What Happens When Artists Don’t Make Work for the Market?
Sarah Thornton has a clever and thoughtful take on the art market’s effect on artists. The piece is a particularly valuable as a tonic to the trepidation surrounding the current art market. Read the whole thing; but here’s a condensed version for your convenience:
over the past five years, people and money from around the globe have poured into the art world, making it spin faster and more lavishly. By 2006, dealers and auction specialists were talking with wide-eyed disbelief about the art world’s remarkable “liquidity”. Where all this money came from, nobody really knew. Given the current economic crisis, is it about to dry up? [ . . . ] What doesn’t get much talked about is the effect all this money has on artists, and on art itself. Has contemporary art become decadent and status-fixated? [ . . . ] There remains a strong feeling in the art world that good art is made by people with more profound goals or intellectual ambitions than simply making money. [ . . . ] One of the visual impacts of the boom on art itself has been giganticism, or enlargement – a peculiarly masculine trope. [ . . . ]
The medium that typifies the current bull market for art is painting. It hangs efficiently on the wall; it doesn’t consume floor space; it is easy to store. Sensual canvases in happy colours, using glitzy materials or fetishistic techniques are a good bet. Where does this leave the many contemporary artists who don’t paint – who work in mixed media, or with other artists, or with materials that decay?
Anya Gallaccio, 45, who was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2003, has spent a large part of her life working with ephemeral substances – salt, ice, flowers – that make her art resistant to easy trade. She has recently added more durable materials – bronze, for example – to her repertoire. Although she maintains that “you can sell anything”, she sees “boom art” as essentially conservative. “In many instances, it is condoning conventional modes of representation,” she says. “To be an investment, it has to be recognisable as art.” [ . . . ]
[Video artist Isaac Julien:] “Other than the odd Bill Viola work, video is not a commodity. It’s difficult to decorate with, so I’m not a hot property among speculators.” Instead, he relies on serious collectors, the sort of people who have their own museums and foundations; he counts many of these collectors as friends. They are investing in “an intellectual and emotional experience”, he explains – and, possibly, “a part of the artist”.Given his nonchalance about profit, what does Julien think about Hirst’s £111m sale at Sotheby’s last month? He is surprisingly uncynical: “Any artist who doesn’t secretly admire what Damien’s been able to achieve is not being entirely honest. But that level of commodification is quite specific to Damien.” [ . . . ]
‘If the Work is Free, Is It Art?’ (The Guardian)