The Miami Herald’s John Dorschner has a good story that illustrates the public’s confusion over Contemporary art. Dorschner was struck by Ai Weiwei’s work Tree #11 when he saw it at ArtBasel Miami Beach. Why, he wanted to know, would anyone go to the great effort and expense of shipping a dead tree half way around the world?
I started with Norman Braman, billionaire Miami car dealer and devoted art collector. Did it make any sense to bring that tree to Miami Beach?
“Of course, it does,” said Braman. “It makes sense because who the artist is. This is Weiwei. He’s a world renowned artist, and his works are in demand. Now if this was by Joe Blow, it wouldn’t mean anything.”
Would Braman buy a dead tree? “No no no no. We don’t collect that kind of thing. But that doesn’t diminish his stature.”
His next stop was Don Thompson who gave the reporter a very good, compact explanation of the work.
“The back story of the trees are two-fold. One is simple: China’s rapid growth has damaged the environment and the trees symbolize that. The more elaborate back story is the Taoist ideal — a temporary union of heaven and earth in which the natural and synthetic are the same, trees with screws,” Thompson said.
Unfortunately, Thompson used the conversation as an opportunity to continue his misuse of the concept of a brand by applying it to an artist. (Artists cannot be brands simply because what they create has no particular use value. Brands give useful objects like cars or hamburgers consistency in production and differentiation in the marketplace. A BMW is a branded car; a Hirst spot painting is not a branded spot.)
Thompson gave me a phone number for Karin Seiz, the artistic director at Galerie Urs Meile in Lucerne who handled Tree #11. She said that a New York collector who already had other Weiwei pieces saw the tree for the first time at the Miami Beach Convention Center and loved it. Sales price: 350,000 Euros — about $468,000.
The $460,000 dead tree and other art world mysteries (Miami Herald)