Art As Investment - Again

Art As Investment - Again

Postby CAP » Wed Jan 08, 2014 4:07 pm

More hand-wringing lately about the influence of the market on critical – even historical – evaluation; Christian Viveros-Fauné’s article in Village Voice – Art’s Dirty Big Secret and Barry Schwabsky’s piece for The Nation, Surviving The Moment add to the momentum. Viveros-Fauné fingers aggressive collector/dealer Peter Hort for manoeuvres around art fairs where he hustles recent investments in a patent Ponzi scheme, or pump and dump what’s hot before it’s not. Schwabsky takes up the case of Christopher Wool (the subject of a current Guggenheim retrospective running until 24th of January) – first made in The Art Newspaper by Gareth Harris. The difference is Harris argues that Wool’s critical worth is fuelled by market demand rather than vice versa, and that this has achieved such momentum, his ‘historical’ position is now assured, while Schwabsky argues that Wool has critical integrity, or at least irony on his side. But historical position as what? Wool has been pumped for some time, no question, but I don’t see that this assures him place in the canon. He is no more than your Po-Mo journeyman, a career plodder, doing a few text things (some distance behind Ruscha and Johns) a few silkscreen things (way after Warhol, Rauschenberg, etc – with floral nods to P&D) and for the last ten years or so fairly limp exercises in line and tone with a spray can and rag that make Early Monique Prieto look like an irascible Jon Lasker. In other words, Wool is your Late New York School epigone, a bit of this, a bit of that, but not very much of anything really. I bracket him with Richard Prince.

Schwabsky’s argument is that Wool is more a Goya – sardonic critic of his patron’s tastes – than a Rubens – supposedly a grand appeaser – although this is to drastically simplify, if not utterly traduce, the two artists’ careers. Schwabsky asserts there is a formalist rigour in Wool adhering to black and white throughout his various phases, echoing Early Stella perhaps (or Kline or de Kooning or Rauschenberg or countless others) but by the time we get to Wool in the eighties this is not much more than a tasteful and safe option. There is no programme here. Formal rigour is no more than a grab-bag of received tropes and trends. Wool is really the dogged conformist, an artist crippled by respect for his New York elders. Schwabsky makes much of Wool’s refusal to continue popular lines of work, to switch themes or formats once they become market hits. But it’s hard to see this as more than shrewd marketing, driving up the price of a limited body of work, usefully diversifying the folio while interest remains high. This is hardly radical or a severe impediment to market demand.

More usefully, Schwabsky tracks (I think, pacing The New York Times) the collecting and money through Wool’s painting, Apocalypse Now, a text work from 1988, which recently sold for $26.4 million (a market record). The painting was supposed to be in the Guggenheim show, but confusion over its ownership would seem to have prevented it – although it is included in the catalogue and list of works. Tellingly, it was owned by one David Ganek, a former hedge fund manager, Guggenheim board member and Chair of its leadership committee, at the time the exhibition was being planned. Ganek subsequently sold it privately, only to have that owner then auction it at Christie’s for the record amount. Mr Ganek has since resigned from the Guggenheim board, fuelling suspicion that he has ‘dumped’ Wool, having shrewdly ‘pumped’ him through a prestigious art museum. Clearly this does more harm to the Guggenheim’s reputation than any promotion of Wool into art historical certitude (if there is such a thing – even the canon is regularly revised).

And this is really the point of both Viveros-Fauné and Schwabsky’s articles – the financial manipulation and corruption erodes institutional respect. The art world’s standards crumble into so much hype and self-interest. But should we really be relying upon museums to write our art history for us, or to confirm a general acceptance? The fear is well placed, but marketing only assumes this prominence because criticism (and by extension, art history) fail to provide any sort of framework in which to assess minor talents like Wool or Prince. That sort of criticism is effectively sidelined, if it's written at all. It’s not exclusively an American problem, but it’s certainly more acutely felt in New York than say London or Berlin. The fear is that the market is now fireproof to adverse criticism, that even museums or public galleries will not engage with serious and sustained criticism and that the mainstream press have been ‘captured’ by the market, much as Ganek manipulated the Guggenheim. While it is the ‘logic’ of the market to monopolise and enslave, at the same time if everyone is lying or bluffing, then lying or bluffing cease to be effective. Or to put it another way, if everything is corrupt, then nothing is corrupt. Corruption doesn’t really work unless at least some people or institutions are incorrupt, some of the time.

For this reason I don’t see the situation as bleakly as Viveros-Fauné or Schwabsky. Logically, there has to be some platform that is immune from market influence, if only for the good of the market. That really is the role of art criticism – to debate or exchange views on the merit of works, of various historical perspectives, to argue for meanings. Just where this takes place now is hard to say, since most print publications are convinced it won’t win them enough readers for their advertisers and while colleges are a useful launching pad for a lot of this research (let’s call it) my experience is they have their doctrines and blindsides as well. Colleges are not the whole answer. Equally artists are part of the answer, since they have most at stake but obviously their interests are for the most part fairly narrow – concerned with this kind of video or sculpture or painting and so on. There are pro-active collectors and dealers I know – I think pro-active dealers call themselves ‘gallerists’ pro-active collectors – ‘patrons’– but I really haven’t had much experience with these, so I can’t really say. But I suppose it depends on the individual, as usual. For the moment I think this stuff has to more or less remain underground and just exist as a sort of haphazard network of websites and small, probably temporary spaces. It may be we won’t really see any big change until there is a cataclysmic financial collapse and drastic reforms. And that’s certainly been predicted a lot, but apart from apocalypse, I think it’s worth working on these things incrementally, one post at a time. :P
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Re: Art As Investment - Again

Postby CAP » Sun Jan 12, 2014 12:15 am

Incidentally, Robert Linsley reviews the Schwabsky article in a slightly more positive light (concerning Wool). :?
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Re: Art As Investment - Again

Postby CAP » Fri Jan 17, 2014 9:28 pm

Now Holland Cotter of the NYT has weighed in on the topic. :|

Actually he could have mentioned WWR in there, along with Art Fag City and Hyperallergic..... But he didn't :cry:
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