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Art is too popular

Post #907 • November 14, 2006, 10:56 AM • 31 Comments

New up at the WDBA: The Art Glut from 1986, Art Quality and the Formalist Controversy from 1974, and for my peeps in Edmonton, Anthony Caro's New Sculpture from 1984.




November 14, 2006, 11:15 AM

This guy strikes a hard nerver now a days. Back in '86 this was already a bit controversial but now it seems to have grown in meaning. Those 90,000 are now probably at the million mark. However, art is personal expression and there is no real way to tell if something has come from the heart or not.

That's why i'm a writer. It can't ever not be real. I'm not trying to go on parade here.

Kind of ironic.


Pretty Penny

November 14, 2006, 1:56 PM

Yea! Take that 80's ARTSTARS! You and your middlebrowness, your goodfernuthinness. Put that in yer piehole! You can keep your fashionable interior design commissions and yer directoral debuts; you know squat about culture, that's fershure. The Real, Serious stuff is what's going down in my highbrow studio. An awful, awful lot of it.



November 14, 2006, 2:00 PM

Re: Art Quality and the Formalist Controversy (1974)

This is more of what I had in mind regarding ‘discussion’ rather than griping, a lot of things have changed in thirty years, and not, so it's a place to start again with the advantage of hindsight.

Tidbit: "...but the big choice, the crucial one, is to measure up to what has been done before, not to repeat the art, but to repeat the process. And I think that process, indefinable as it may be, has always been pretty much the same. It is taking real risks,..." (emphasis mine)



November 14, 2006, 2:17 PM

That's right, Penny. We keep on grinding out ther art, no matter what, don't we?


pie hole

November 14, 2006, 2:54 PM

...but wait, in the BASQUIAT movie SCHNABEL said that his audience hasn't even been born yet...



November 14, 2006, 3:45 PM

"Then you go sit on the couch, light up a cigar, stare at the paintings and feel uneasy." pretty funny line from "art glut"

i've felt that way from dirt cheap purchases, but it is usually wine, not a cigar.



November 14, 2006, 6:58 PM

From Art Glut above:

Now, history tells us that the fashionable art of a time is never the best art of a time. It tells us that the best new art is always pushed into the background by second-rate, fashionable new art...Today's fashionable new art, like yesterday's, is second-rate, middlebrow art. New highbrow art cannot be fashionable because there are not enough highbrows, especially rich highbrows, to make it fashionable. Besides, highbrow taste goes by what it likes. It is personal and private. It doesn't look around to see what's "in." It doesn't make fashion, except in the long run. Highbrow art must win out over time by the peculiar staying power of artistic goodness.

Highbrow taste goes for pleasure; middlebrow taste goes for prestige. Highbrow taste can be "wrong" but it doesn't get suckered because it likes what it likes. Middlebrow taste insists on being "right" and always gets suckered because it either pretends to like what it doesn't like or is led into liking what isn't worth liking. The highbrow uses personal taste like a sense organ, to locate a source of esthetic pleasure. The middlebrow mistrusts personal taste and suppresses it in favor of the fashionable, which by its nature can be identified and labelled. The highbrow wants the experience of taste in action to be clean, simple, and straightforward. The middlebrow puts "importance" ahead of experience and fortifies his choice with "meaning" and "signifigance." Highbrow taste is always repelled by aggressively bad art...Middlebrow taste, blind and insecure, thinks history tells us that good new art is always "disturbing" and "outrageous," so it goes for aggressively bad new art.

Uh, yes.



November 14, 2006, 7:05 PM

I agree, Jack. It is kind of hard to add anything to that statement.



November 14, 2006, 7:48 PM

In a period such as the present, a period with more affluent collectors than ever before in history, many of the points distinguishing between the highbro and midriff tastes are quite true. However, does anybody think he highbro collectors have disappeared? I doubt that, what are they collecting?



November 14, 2006, 11:09 PM

Well, George, they're not looking to "augment their Warhol holdings" and wouldn't dream of paying over $100,000 for 5-inch Warhol flowers, even if money were no object. It's always faintly shocking, or maybe just surreal, to hear such things bandied about as if they represented normal, reasonable behavior by rich but presumably sane people. I can only fathom such thinking as commodities trading that just happens to involve art.

No doubt there are highbrow collectors of widely varying financial resources, but they're not the ones that typically make the news. They're in it for the art, not the trappings of the art scene and the attendant BS of all sorts that passes for seriousness or dedication. Not that middlebrow types cannot be very serious and/or dedicated--the question is what are they serious about and dedicated to, and why?



