in the middle.

Oldpro - Am I the only human being in the entire universe who thinks Nursing Home is a represenation of Warhol, Serra, Johns, Rauschenburg, Frankenthaler, and [maybe] Twombly?



March 28, 2005, 9:08 PM

The "huge suck of the vacuum," indeed. One of the things that struck me most forcibly the last time I went to the Margulies place was the abundant evidence of buying stuff in industrial quantities. I don't see how he can possibly process it all--there's so much of it. It must be very tempting to be able to buy so freely, but excess or obsession seem to be the operative word.



March 28, 2005, 10:00 PM

Hovig: You may be right. I found this on the web somewhere. It names the names of the superheros but not whether they look like anyone we know (although one of them looks just like a colleague of mine) and finishes up with the requisite critical blabber.

Giles Barbier, "Nursing Home," 2002
In this tableau of hyper-realistic, life-size wax sculptures of America's comic-book superheroes, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Superman, the Incredible Hulk, Catwoman, and Mr. Fantastic (the old Marvel Comics hero) are depicted in a nursing home as they might look had they aged normally following their comic-book debuts. The pot-bellied Man of Steel sports shocking white hair, wears thick spectacles, and drags his slippered feet while holding onto a walker to move. Captain America lies nearly comatose on a gurney with his arteries hooked up to an IV, checked by an emaciated, varicose-veined, somber Wonder Woman. The flabby Incredible Hulk, green hair combed over, dozes in his wheelchair, while a napping Catwoman sits next to him with one fluffy slipper fallen off. Completing this jarring and hilarious old-age-home scene, Mr. Elastic stares listlessly. He is sprawled dejectedly across a table, his once-elastic limbs are permanently extended.

What is this French satirist telling his viewers by presenting these once heroic American icons, now elderly and decrepit? Why do we laugh? Will America's superhuman powers also succumb to the inevitable aging process? Could we the people be mortal too?

These superheroes of youth-oriented popular culture are here no longer powerful. They too are mortal. Barbier has the Platters "Twilight Time" playing in the background. Perhaps these comic-book characters, who did good and protected us from evil, are simply to be understood as a problematic commentary on America's leadership role today.



March 30, 2005, 12:21 AM

Oldpro - I was aware of some critical lit on the piece, but didn't realize until now that the figure in the recliner was catwoman. Whoops! For the record, if it's not clear, I think superman = warhol, plasticman = serra, hulk = johns, and wonder woman = frankenthaler. I can't identify catwoman or capt america at all.

My guess is that it's actually attacking "America's leadership role" in post-war art, not only by showing the artists as infirm old folks in a hopsice, but by showing them as cartoon characters to begin with . I admit the facial likenesses to the people in my theory are crude -- might we say cartoonish? -- but that's still what I think.



March 30, 2005, 3:50 AM

I don't know that the superheroes are supposed to represent artists at all. Have you read something to that effect?

I hope no one thought the final 2 paragraphs of nonsense above were my comments When I looked just now that's what it looked like. Good grief! I would never live it down! If someone wants to make dumb political points they are much better off writing letters to the editor.


that guy in the second to last row

March 30, 2005, 7:58 AM

this is the link not the one above.



March 31, 2005, 8:11 PM

Oldpro - I have read nothing to that effect, despite actually looking everywhere over the last two years. The idenitifications are entirely my own.

One day I looked at it and thought plasticman looked like Picasso. Once I'd made that connection, I said, gee, that green one sure looks a lot like Johns. And hey, could that be Warhol back there? Then I was reminded of the "American hegemony" theme, which not only strengthened my conviction, but also made me change my attribution of Picasso to Serra. I also did some digging and thought there was an argument to be made for Frankenthaler as Wonder Woman.

Catwoman at first I thought was the figure of a man. From its athletic build (and from being seated next to Johns) I thought it was Rauschenberg. Now that I've read the excerpt you found, and that I recognize from subsequent visual inspection as well that it's female, and since the face is obscured, I have no guess at all. Captain America's face I can't see.

So what it comes down to is, I think the piece is a young European wise-acre artist's laughing poke-in-the-eye about the "hegemony" of American post-war art, making them not only aged but also comic.

Occam's Razor tells me that if I see something no one else does, then I'm the odd one out, but with all due respect to the goodly Lord of Ockham, I still see what I see. If I could get M. Barbier on the line, I'd love to ask him.



March 31, 2005, 8:36 PM

What a fool I am. I just realized who Captain America is. Whom else would Frankenthaler be positioned so closely to? Not an artist, but an American art "champion" nonetheless. A colleague indeed.



March 31, 2005, 11:15 PM

I hate to even think it, Hovig, and i insist you take full responsibility for my anticipated suffering, but now I will have to go back and look at the damn thing again.



March 31, 2005, 11:58 PM

I'll pray for you. Think of it as espionage. Call me on the hot line if you need back-up.



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