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Post #969 • March 9, 2007, 10:24 AM • 35 Comments

In a brilliant piece of art historical detective work, two Dutch academics have solved the puzzle of Jan Steen's 1655 painting The Burgomaster of Delft and His Daughter. The work does not depict a burgomaster, but the merchant who supplied grain for the artist's brewery. We also now know about a bitter marital row which lay behind the apparently placid figures of the father and his daughter.

Escher's Relativity in Lego. (Dave)

Aspiring superhero comic artists: Heed the sad tale of Greg Land, and beware the Curse of Pornface. David Thompson also links to the ultimate in vanity publishing, and generally has just been a damn good read lately.

Geoff has the numbers on the ICA.

Tyler scores some primary source material on the turf wars at Maastricht.

Quote of the week: I think someone needs to listen to what they are saying.

Doug Marlette: I was a tool of Satan. Political cartoonists daily push the limits of free speech. They were once the embodiment of journalism's independent voice. Today they are as endangered a species as bald eagles. The professional troublemaker has become a luxury that offends the bottom-line sensibilities of corporate journalism. Twenty years ago, there were two hundred of us working on daily newspapers. Now there are only ninety. (Reddit)

[Dr. Bill] Lydiatt enlisted two professional observers—Scottish artist Mark Gilbert and former U.S. poet laureate Ted Kooser—for a pilot program aimed at teaching students observation skills that usually come from years of medical experience. The three-session seminar included drawing demonstrations and a writing activity that called for students to dissect a green pepper.

Here is a tick-list of criteria for commercial success: a reasonably prolific oeuvre (beans or Blochs, dealers need a constant flow of stock); membership of an art movement; recognition in art history; artwork in public galleries; backing from powerful collectors such as Charles Saatchi. One might add: high quality art. But the market does not judge art; it merely rides the reputation merry-go-round. (AJ)

Department of Skillz: Swimming with Lorenzo. (Original here; NSFW.) (Kottke)

Comment

1.

Franklin

March 9, 2007, 2:57 PM

Meant to include this one: Getting the most from PNG.

2.

Marc Country

March 9, 2007, 7:58 PM

This one might be worth adding too:

The Landscape, reconsidered...
(play video)

3.

opie

March 10, 2007, 4:04 PM

The "tick-list of criteria" piece is good, and from what little I could find on the web Martin Bloch looks like a pretty good painter.

4.

Marc Country

March 10, 2007, 7:57 PM

Out of curiosity, has anyone here read this book?

""In What Happened to Art Criticism?, art historian James Elkins sounds the alarm about the perilous state of that craft, which he believes is 'In worldwide crisis . . . dissolving into the background clutter of ephemeral cultural criticism' even as more and more people are doing it. 'It's dying, but it's everywhere . . . massively produced, and massively ignored.' Those who pay attention to other sorts of criticism may recognize the problems Elkins describes: 'Local judgments are preferred to wider ones, and recently judgments themselves have even come to seem inappropriate. In their place critics proffer informal opinions or transitory thoughts, and they shy from strong commitments.' What he'd like to see more of: ambitious judgment, reflection about judgment itself, and 'criticism important enough to count as history, and vice versa.' Amen to that."--Jennifer Howard, Washington Post Book World"

5.

Jack

March 10, 2007, 8:37 PM

Unfortunately, Marc, the system is increasingly impervious to real criticism, not only because it discourages and penalizes it (directly or indirectly), but also because it has acquired heavy insulation against it in the form of its most faithful and useful adherents--the rich idiots and SAPS. As long as the crap sells well enough, and gets taken seriously by institutional people, and is written up (however vacuously) in the official art press, who cares about some voices crying in the wilderness?

6.

opie

March 10, 2007, 8:43 PM

I didn't read the book but I read parts of it, and corresponded with Elkins about several things he got wrong, not opinions or the like, just a few factual mistakes and mistakes in emphasis, mostly having to do with Greenberg.

