It’s a shame to see such a brilliant, thoughtful and valuable art historian like Bendor Grosvenor succumb to splenetic envy in the Financial Times. It’s worse that the editors of the Financial Times have egged him on to write this screed about Robert Gober and mock his work because it’s easy to snigger at someone paying a lot of money for three urinals. Eeeew!
Ostensibly, Grosvenor is upset at the way the market assigns value. (“[A] Gober urinal will buy you a fine Rubens.”) Gober is a fascinating and important artist. He’s hardly the market-driven fraud Grosvenor makes him out to be. And Gober’s gain need not be Rubens’s loss. This is especially poignant because Bendor Grosvenor is one of the best equipped persons to help revive interest in Old Masters and make them relevant, a project that seems worthy and needful.
We’ll have to wait for the series of columns that excites our interest and improves our appreciation of Rubens. In the meantime, you can skip Grosvenor’s mis-understanding of market economics and the repetition of silly conspiracy theories about guarantees and auction bidding:
we have collectively lost the ability to assess art for ourselves and on its own merits. Instead, we follow such indicators as fashion, price, and, in this case, hype. You may say it was ever thus. But the result today, when allied with an ever wealthier elite for whom buying contemporary art has become a form of conspicuous consumption, is an unprecedented art boom. Can it last?
Normally, speculative bubbles end when an underlying financial reality hits home. The subprime boom ended when homeowners stopped making repayments. But in the art world there are few such constraints. The only requirement is that works keep edging up in value.
And if they do not? Well do not worry, for the market has developed ways to help make sure the numbers go up – or at least appear to.