On Newsweek‘s website, Cathleen McGuigan tries to use Mark Rothko as a bludgeon against the contemporary art world pointing out that David Rockefeller’s White Center is still the highest price achieved for a Contemporary American painting at auction. Sadly, the argument is premised on a romantic cliche:
We can only imagine how Rothko would feel about holding the high-water mark in today’s bloated art market, but it would probably drive him right up the wall. Rothko was the last in a line of angst-ridden, soul-searching artists who had a love-hate relationship with his own success. For him, selling art was secondary to making it—in sharp contrast to the 21st-century art world, where dealers scramble to sign up the next hot young painter, fresh out of grad school, and where money is the only marker of success. […] The arbiter of artistic value is no longer an independent critic or a museum curator or ordinary art lovers, as Isabelle Graw points out in her book High Price—it’s the vastly well-oiled industry of art fairs, auctions, and gallery deals, even in the current global recession. Which is not to say there aren’t good artists out there making serious work: some of them are even struggling, though that’s no longer the standard career model.
You’ve got to love that last line. She seems truly disappointed that good artists might not have to live in penury. Why does McGuinan want artists to take a vow of poverty? Is art really a religion and the artists priests or monks sacrificing their worldliness for the sanctity of art? Is that really the kind of art we’d like to see?
The Color of Money (Newsweek)