We discussed the book or Elkins in general on this blog around the Fall of 2004, if I remember correctly.

7.

Marc Country

March 10, 2007, 9:59 PM

Cheers...

8.

George

March 10, 2007, 11:28 PM

Tasty bits:

"… Last week when the Doig painting sold for $11.5+/-MILLION…" (at Sotheby's London…)

[. . .]

"By the way, everyone is speculating over the identity of the Doig buyer. I know who it is.

It was purchased by a very wealthy man who was told by his art consultant that he had to have that picture, that it would bring the attention of the world to his doorstep. If he bought this painting he would be seen as one of the world’s great collectors of contemporary art. The wealthy man instructed his art consultant to buy it at any price.
In another city, or maybe even just in another office in the very same city, another art consultant told another very wealthy man the same kind of story. In collecting art, he was advised, greatness is often measured by the records you set in the auction room. His client, the other very wealthy man, issued the same instructions.

The advisors for the two men of limitless means set out to pay whatever it took to land the trumped up trophy. One finally gave up. The other, who likely never heard of Canaletto, is the buyer of the Doig."

Source: Artworld Salon, comment #3.

It appears that the "art critic" has been replaced by "the stylist" with an ear to the ground, a hand in your pocket, and "Art Advisor" on the business card. RIP.

9.

Jack

March 10, 2007, 11:45 PM

The stylist.

As in "Darling, you simply must let me cut your hair this way. Everyone will think it's fabulous. Trust me. I know about these things. I'm a professional."

Yes. But of course. How utterly fitting.

And no, I don't suppose they know Canaletto from Cancun. Not in now.

10.

opie

March 11, 2007, 12:09 AM

Thanks for the info George, painful as it is. I try to follow these auctions but I really have fallen behind. $11 million for A Doig. A DOIG, for crying out loud! The market just keeps on surprising me.

A Doig? A Doig?Say it a few times and it will begin to sound as surreal as it is.

11.

George

March 11, 2007, 1:13 AM

Jack,

Yup.

[. . .]

Over the years I've worked as a carpenter for a range of clients, from poets to the very wealthy. I won't name names, but in this group were a number of people who might be correctly described as the nouveau rich, and just one who was "old money".

To a person, the nouveau rich crowd had the latest and hippest, architects, designers, surface treatments, hardware etc, all the accoutrements which spelled out 'money', displayed their success.

The other, had a bigger budget, everything was done at the highest levels of craftsmanship (FYI, 'perfect' costs 10x as much as hip.) but the end result was understated to the point you didn't notice unless you knew precisely what to look for. I respected them as a client.

We are living in an age where there are now 950 billionaires, in 1985 there were just two [Forbes], which indicates there is a rather large group of wealthy people (say $100 mil+) who fall into the nouveau rich category. I suspect part of the art buying crowd wants to be part of the crowd, it is about display and finding the means to achieve it with an art collection.

The problem here is that if collecting decisions are made based on third party advice, who is the connoisseur? It appears that while there might be a few ‘trend setting’ collectors, most of the others are just following along by buying the same designer brand as well. I suppose there is some comfort in wearing the clothes as the trend setter, but when everyone starts to look the same, the question is how to differentiate yourself again?

I am suggesting that becoming a true connoisseur may be the way and this is where the critical community has lost its grip. Kuspit has a long rant titled "Art Values or Money Values?", on Artnet talking around the issue. Unfortunately, he is just another among the litany of complainers who offer no solution.

Frankly, the art world has changed so significantly in the last fifty years, it has left the critical community behind, hence the ‘stylist’. Now I would expect a huge disagreement with others on what is ‘good art’, I like Warhol, Johns, Rauschenberg, Neo Rauch, Picasso’s Guernica, etc. and most here don’t, but I think this is how it should be. Differing opinions should be allowed, are necessary in fact, but what seems to be lacking at the moment is the development of any kind of clear criteria for connoisseurship within the wide range of styles and media which are prevalent at the moment. Instead, the art crowd has fallen back upon the marketing device which always works in the short run, fashion.

