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Vacuum

Post #970 • March 12, 2007, 7:44 PM • 24 Comments

EW linked to this last week, but I didn't have time to read it until it was forwarded by an alert reader last night: Donald Kuspit on the cash-bloated art market. Money quote:

Indeed, I am prepared to argue that money rushes in to full the vacuum of existential meaningfulness left by art that has lost spiritual purpose.

Winkleman rebuts:

In other words, what critics can do is speak louder than money with their expertise. Too many cower in the shadow of money, rather than telling it to move aside and stop blocking their sun. What are they afraid of?

Commenters there added that corrleation does not equal causation, but Kuspit still has a point, and I think that Ed_'s larger one is incomplete. I don't know of any critic who cower[s] in the shadow of money. I say what I think, and I'm sure Holland Cotter or whomever you might pick feels that he does the same. There's a larger problem at work.

First, I don't know how many people work full-time as art critics and earn anything resembling a reasonable salary, but I would guess dozens, and I say that without being able to name a dozen myself. Kuspit's working in the SUNY system. Jerry Saltz actually showed me his teaching schedule once. The publishing market and the art market have made it eminently clear that they do not need critics. Kuspit makes an interesting point that if the market ranks Grandma Moses and Anselm Keifer at the same price point, we might as well think about their equivalencies. We could do the same with the fact that art critics, once we factor in available workload, are paid commensurately with, maybe, museum cleaning staff.

Second, it may be possible that the current market obviates criticism. I maintain that only one article about Art Basel/Miami Beach has ever been written: an askance look at the glitz, a cursory mention of the art, and some indeterminite worrying about the effect of the former on the latter. I'm not sure how it could be otherwise: you can't critique this thing. It has no greater meaning, no larger story except the commercial forces behind it. And as AB/MB increasingly typifies what goes on in the rest of the art world, you can't critique it either.

Third, witness the remarks by Piri Halasz, who attended the Faustian Bargain panel discussion at the CAA that I skipped:

I got the impression that the panel agreed there were no longer any standards for what was good or bad art, but when, in the question period, one audience member mentioned Greenberg, the effect was electric. Thank God we don't have to go through Greenberg again! barked [Jerry] Saltz, and another male voice (most likely [Jeffrey] Deitch) chimed in, The art world spent 30 years plus before we got rid of That Man! I was reminded of how Republicans used to refer to President Roosevelt in the 30s: not by name, only as That Man. I was also reminded of a recent email from an artist friend, telling me that he'd once been reticent about telling people that he'd known Greenberg, but no more. The reaction on people's faces when he told them was so extraordinary: like a cross held up to Dracula (this being a phrase that originated with Darby Bannard, in The Unconditional Esthete, published in Arts Magazine in 1987 and available online in the Walter Darby Bannard Archive).

The critical world, and much of the art world with it, is still rebelling against Daddy. This is unproductive and unbecoming. We clearly haven't gotten rid of him, or he wouldn't be driving some of us into huffy fits at the mention of his name. The man's been dead for thirteen years and out of fashion for nearly forty. His detractors have had ample opportunity to contribute a framework with equal vitality or lucidity. They have not. Did Einstein say at some point in his career, Thank God we don't have to go through Newton again!? No, he acknowledged the debt and worked hard to solve the remaining problems. Physics then became Einsteinian, not post-Newtonian. We're missing the eqivalent energy in art, and thus the modern became the postmodern.

This is the tripartite vacuum that valuation-by-money has flowed into. Dollars, at least, you can count.

Comment

1.

Jack

March 12, 2007, 7:12 PM

In a way, Franklin, Greenberg makes an extremely useful bogeyman. Of course he's consistently misrepresented and/or misinterpreted, but that's beside the point. Holding him up as some dreadful, oppressive, intolerable ogre serves a a pre-emptive strike against any critic who might dare take a comparable approach to his job. In other words, it's a way of saying "Don't even think of being a new Greenberg; we cast him out and vilified him, and we'll do the same to you."

Translation: "Don't screw with our profits, material benefits, career advancement, and assorted social and personal agendas. This ain't really about the art anymore, so grow up and get with it."

2.

opie

March 12, 2007, 8:23 PM

There are many things more important than money to people. Lots of extra money, once one has enough to live on, is usually a surrogate for personal power, ego and such like. Those are the important things.

