Thursday, January 22, 2009

Contemporary Art Market, Who..??

I read two books, "The Worth of Art, Pricing the Priceless" by Judith Benhamou-Huet, and "Art Incorporated" by Julian Stallabrass. Both focusing on the Contemporary art market, but in very different styles. I had to write a little 'review' on the two books, while automatically comparing them.

The art market has always been hovering in the periphery of the world market for many centuries. However, since the mid twentieth century, art has trickled into the mainstream, fusing with contemporary culture. Movements no longer defined changes; it was the evolution of Modernism, and Post Modernism that defined contemporary art. Globalization of the economy gave birth to this ‘ism,’ where culture, politics, issues of identity, religion, etc were freely being expressed through art. Each artist created one’s own manifesto, and struggled for self-recognition. Elements like dealers, critics, auction houses, galleries, collectors and recently, corporations, molded themselves to fit into this hybrid culture, depending on one another to keep themselves, and the market afloat. This exciting turn in the field of art generated many critics, historians and even artists to write about the art market, and numerous theories and insights have been published on this subject. Two such books are, The Worth of Art, Pricing the Priceless by Judith Benhamou-Huet, and Art Incorporated by Julian Stallabrass. Each book highlights different facets of the art market according to their outlook and knowledge in the field.
Heut’s The Worth of Art focuses on how each element in the art market, like the buyer, auction house, dealer, seller, artist and the place of sale affect the price of art. How a work of art is glorified before the sale, kind of like feeding the lamb for the lion. The author uses satire, wit and humor to describe the market. She speaks of the buyer, or the collector as a fragile human being, who needs expensive works of art as a ‘comfort blanket.’ This is the comfort that brings him power, recognition and boosts his ego. Private collectors depend on the ‘trends in art consumption,’ and ‘top dollar prices’ to desire a work. This is why newer collectors aim at popular contemporary art, because as Huet mentions, ‘To understand an Old Master painting, a certain amount of intellectual effort is required.’
Video art does not have as much demand as painting or sculpture today. However, using the example of C. Richard Kramlich, Silicon Valley’s key financers acquiring works of video , by Bruce Nauman and Matthew Barney, the awareness is immediately increased. This in turn rockets the prices and demand of the medium, the artist and the work. It all depends on who has which work, which ultimately tells the price the work will fetch. The author points out how collecting has become a competition among the buyers and collectors, where a work of art has to be acquired to belong to an aristocracy. New York City is invariably the place where money flows like water, and the rich and elite need to show their richness by owning the finest art. These classes of buyers depend on auction houses, the ‘intermediaries,’ where their claim to fame is immediately approved.
It is all a game. The artist depends on the buyer, the buyer depends on the dealer, the auction house depends on the seller and the collector, and so forth. Each one cannot survive without the other, and at the same time each one wants to out do the other. The two largest auction houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, competitors and enemies, at the end need each other to survive, kind of like Coke and Pepsi. The anti-campaigning works towards their benefit, creating an illusion of competition.
My favorite part about this book was how the artist transforms the price. I believe, the artist is ultimately the best judge of art. ‘The prism of myth’ that is associated with the artist’s life has been the biggest promoter of art. The idea of a poor, bohemian, depressed artist creates a sort of a mystery, and the elite classes are fascinated by this romantic concept. Interestingly, Andy Warhol took advantage of this notion, and ‘created a character that probably had very little in common with his true nature.’ His appearance and persona that he portrayed to the public was very different from who he was, and it was this public persona that worked in his favor. Even his chosen subjects, like Marilyn Monroe were public figures with a mysterious personal life. Warhol wanted his work to be popular, and he wanted to be a star. Like the author says, ‘Such an objective has little to do with art in the strict sense of the word but it does give the artist an emblematic role in what is known as the “society of the spectacle”.’
Pricing the Priceless is in itself an ironical title. Today art is seen more monetarily than aesthetically. Every work of art produced has a price to it. Whether it is a reproduction or a genuine piece, the market creates a grandiose around the work, and also picks the best-suited buyer. Judith Benhamou-Huet has described this aspect of the art market in a light hearted, but solid manner.
Julian Stallabrass, in Art Incorporated speaks of contemporary art, which has become a ‘zone of freedom.’ This niche that the art market has occupied is steadily growing in size, supported by strong pillars like collectors, dealers, auction houses and corporations. Artists have a license to incorporate any subject, converting it into art, whether it is accepted as a creative gesture, or a slap in the face. In this book, he reflects deeply into this system and analyses the complex and diverse market, that ‘democratically reflects popular taste.’ He points out that the market, depending on the demand, controls the making and selling of art. The dealers direct the artists to create work that would best suit their clients, in a way, leaving no choice for the buyer other than what is available.
Not only the dealer, but the artist also plays with the ways of the market to his advantage. By reproducing work in limited editions, the artist is creating a high demand for his work, as only a chosen few would be privileged to acquire the copies. At this rate, the price is also manipulated in favor of the buyer, like Stallabrass mentions, ‘…the supply is regulated, the demand managed, and pricing highly susceptible to fashion and circumstance.’
Stallabrass also describes the myth of the artist, but in a more analytical manner, using the theory of Hans Abbing. He says, that the art market’s ‘idiosyncrasies condemn the great majority of artists to penury.’ He believes that artists hold an important place as professionals, as they stand out from every other field because of the persona linked to them. They are oblivious to the returns their work will bring, and open to experimenting with their subject. He very gently slices the attitude of the art market by saying, ‘…the poverty of the artist contributes to the status of the arts…and all the artists should be seen to risk poverty in pursuit of free expression.’ This is similar to what Huet describes of the myth of the artist, but in a different light. Stallabtass is more serious and intimate when it comes to the art market.
In his writings, Stallabrass looks at the larger picture, explaining that even though art has become a dirty business, it nevertheless emits positive energy to the viewers, forming a bond among people. This visual language is universal, and one does not need to know French, German or Japanese to understand it. He uses the example of Gavin Turk’s The Che Gavara Story, based on the famous South American martyr. Turk’s work, Stallabrass explains, generated social interaction between people who identified with this immortal figure. He says, ‘the use of audience interaction reintroduces organic and irrefutable presence to an art that threatens to become an evacuated play of ready made signs. The presence is no longer that of the artist-genius, but of the audience temporarily warmed by the glow of a democratic ideal that treats their thoughts and actions as valuable…’ It creates a temporary utopia in the minds of people, reassuring them of their ability to recognize creativity, also agreeing with Baudrillard’s theory.
Both, Judith Benhamou-Huet, and Julian Stallabrass have brilliantly compiled their theories and views on the art market, attacking as well as defending certain areas. However, they both have a different approach to their opinions. Huet’s style is more easy-going, written for everyone to comprehend, more like light reading. Stallabrass, on the other hand is more descriptive, serious and analytical in his writing. He uses theories of Hickey and McEvilley to elaborate his theory. To read his book, one must have some insight into the art world to keep up with the writer.
Both these books answered many questions and also cleared certain stereotypes that I carried regarding the art market. It made me look into books like Art and Fear, by David Bayles, and also The Art of the Market, by Bob Tamarkin to recognize newer styles of writing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tribute to the Chameleon