Kuspit complains, but he is also part of the problem. Who could read his nonsense on the "New Old Masters" and take him seriously? It’s a throwback position which is just as influenced by market dynamics as the one of the ‘stylist’.

Maybe nobody cares.

12.

George

March 11, 2007, 1:22 AM

Op,

I think Peter Doig is an interesting painter but I was floored when I saw those auction results. The story is funny but exasperating.

13.

j

March 11, 2007, 3:38 AM

Doig has made some beautiful paintings - and some really garish ones as well. One could think that he is all over the place. Check out more of his his work at CFA Berlin.

14.

Jack

March 11, 2007, 11:10 AM

George, it's not so much that critics have "lost their grip" (though they have), but rather that the system is now largely a commercial enterprise, blatantly so. In other words, it's about money much more than art, sort of like mainstream pro sports (in principle if not in details, as real talent is still needed in pro sports, even though that's now routinely "enhanced" by steroids and such).

In the current art world, any idiot or poseur with enough money and "advisors" is magically transformed into, and treated as, a serious, major collector. This is quite laughable, of course, but apparently only to people like me and OP, who can easily be ignored. It doesn't matter that it's mostly delusion and posturing and the nouveaux riche being nouveaux riche. The sham sells very well and keeps the game going. It's like a modern version of alchemy: turning folly into gold.

15.

George

March 11, 2007, 12:32 PM

I agree that "the system is now largely a commercial enterprise", it may be one of the primary changes in the art world over the last fifty years and require a different approach by the analytical and critical community. For me, it is what it is.

"In the current art world, any idiot or poseur with enough money and "advisors" is magically transformed into, and treated as, a serious, major collector."

I suspect this point is subject to debate. At the moment, the distinction of what constitutes a serious, major collector seems to be associated with the collectors degree of commitment to collecting, primarily in terms of financial commitment. I suspect that some of these collection will continue to be considered "major" in the future, despite differences in taste recorded here. Of course many may not. My point was that if financial commitment is the price to play the game, standing out within the expanded crowd, regardless of how boorish it may seem, may ultimately rest on the connoisseurship of the collector, their advisors and thus the collection itself.

The most dangerous aspect of all of this is brought to point by the Peter Doig auction result which suggests that money is what is shaping the aesthetic. I suspect this has always been the case, the rich patron made art possible but it seems to me, that in the past, this support was more directly linked with the artist and less involved in attempts to shape the marketplace.

16.

catfish

March 11, 2007, 12:50 PM

Thanks for the great #11 comment, George. The emergence of the "art stylist" is a result of the continued expansion of the art system (I've discussed this before). The "delta" has widened so much that it is now eating the coastline where the difference between "art" and "the rest of the world" was once defined.

As any group gets bigger and bigger, the "standards" for admission must be lowered to accomodate the expansion. You really can't avoid this relaxation if you want to have a large art community. So now we have a percentage for art program for public buildings, art classes for everyone of all ages, expanding art centers everywhere, galleries galore, artist internet sites beyond counting, art councils and grants in every state, so on and so forth. An alien accountant from Mars would probably say the scene is indeed prosperous and an art politican from the same planet might add that it is also peaceful because there are no manifestos and we all sort of "get along". I suppose these are "good things", considered in and of themselves.

But the price we have paid for the expansion is unacceptable for many of us who frequent this blog, for all the reasons cited day after day after day. This "stylist" thing George brings up is part of that price. The blurring of the difference between art and ordinary life continues uncontested. So be it.

17.

Jack

March 11, 2007, 1:18 PM

When art is good enough, it is never, by definition, ordinary. What we have now is stuff that is ordinary at best being treated as not only good but great art.

18.

Jack

March 11, 2007, 1:40 PM

George, practically any point is subject to debate if somebody has reason to dispute it, and the reason need not be valid.