November 15, 2006, 2:26 AM

The remark "to augment their Warhol holdings" is quite revealing. It sounds like the kind of talk one would hear on a stock chat board. It indirectly is stating that ‘Warhol’ is ‘blue chip’, a ‘sure thing’ and implies a disregard for or ignorance of the risk inherent in buying artwork as a speculation.

Further, it was pointed out that there are a lot of ‘Warhols’ available, that they are freely traded and because of this, easy to value. (Again, "value" is market value not aesthetic value) The implication of this statement is that ‘Warhols’ are like a stock with a large float. This is not the case, the shares in a stock, or other listed paper asset, are all equivalent, exactly the same. As a result when one wants to sell such a paper asset, the buyer doesn’t care which stock certificate he gets, they are all equivalent.

With artworks this is not the case, two ‘Warhols’ may resemble one another as part of a series but there is a wide variation in the body of work, even among works with the same subject (silkscreen) The assumption in the statements above try to make a case that they are all equivalent and this is not the case. All of this reeks of rampant speculation with the holders of ‘Warhols’ making it sound like they won’t ever decline in price, that they will continue to double in value year after year.

It is in the interest of the sellers to foster such beliefs, regardless of their truth, otherwise there would be no ‘sucker’ to sell to and the seller would be left holding the bag, can’t have that. All this is starting to sound more and more like a mania, a bubble if you will. I also do not think it is easy to predict when it will end, it could last for 6 more months or 6 more years, who knows? For sure there will come a point when prices resist going higher and the sellers will have to face their moment of truth. The seasoned speculators will sell and take their loss, it’s part of the game, ‘win some, lose some’ This will further depress prices and fragment the market for ‘Warhols’ into ‘rare’, ‘choice’, and ‘ordinary’ and the "sure thing" methodology of valuation will go out the window

The art market is in what the financial people call a distribution phase. Most of the good news is already out there "Warhol’s a sure thing" etc. A lot of green money has been converted into illiquid assets (artworks) and at some point the available capital for buying high ticket artworks will cease to be there. When that finally occurs, prices will fall, but not until then. I read earlier that this years take for the NY auction houses will approach or exceed one billion dollars.

Where do I stand in line?



November 15, 2006, 7:38 AM

It is true, George. "The Warhol", with its various denominations, such as "Mao", Marilyn". "Self Portrait", has literally become currency. Aesthetic value has no more to do with it than the portrait of GW on the dollar bill.

This market has all the classic earmarks of a bubble: the mania, the disregard of intrinsic value in favor of fashion, the upward tilt of the price scale, the certainty of the buyers, the few savvy people selling into it, etc. I hope the inevitable sell-off doesn't take everything with it.



November 15, 2006, 11:14 AM

What can one say, what can one do, about anyone who would pay over $100,000 for a 5-inch Warhol flower piece? How can such a person even begin to be taken seriously, except as a serious sucker? Do these people have no sense of the ridiculous? Or are they simply and purely speculating that the thing will go up in price and they can make a profit? If so, I suppose they're entitled to wheel and deal, but please, please don't pretend it's any more than business.



November 15, 2006, 11:25 AM

Or ten million for a 5 foot one.



November 15, 2006, 12:07 PM

Or are they simply and purely speculating that the thing will go up in price and they can make a profit? If so, I suppose they're entitled to wheel and deal, but please, please don't pretend it's any more than business.

Yes, they are simply speculating on the idea that it will go up in price. I wasn't implying anything else.

Business is business, I don't confuse it with art as art, nor should anyone else.

It is an insiders game, and until prices fail to rise, the game will continue.



November 15, 2006, 7:12 PM

I'm a contemporary phsychedelic moderist who was ripped off in the 70's, even though I made this last year ! What shall I do...?


this last year

November 15, 2006, 7:15 PM



November 15, 2006, 7:55 PM

You have a dealer, Gavin. Ask him.

I seem to remember the Holland Tunnel looking like that now and then in the 70s



November 16, 2006, 1:00 AM

Thanks for the shout out; first time I've ever been called a "peep".

I agree, Caleb - these 20+ year old essays are so peculiarly relevant here and now.


Marc Country

November 16, 2006, 10:06 AM

I concur... Peep peep!



November 16, 2006, 3:20 PM

17 million for warhol " mao"

dekkoning big winner

the jackson pollock paintings were bought in

still big #



November 16, 2006, 7:56 PM

Interesting auction. Everything seemed to go for double the estimate or more, but that is just an impression. I can't remember a sale with that many million dollar paintings in it. There must have been a number of records for "artist at auction" set.

Some good things, too: the Still for $21m, Diebenkorn $6+m, a Gorky study for "betrothal" $2.8m, the De koonings, which were OK (one on paper for almost $10m!), Kline 2m, two small but very nice David Smiths at $5m & $1.2m.