The Chameleon, (family Chamaeleonidae) are squamates that belong to one of the best-known lizard families. The "ground lion".
All chameleon species are able to change their skin colors. Different chameleon species are able to change different colours which can include pink, blue, red, orange, green, black, brown and yellow. Recent research indicates that they do not typically change their colour for reasons of camouflage, but instead use colour changes as a method of communication, including to make themselves more attractive to potential mates.
Many have head or facial ornamentation, such as nasal protrusions, or horn-like projections in the case of Chamaeleo jacksonii, or large crests on top of their head, like Chamaeleo calyptratus. Many species are sexually dimorphic, and males are typically much more ornamented than the female chameleons.
Chameleons are didactyl: on each foot the five toes are fused into a group of two and a group of three, giving the foot a tongs-like appearance. These specialized feet allow chameleons to grip tightly to narrow branches.
Their eyes are the most distinctive among the reptiles. The upper and lower eyelids are joined, with only a pinhole large enough for the pupil to see through. They can rotate and focus separately to observe two different objects simultaneously. It in effect gives them a full 360-degree arc of vision around their body.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

To See or Not to See

There is a new era of contemporary art setting in India. The fall of the market will be the rise of young and fresh artists with newer concepts of individuality related to political, religious and social issues. They will question the system with their new philosophy and work by them, leaving no choice for the spectators.

Not only the artists, this will create a new breed of collectors who will show keen interest in the artist. Ask questions of the creative intention. Travel to their studio and see the artist at work.

Galleries will showcase and represent this new generation of artists with their new ideologies.
They will take these artists to the auction houses, who will encourage the investors to buy the art, make the artists stars, until they stagnates to one iconic style, becoming nothing but a production house.

The collectors will get greedy, the artists will be "satiated and content", the bubble will get bigger, and finally burst.

The collectors (investors) will get bored of the same works by the same artists. The system will get tired of the monotony. The artist will get frustrated. Everything will be dark and gray.

Finally, a new age of artists will emerge. They will change the system...............