Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Art and $$$

October 13, 2012 - 9:20pm -- Carol Diehl

Andy Warhol, Dollar Sign, 1982
 ©The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh. Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc

Jerry Saltzon Facebook, yesterday:

We now have this enormous top-heavy operational apparatus… a hundred art fairs and international biennials, galleries growing larger as artists work in smaller spaces, skyrocketing prices during a worldwide economic contraction. The art world’s reflexes are shot; its systems so predetermined that they’re driving us; we’re no longer driving them. The system is less susceptible to paradox, discovery, ambiguity, and all the exquisite deviations and orphic oddness that brought us to art in the first place.

….The system may be too big NOT to fail. It is telling us what we already know: A crystal is cracked. It is time for mutinies, forging new topographies and plotting other courses."

Artists are famous for pioneering new territory, making places like SoHo, TriBeCa, Williamsburg, etc. so attractive that they’re driven out by the moneyed interests. However now it’s bigger than that; while we were sleeping, they co-opted the entire art world and made it one big hedge fund. 

In Chicago last week, a collector friend asked me what’s going on in art, what’s good, what’s happening, and I couldn’t begin to answer him. What’s good? From whose point of view? Mine? Gagosian’s? Sotheby’s? And does it matter? The machine that is the art world is going to run regardless of whether I, Saltz, or anyone who really thinks about art, finds it important. As in current politics, the truth is meaningless and history never happened. So what if another artist did the same thing better yesterday or ten years ago, or is doing it better now in some loft in Cleveland. Like everything else, when things become corporatized, the emphasis changes; it’s no longer about building a better mousetrap, but how many mousetraps can we sell?

Back in the day, the value of contemporary art was determined by an intangible, but nonetheless fairly reliable, aesthetic consensus of artists, writers, inspired dealers, curators, and collectors crazy enough to spend money on the art they loved—with no prospect of a return, as the secondary market was reserved for dead artists. Now value is determined by how long you can keep the ball (or “spot” in the case of Damien Hirst) in the air. Other than generators of product, artists aren’t part of the game. Nor are critics, whose insistence on analyzing and qualifying is beginning to appear superfluous at best, and at worst, downright annoying.

How great is the divide? Example: Richard Prince’s work sells for millions, yet not one artist of my acquaintance cared enough to see his 2007 Guggenheim retrospective (I did, but only because my press pass got me in for free), and Peter Schjeldahl wrote of him: “An adept of juvenile sarcasm, like Prince, is well advised not to invite comparisons with grownups.”

Often compared to the tulip craze that took over Holland in the 1600s, one wonders if the speculative art bubble will burst once investors find it's filled with hot air, when the tide turns from Hirst, Prince and Koons to….? (Whatever happened to those Chinese artists who were so hot a few years ago?) Even the seemingly grounded market in Warhols could be upset when the Andy Warhol Foundation (whose Creative Capital grant is supporting this blog) disperses its collection.

What could unravel even sooner is the art school pyramid. For a couple of decades, students have been willing to take on loans of $20,000 to $30,000 a year to get a degree that would supposedly net them a tenure track teaching position worth upwards of $50,000 a year. Now, however, that 75% of those jobs are being filled by adjuncts making an average of $2700 per course, with many, like Walmart employees, having to rely on food stamps, it seems unlikely that academia will maintain its appeal for long.    

Meanwhile, what’s an artist to do? Saltz says it: mutiny, forge other topographies, plot other courses…in other words, make history once again. Think the Salon des Refuses, the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, New York’s Downtown Scenein the 80s….This is not the first time artists have had to take things into their own hands—and they will. 

An addendum, following the comments of friends on Facebook, some of whom found merit in Prince and Koons, although I'm glad to say no one defended Hirst. That, however, is not the point. While I have no interest in Prince, I do like some Koons, and I adore Richter, who is a daily inspiration and, for me, completely deserving of his fame. However, outside of seminal historic pieces, to assess ANY work of art, even Richter’s, at millions of dollars, or even a million, is to indulge in pure speculation. No longer engaged in questions of artistic merit, every institution, from museums to art magazines, is swept up in this wild game of chance being played out by people with too much money. There were probably some pretty gorgeous tulips during the tulip craze, which is no doubt what set the whole thing off, but what happened ultimately had nothing to do with tulips.


Mutiny, says Saltz, forge other topographies, plot other courses. And then he reviews yet another lumpen neo-Dadaist.