The Saltzes of the art world (and they are the artworld now) are reacting exactly as Jack put it: ""Don't screw with our profits, material benefits, career advancement, and assorted social and personal agendas." In otherwords, please, do not EVER let anyone with a real eye, real authority and real writing ability anywhere near our cozy little nest.

The postmodernist "subtext" is, of course, "We are weak and pathetic and we can't deal with it". The art world these days is 99% composed of people who would fail at anything else and do not have the guts to spit on the sidewalk.

Read the three recent new books by those three harpies of the art world. You will think that Clement Greenberg belongs right in the company of Gengis Khan, Attila the hun and the little man with the moustache. It is sickening.

3.

Marc Country

March 12, 2007, 9:10 PM

"... and the little man with the moustache."

4.

ahab

March 12, 2007, 10:43 PM

The tripartite vacuum that [art valuated]-by-money has flowed into SUCKS.

5.

BMD72

March 13, 2007, 9:24 AM

Who the hell is Greenberg?

6.

BMD72

March 13, 2007, 9:26 AM

Oh wait, nevermind.

7.

Jack

March 13, 2007, 9:52 AM

"I got the impression that the panel agreed there were no longer any standards for what was good or bad art."

And, I suppose, the panel was not especially aghast or disturbed by that.

The moneychangers, I mean dealers, are no doubt very happy, which is perfectly predictable, but what about the rest of the lot? Aren't they at least supposed to be a little less cavalier about this? Is this like whores calling themselves "sex workers" and, voila, there's no problem anymore?

8.

George

March 13, 2007, 10:18 AM

In Piri's newsletter:
Deitch commented on the “collapse of space” between the “vanguard” and the Establishment (this is news?).

This might be slightly misleading to regular readers as the importance of the phrase “collapse of space” refers to vangard. One needs to understand this in the correct light in an age with art faires too numerous to count, as follows:

It's the word 'vangard' that has spaced out and now should be read as:

'Van Gard', or spelled more properly 'Van Guard',

i.e This now refers to the person required to watch over the truck filled with expensive goodies and make sure none of them wander off.

9.

Marc Country

March 13, 2007, 10:19 AM

Actually, the preferred term is "ejaculatory engineer"....

10.

George

March 13, 2007, 10:37 AM

The problem for art criticism, hence the art critic, is that their role of evaluating and commenting on artworks has been replaced by the "art consultant"

If one considers how critical evaluation has functioned in the past, a side effect of criticism filtered down into the marketplace by providing a metric for evaluation of individual artworks and artists. It appears that this function has been usurped by the art consultant, the stylists, which profess to have a degree of knowledge about the artist, the art, and the market place, and therefore by inference a critical perspective.

If, for a moment, we accept this to be true, the overriding difference is that the perspective put forth by the art consultant is only visible in the activities of the marketplace, it results in sales. However, the danger in this model, is that the opinions of the art consultants are not transparent, discussed and argued out in the greater artworld. Since the greater artworld is not privy to the information provided by the art consultant, we are unable to fully evaluate its arguments, reasoning, prejudices or sheer machinations in the marketplace. we only see the sales results, if even that. The discussion comes after the fact, a reaction to what is selling, or sold and at what price, hence the tendency to equate price with some metric of 'quality'.

11.

catfish

March 13, 2007, 10:44 AM

Thanks George, for the "van guard" observation. There must indeed be many of them, too.

12.

Jack

March 13, 2007, 10:49 AM

The sad thing (or a sad thing) is that some of these rich dimwits really buy (literally) into the BS about "cutting edge," "challenging," "disturbing" and other pseudo-subversive or faux-advanced claptrap. They can't see the system is simply a cynical mercantile machine that will claim or promote or pretend anything in order to separate them from their money.

A big reason it succeeds so well is that so many of these collectors are in the wrong game without knowing it, so they're especially easy prey. They'd be far better off pursuing something for which they have a natural aptitude, something they really know, understand and appreciate on a personal, individual level, as opposed to adopting a pose and/or image for all sorts of reasons that have little or nothing to do with art as such.

13.

George

March 13, 2007, 10:51 AM

The ideas put forth by the postmodernists are under pressure.
For example, see: Jean Baudrillard was a comedian of ideas…

14.

George

March 13, 2007, 10:57 AM

From Richard Russell’s financial newsletter:

"In this week's Barron's there's an interesting feature piece about British historian Niall Ferguson and his writing. Ferguson is fascinated with the present situation where we see risk priced very low in an apparently dangerous world. Ferguson also notes the amazing faith in the Federal Reserve. Where would Ferguson put money today. Ferguson's answer -- one-third in art, one-third in securities, and one-third in real estate.