Some OK things also, an Andre $2m (there was a much better, much cheaper one in another recent sale), Dubuffet $3m, Sam Francis $4m, Thiebaud $2m, a couple of anemic Motherwell opens for $1m, one of the better large Kiefer landscapes $1.3m.

The Pollocks were bought in. The small 1950 picture was estimated very high and was not "typical" looking enough, I think, and the 1946 painting which was terrific but an "ugly" picture from an early period and also estimated high.

Then there was the onslaught of Warhols, each one dumber and sillier than the next, just about all of them in the millions, spiralling up to the $17m Chairman Mao. Does anyone remember that a couple of generations ago Mao was the devil incarnate in this country?

A frantic, incoherent Mitchell at $2m, A Dumas which I really do not think would get her into a good graduate school at $2m (what is the appeal there?), Mark Tansy for $3m (!!where does that come from?).

There was a very large, very weak Richter for $3.4m, a small, inert photo-thingy for $2.8m and a plain yellow smudge on a dark background, nothing more, nothing less, for $4m. Olitski could make a masterpiece out of this idea but if you put his name on it it wouldn't bring $25,000.

And then the all-time winners, a gigantic Bourgeois spider for 4 million and six Hirst plastic skeletons (yes, plastic. I guess they won't rot like the shark) in latrines, I mean vitrines (I did not make that slip on purpose, honest) for...oh, damn, I forget. You know, too much.

Look it up on artnet, There's lots more there for your delectation.



November 16, 2006, 8:22 PM

OP, to understand the Mao thing you'd have to be more, you know, of an anarchist. Or some such nonsense. As much as I like Pissarro's work, I expect sometimes it's best for artists to be seen and not heard.



November 16, 2006, 10:31 PM

"We give subsidies to farmers not to plant, perhaps we should give subsidies to artists not to paint. Maybe the National Endowment for the Arts should become the National Endowment Against the Arts." The Art Glut

I had the quailing thought the other day that the art gallery I've been working at, like each of my day jobs before it, is in effect paying me an hourly wage to keep me out of my studio - $12-$14/hour to not sculpt. Warble, eep.



November 17, 2006, 2:12 AM

Perhapes the comments should be about how much dough that the artists have because that is the real issue. Those who seem to do well professionally can hire assistants and pay off writers and galleries and buy a page in the art magazines and they mostly have rich families and friends plus many connections.
This may be what separates things value wise. And I think that galleries and museums think about an artists worth more than how strong their creative art is. But I could be wrong of course. I shouldn't write this but I think that this is true.



November 17, 2006, 3:30 AM

Being an artist is like doing a dance ....ring around the rosie
pocket full of posies
hush ah hush ah
we all fall down
and when we're dead
our prices
go up:)



November 17, 2006, 6:42 AM

You should write whatever you feel like writing, Veronica. That's what blogs are for.

Sometimes the prices go down, Elizabeth. I doubt very much that the prices of the work of many of our art stars will be sustained for long.



November 17, 2006, 7:47 PM

Veronica said, Perhaps the comments should be about how much dough that the artists have because that is the real issue.

It helps, but I don’t think for all the reasons you suggest. Over history a number of artists came from wealthy backgrounds and in the current period I suppose the situation is similar. Any business will survive or fail on its financing. Artists with financial resources are able to focus more time and effort on their work and to that extent I would agree.

The other points you mentioned tend to occur after an artist has achieved some success and has gallery representation. I suppose that an artists connections might have an influence on a galleries decision to show a particular artist but I don’t think it is as common as you imply. More likely than not the gallery pays for the advertising, sometimes the cost might be shared by the artist. In my case, I hired the assistants myself and paid them myself, to reduce some of the pressure. The gallery paid for all the advertising.

Just as in any business, I do think connections matter, who you know and networking. It is why artists move to the major art centers, it increases the chances of making important connections, a good gallery can increase the chances for success.

However, I think the above issues, with the exception of having a powerful gallery behind you, have less to do with the kind of success some artists are experiencing today. What seems to matter most is how their work is strategically positioned in the marketplace, intentionally or not.



November 18, 2006, 1:26 AM

Did NEO-GEO supplant the rigor of Al Held and Ad Rienhardt ?



November 18, 2006, 5:17 PM

Nothing "rigorous" about any of that stuff, Eighties. It's just hard-edge painting.



November 18, 2006, 10:14 PM

The Marianne Friedland gallery in Naples currently has some Olitski paintings up which are pretty darn lush. They are a little older "'all over" pictures with gestural troughs in salmon irredescents. I prefer these to "hard edge" abstractions in most cases, however I remember a Reinhardt show of matte "black paintings" at the MOMA in the early nineties that where perfect - literally perfect, as a flake of dust would be considered as a contaniment.



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