Indeed, as Van der Werve, 35, has said, “I’m not trying to be an artist or to make art” and “Art was never really my thing.”

This isn't romanticism, it's the museum-approved nastiness that passes for antiauthoritarianism under the authorities. I think that the course we plot will have to route around Saltz.

Mutiny, says Saltz, forge other topographies, plot other courses. And then he reviews yet another lumpen neo-Dadaist.

Indeed, as Van der Werve, 35, has said, “I’m not trying to be an artist or to make art” and “Art was never really my thing.”

This isn't romanticism, it's the museum-approved nastiness that passes for antiauthoritarianism under the authorities. I think that the course we plot will have to route around Saltz.

Submitted by Walter Robinson (not verified) on
Hi Carol! Re Jerry, it, so much heat, so little light. In the first place, museum and gallery press releases rarely mention prices. In the second place, there's nothing the matter w taking part in art fairs - they can even be fun. And thirdly, if it all puts you off so much, you're free to cover something else. Like Detroit (a recent trend, i notice.) But then, Jerry, you'd be irrelevant

If you want to analyze the art economy, OK, but I don't think Jerry or you even begin to do that. When the word "capitalism" shows up, let me know.

Finally, Carol, I'd urge you and the rest of the haters to come over to the winning side. Artists like Colen, Hirst and Prince do indeed have much to offer, if only as objects of study.

;-) W


Yes, and a college degree isn't worth what it was worth back in the day, too. The problem is that we have become all too sophisticated for our own good, everything had become devalued via the META road. So what to do? When an infant gets overwhelmed, they tend to look at their hands, so I've heard. And the lyrics of the old song seems to still apply, as time goes by:

[This day and age we're living in
Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention
And things like fourth dimension.
Yet we get a trifle weary
With Mr. Einstein's theory.
So we must get down to earth at times
Relax relieve the tension

And no matter what the progress
Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such
They cannot be removed.]

You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Walter, you big baby!
I am not against money.
I am not against art fairs.
I want all of you artists to make as much money as possible. Dealers too.
I am just totally bored by a lot of the fixation in the art press on prices.
You're not; I am.
Go make your work.
I love you very very much.
And I think I'm irrelvant already, of course.
Jerry Saltz

I experienced the early years (the Gallery World had not yet noticed) of palpable expression of Haring and Basquiat in the 80's NYC. It's happening again, on the internet. Lots of good young artists are going it alone--selling on their own terms. I think this a very exciting time for Art.

Hi Carol

I love it!

Are we on a Star Trek episode where Kirk says "Forge ahead Mr. Art"?

I loved the sarcasm in this one.

Prices are only inflated for those who have been duped into thinking/buying a resin coated piglet or a plastic kiddie balloon for the country home in the Hamptons is the right thing to impress the neighbors with.

Such dreck.

Where the hell is the boom?

Perhaps, we can all applaud the gallery owners and curators alike for de-mistifying the purchase of art. Or, what art according to "them" is.

I think, I'd like to cry now.


Submitted by Walter Robinson (not verified) on

I think the art market reflects America's decadence and decline generally. In the 80s there was a sort of renewal in NYC, but significently it rode in tandem with European Neo-Ex. Back then artists could at least plot their artistic course by preceding trends like New Image and P&D - which weren't great but virtually formalist beacons compared with the trite sociology of Younger than Jesus, and similar.

The last movement proper I can recall was The New Leipzig School - which played the provincial or de-centered card big time. I think the fact that it happened in Germany and away from the big markets says a lot.

People in academics have been pushing me to get my MFA even though I'm a full time studio artist with no interest in teaching for paltry sums. I'm just doing it without that paper and already have the respect of my peers. I'm not sure what the paper will bring me except a network of further galleries who demand the pedigree provided by the MFA?
Out of necessity I founded a respected artist run gallery in Denver as well as an art blog. I'm not going to sit around and wait for the man up high. Sign me one of those young artists mentioned by Mimi.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
So here it is more than a month after Carol's ArtVent posting. It has been sitting there in my email because I haven't had time to catch up. Too busy working and selling right out of my oooooo, wait for it! My dusty old working studio. I dropped my galleries some 4 years ago when traffic picked up in my neighbourhood. I love it. Between the internet, my studio and shameless self promotion I am doing BETTER than any gallery ever did for me. I get to know my collectors. They get to know me. There is a whole other world of art going on out there and doing just fine. Just saying. Katherine

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