The currently indispensable and overriding "qualification" for being taken for (or at least treated as) a major collector is, as you admit, the level of financial commitment. This includes, of course, the money spent on advisors, personal or private curators, private exhibition space(s) and so forth. Nobody actually says it, but what really matters is how much is being spent. Whether the collector personally has anything resembling a tolerably good eye or in-depth knowledge of art history is quite beside the point. It's all about talking the talk--these people only have to walk the walk in terms of money (and being with-it, naturally).

19.

George

March 11, 2007, 2:15 PM

Well, it's a bit like opening Aladdin's bottle, the genie escapes.

In other words, the changes in the art market are structural, caused by increasing wealth, increasing numbers of artists, globalization, etc. It's a one way street into the future which I do not think will revert to old paradigms, there are just too many people, artists, collectors, dealers etc with a vested interest in themselves and therefor a desire to maintain the current direction. I don’t deny, nor necessarily disagree with some of the current negative perceptions, I just think the issues will need to be rethought and addressed in a different way. As long as money keeps flowing into the art market, there is no obvious reason among the participants to change the status quo. I expect the buying frenzy to abate, how soon is the question. At the moment it appears there are signs it is already starting. The post "Too rich, Too thin" on ArtWorldSalon [link in comment #8] is suggesting to me that there are the initial signs of reluctance and boredom with the current over-hype in the art market. Whether or not this will result in a contraction of interest is disputable, but will become more acute if there is an overall economic decline world wide. I happen to think this is a likely possibility within the next few years. Time will tell.

20.

Jack

March 11, 2007, 2:32 PM

"There are just too many people, artists, collectors, dealers etc with a vested interest in themselves and therefore a desire to maintain the current direction... As long as money keeps flowing into the art market, there is no obvious reason among the participants to change the status quo."

You got that right. Vested interests galore, and no reason to change a damn thing.

21.

catfish

March 11, 2007, 3:23 PM

As George says, "it is a one way trip into the future". The "old paradigm" may not reassert itself, but neither will the expansion prove to be eternal. Nor is the money flow eternal. When it is over, then we shall see (if we live long enough).

22.

George

March 11, 2007, 5:08 PM

Aside from the new wealth which was created in the last twenty years, another factor has come into play which is affecting the art market. After the internet bubble burst the idea of asset diversification became more commonplace. Financial advisors, who are not art advisors, became more favorable towards diversification into collectibles and the precious metals.

So some investment capital, previously slated for the stock market, found its way into the art market as an ‘investment’. I do not know what these people were thinking in terms of a timeframe, but whatever, the money came. Generally, as long as a market behaves reasonably well, investors remain confident and will continue to add to their investment positions.

If at some point, the art market slows down, most likely in conjunction with a slowdown in the economy, new funds allocated for purchasing art may be reduced, to what degree it is difficult to predict. None the less, a slowdown in new purchases will probably affect the auction market putting a cap on prices, or causing them to fall. This creates a new and different economic and psychological situation than just the initial effects of the slowdown. In the second case, falling prices may begin to attract new sellers who have decided to capitalize on their investment, to sell while prices are still near their highs. Unfortunately, this creates a shift in the supply-demand balance, as many of these new sellers have defected from the buyers camp, and prices fall further, and so on.

I do not think the above is idle speculation on my part, I am fairly confident that what I describe will occur at some point in the not to distant future (1-5 years) No markets go straight up, to keep rising as they have, they need an exponential growth in new capital, something which does not occur without third world type inflation. For this reason alone prices must plateau at some point. No boom lasts forever.

Coupled with the above, when prices begin to fall, investors begin to question the "investment advice" they have been given. As long as prices are rising, everyone including the art advisors look like geniuses. When they start to fall it may become apparent that certain artworks held their value better than others and this may be attributed to better connoisseurship, either on the part of the art advisors or the collectors. As long as the art market remains strong people pay attention to price, they attribute or equate price with quality and attempts to dissuade them of this point of view will usually fall on deaf ears. "If the price keeps going up, somebody must think this is ‘good art’" is the attitude and I doubt their opinions will change until proven otherwise, i.e. prices decline.

