Post #948 • January 30, 2007, 5:43 PM • 26 Comments
Peter Schjeldahl, December 18, 2006:
I disliked the nineties. I knew what all the righteously posturing art was for, but not whom it was for. It invoked a mythical audience, whose supposed assumptions were supposedly challenged. I missed the erotic clarity of commerce - I give you this, you give me that - and was glad when creative spunk started leeching back into unashamedly pleasurable forms. Then came this art-industrial frenzy, which turns mere art lovers into gawking street urchins. Drat.
Holland Cotter, January 16, 2007:
Is contemporary art largely a promotional scam perpetuated by - in no particular order of blame - museums, dealers, critics, historians, collectors, art schools and anyone else who has a sufficient personal, professional or financial investment riding on the scam to want to keep it afloat?
Jerry Saltz, January 18, 2007:
The current market feeds the bullshit machine, provides cover for a lot of vacuous behavior, revs us up while wearing us down, breeds complacency, and is so invasive that it forces artists to regularly consider issues of celebrity, status, and money in their studios. ... Much confusion stems from there being no new, cogent Theory of the Market, no philosophy that addresses the ways in which the ongoing feeding frenzy is affecting the production, presentation, and reception of art. Nothing we say about the market adds up, partly because "the market" isn't really an autonomous subject. It's a diversionary tactic - essentially, a blend of economics, history, psychology, stagecraft, and lifestyle; an unregulated field of commerce governed by desire, luck, stupidity, cupidity, personal connections, connoisseurship, intelligence, insecurity, and whatever.
The high-end market just described is the seeking of surplus capital for true value, which lands on a work of art, because that work of art is perceived as unique, often in a highly arbitrary manner that disregards questions of esthetics and connoisseurship. ... Such distortions affect the traditional ways we think about the art market. Block discounts of an artist's entire body of work, from a hedge perspective, turn into block appreciation: each work is worth more in a group than individually. Appreciation in value over time, such as occurred with Dreier's Duchamps, no longer exists. As in day trading on the stock exchange, profit becomes a function of trading rather than holding. Connoisseurship yields to branding. The individual qualities of a painting by Jenny Saville matter less than the fact that the painting is by Jenny Saville.
The people who are buying and selling the most highly priced contemporary art right now - think of them as the laissez-faire aesthetes - believe that any experience that anyone can have with a work of art is equal to any other. They imagine that the most desirable work of art is the one that inspires a range of absolutely divergent meanings and impressions almost simultaneously. ... The essential problem in the art world today is that in almost every area, from the buying and selling of contemporary art to the programs of our greatest museums, there is an obsession with appealing to the largest imaginable audience. And in practice this means always operating as if painting and sculpture were a dimension of popular culture. ... The problem, again, is not with popular culture, but with the wholesale imposition of its methods and values on an alien terrain. It is this muddling of the realms that fuels the insane art commerce of our day. When we see artists whose careers are barely a decade old dominating the auction rooms, with their work selling for millions of dollars, we are being told that a widespread consensus can crystallize in a moment - and this is a pop culture idea. So, for that matter, is the idea that the way for a museum to attract an audience is by creating a sexy new addition where people can see and be seen. One of the tragedies of the past few decades has been that the museums have lost faith in their own permanent collections, where visitors were once invited to engage, one by one, with works created by the masters, one by one.
Peter Plagens, January 2007 (via; note is Tyler's):
Exceptions [to reader disinterest in art critics] exist - as with the lead critics for a few of the major dailies -- but they don't abound. More and more people in the audience for contemporary art would rather read Tyler Green snark somebody in his blog, Modern Art Notes, than ponder the considered judgment of Michael Kimmelman on a MoMA retrospective. Many art writers have either added unpaid blogging to their activities or been squeezed into it from want of other, traditional outlets -- for which many bloggers don't have enough writerly inclination or discipline, anyway. Each of those art bloggers has a following of fans and other bloggers, and each of those bloggers has... and so on. A growing form of art criticism consists of posting links to other people's criticism, which consists of posting links... and so on.