Julian Stallabrass had a particularly dry-eyed take on the debate over the depredations of the art market in The Art Newspaper a few weeks ago. The comment has only increased in relevance as the art world grapples not with challenging times but with the aftermath of its recent success:
In the boom years for contemporary art, huge numbers of new collectors were drawn in, and the art world lost its Euro-American axis. As it became globalised, its distinct minority culture was eroded. In its stead, celebrity, publicity, branding and the glitzy display of riches came to the fore—vulgarity, if you like.
Second, since the super-rich who buy the most expensive contemporary art have been most immune to the financial crisis, and since they also use art as a hedge against the movement of other investments, the top levels of the market have appeared relatively unaffected. The vulgar business of flaunting consumption goes on, while around it everything has changed.
It is not just that something seems wrong with the art world. All now appears in a strange new light: bankers are reviled, the political elite is revealed as corrupt, and capitalism itself has been stripped of its ideological cloak, standing naked as the engine of rampant debt, inequality and environmental devastation. In that new frame, the picture of the elite continuing to spend their fortunes on vacuous geegaws is bound to look less pleasing than it once did.
A Sad Reflection on the Art World (The Art Newspaper)