23.

Jack

March 11, 2007, 5:56 PM

Yes, George, but commercial or investment-type maneuvers aside, we're still talking about a very sizeable and significant group of collectors (at least in the technical sense) who may be investing successfully in terms of financial profits, but cannot be taken seriously in terms of connoisseurship--certainly not by me.

In other words, these people, from my perspective and based on my criteria, are largely bogus or phonies in art terms. They may or may not be aware of that, as delusion is all too common, and obviously nobody taking their money will ever tell them, but they're still just rich people who have decided, for various rather dubious reasons, to spend big bucks on art and/or "dedicate" themselves to it, as they see it.

Not that it's likely to make any difference, but the crassness, pretense, aggressive cluelessness and sheer mercantile cynicism running rampant is all pretty disgusting.

24.

j

March 11, 2007, 9:49 PM

People can have a collective denial of many things - how can Finley proclaim that her performances speak to many though? The croc. hunter from down under wipes her out as far as performance, audience and message goes. She is part of what she is against.
Wow gold...
She is right about one thing though: dealers can be manipulative, insecure, and greedy (cliche) by and large. Or is that and buy large, or a large buy and...?

25.

BMD72

March 12, 2007, 2:43 PM

According to Wikipedia: "Peter Doig (born 1959) is Europe's most expensive living painter."

I looked at some of his work online and is it safe to say that he's a hack?

Has he painted anything worth looking at?

26.

BMD72

March 12, 2007, 2:47 PM

George said:
We are living in an age where there are now 950 billionaires, in 1985 there were just two [Forbes],


It's a well established fact that a billion dollars just doesn't go as far as it used to.

27.

opie

March 12, 2007, 3:55 PM

He's better than a hack, BMD. He has a developed style within a type of modern semi-surrealist mannerism which features slightly eerie exaggeration of common subject matter and the off-hand introduction of mildly jarring elements. He is way better than some other million dollar babies, like Marlene Dumas. At least he can paint, up to a point. His work is very easy to admire and talk about for the newly rich who want to be only so far out and no farther.

I think the white canoe picture was a sweet one, had nice color and some interesting illusionistic devices. I can see how the market would go for his work.

Of course It is certainly minor art. Eleven million dollars is just off the charts. Some poor jerk may well be wishing he had his money back.

28.

BMD72

March 12, 2007, 5:12 PM

Thanks Opie. Maybe my judgement was too rash. I'll look for a more generous selection of his work. I did take a look at THE WHITE CANOE and I see what you mean.

29.

Jack

March 12, 2007, 6:33 PM

I essentially agree with OP concerning the White Canoe business. It's a nice enough picture, easy on the eyes and fairly accessible, and yes, certainly better than a lot of pricey dreck out there. However, if I was going to spend that kind of money on a painting, you'd better believe it'd have to be a damn sight better than this one. Whoever bought it could definitely have gotten far better value for money, artwise, but I suspect this purchase was not made on that basis.

30.

ahab

March 12, 2007, 11:40 PM

I have no comment about how much th-ey should sell for, but I kind of like 'em. Most of the Doig paintings I've dug up online I'd just toss, though.

31.

?

March 13, 2007, 1:17 PM

whats with all the fuckin spam.................

32.

opie

March 13, 2007, 1:32 PM

Yeah...Franklin, got out yer zapper!

33.

Franklin

March 13, 2007, 4:01 PM

Zapped. This, sadly, is the price of having a fairly highly trafficked blog.

34.

bastards!

March 14, 2007, 6:44 AM

and there they are again.....

35.

Franklin

March 14, 2007, 8:09 AM

And there they go. You notice how they're hitting one post continuously? Robot.

I've figured out a very minor registration system that I may or may not implement - you wouldn't have to log in to comment, but if you don't, you can't put up your url and a script would delete any text with "http" attached to it. They're just trying to game google page rankings so if they can't link text there's no point to leaving comment spam.

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