Of course, for the average person being one-third in art is impossible. Great art, valuable art, is out of the reach of most Americans…."


(The newsletter is by subscription only, it was emailed to me by a friend. I assume the Barron's article is available on the newstand.)

15.

opie

March 13, 2007, 11:19 AM

George, one interesting thing about the Braudillard article was that this person, whoever it is, seemd to have no anxiety about writing it. That is a sign in itself, of sorts.

One third in art? When will they start selling shares in Warhols? Technically it should be possible, if potentially disasterous.

I think the job of these art consultants is not to be ciritical or discerning but to be tuned into the market, trend-spotting, knowledgeable about art news & prices, etc. Any consultant who tried to buy his client better art pure and simple would not have many customers, and when the you know what hits the proverbial fan they will all be out of work anyway.

16.

George

March 13, 2007, 11:42 AM

Op,

The "one third in art" etc was taken from the Barrons article which I havent read. Richard Russell, has written a market newsletter roughly based on the Dow Theory for over 40 years. He is fairly conservative, not always correct, and disagreed on the opinion in the Barrons article for all three investment types.

My only point in posting the comment, relates more towards the question of how and why there is so much hot money in the art market. Certainly, ten years ago, one would have not seen "art" listed as a desirable asset allocation for more than 5% of ones overall investment portfolio.

The fact that we see this sort of suggestion today in a popular financial publication like Barrons, is a bit like seeing the picture of the Bull on the cover of Time magazine. In the past the bull cover has almost always coincided with a stock market top (within six months or so)

17.

George

March 13, 2007, 1:30 PM

What's happening from Tefaf Maastricht 2007 - Blurred lines, battle lines? by Marc Spiegler at Artnet.

Artworld insiders had long anticipated a visceral tension in the air as Tefaf Maastricht kicked off its 2007 edition yesterday. For the first time, galleries owned by auction houses have been allowed onto the fair’s floor, traditionally the sacred turf of art dealers. That alone had the dealers on edge, but recent events have further amped-up the rivalry between galleries and auction houses: Just after the Armory show launched in New York, journalist Judd Tully broke the news that London’s Haunch of Venison gallery had been bought outright by Christie's;

18.

Hans

March 13, 2007, 7:06 PM

I would not worry too much, quality of art and of critics will regulate everything. When there is no great critic, then maybe because there is a absence of great art. Such periods had been quite often in art history, 150 years without any good paintings. I these days really enjoy reading Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's Davos Diaries, I do not know if it is in English available, but highly recommend.

Artists struggle to much for money and not enough for art. All that money makes the artists lazy. Imagine a Pollock with a 500.000 bank account ;-D

Who cares about the stupid speculators, only a minority will win maybe anything.

Fresh artists coming hungry.

19.

keith glassey

March 13, 2007, 7:39 PM

The sometimes uneasy relationship between art and money is essential. I think more than anything its the price tag that seperates the crap from the masterpieces, and the mediocre from the genius. The value directly conveys the desirability of the work.

thanks
keith
millionpoundartproject.com

20.

Hans

March 13, 2007, 7:50 PM

Not the money tag makes the art. Most genius is not represented because it is not understood. See the highest valued art works of the 19th century today. Boring. Often the crap turns out the great stuff after a while. ;-)

21.

Hans

March 13, 2007, 8:06 PM

Keith, what options do you have, when you became a "Millionaire artist" ? I know some kids of 20 they are millionaires by selling electronics. Maybe you are right as an attention gainer to do this project, but in the end it does not make the single work any better. That's also the problem I have with Warhol. He invented, was popular, is the Urvater of Pop and Zeitgeist, but the single piece is somehow not good enough, beside maybe the Brillos.

22.

Hans

March 13, 2007, 8:13 PM

PS Keith

I know, that your concept is the intended art, not the single piece. You get maybe popular, but that does not make the piece or the concept art. (... but give it a try, maybe it's better for you to be a Millionaire.)

23.

be Ware

March 13, 2007, 8:18 PM

YOUNG and DUMB !!!

24.

opie

March 13, 2007, 10:22 PM

There is a certain correlation over time, Keith, but art grows into it. It is not a reliable indicator, particularly with art less than about 100 years old. Measures like that will trip you up.

Better to use your eye. That's what art is for.

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