Post #540 • May 17, 2005, 8:19 AM • 47 Comments
Observations I: Alice Walton, heiress to the Wal-Mart fortune, buys a Hudson River School landscape by Asher B. Durand for a rumored $35 million from the New York Public Library, despite a joint counteroffer from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery. She intends to install it in a new museum that she is building in Bentonville, Arkansas (pop. 20,000), and the NYT notes that she "has been a major buyer of American paintings at Sotheby's and Christie's, snapping up works by Winslow Homer, Martin Johnson Meade, Edward Hopper and other artists." New Yorkers weep and gnash their teeth.
Observations II: As boards increasingly measure museological performance with fiscal yardsticks, and as increasing diversity in the world undermines the idea of cultural inheritance, the major urban museums no longer feel beholden to the public and have lost their qualms about passing off fluffy moneymakers as serious exhibitions. Let them gnash their teeth flat, they seem to say. Meanwhile, bereft of any connnoiseurship that could account for the visual aspect of visual art, the contemporary, new-artist market is modelling the fashion and music worlds, and as such is becoming increasingly clueless.
Observations III: Artists have repeatedly demonstrated an ability to transform entire neighborhoods when they move into them for the sake of cheap real estate. As a corollary observation, young artists, who typically have little income, need cheap real estate to establish themselves and thrive. As any city dweller who has tried to buy property in the last few years knows, the major urban centers are quickly running out of cheap real estate.
Hypothesis: for the first time in history, cultural backbone is moving away from the largest cities. Wide swaths of the country have already demonstrated that they don't share the values of the urban centers. Art needs a certain amount of continuity to advance in useful directions, and Homer, Meade, Hopper, and Durand better represent that continuity than Karl Lagerfeld or Banks Violette. Meanwhile, those swaths contain gigantic tracts of cheap real estate.