Philip Kennicott has a mostly forgettable recap of the now-too-familiar griping about the art market ruining art. The piece does have one redeeming feature, this neat metaphor using boats to illustrate the difference between art and the art market. Sadly, Kennicott quickly doubles back and produces the hoary complaint that the market is enticing artists to produce bad art.
The simple fact is that no one needs inducement to produce bad art. And though the art most visible at any given moment may be conventional at best and kitsch at worst, the process of finding and valorizing certain works and artists is one that takes time (and perhaps some nostalgia.)
Going back as far as the Renaissance, artists have had an uneasy relationship to patrons and the money they offer. And the fear of mass commercialization has been a perennial theme of art at least since the days of the pop artists a half century ago. But something different is in the air today. The level of disgust is deeper and more visceral. The art world has collapsed into the world of commerce, and while there may be celebrations at Christie’s, there is an almost apocalyptic level of gloom everywhere else.
There are two basic critical responses to today’s art market. One argues that the market has nothing to do with art, and that whatever happens in the market is irrelevant to the actual content, meaning and love of art. Art is to the art market as sailing is to the business of hawking mega-yachts to multibillionaires. The other view, succinctly stated by Perl, is more pessimistic: The art market is ruining art, spiritually and as a cultural practice. In this understanding, the mega-yachts have taken over the bay and are crushing the finely wrought vintage sailing vessels beneath their hulking super-tonnage.
Both are true, in a way. If you retreat to certain museums that have kept their independence and stayed true to their values, it is still possible to tune out the noise of the market. But Perl is right, too, because the market isn’t just a distracting din of biennials and art fairs and blaring headlines about new record prices. The market is corrupting art, determining the kinds of art that get made and sold, changing the topics of art and ultimately controlling its future. In the worse case, it is also corrupting artists themselves, enticing them and rewarding them for bad, meretricious and superficial art.
As the price of art rises, is its value plummeting? (The Washington Post)