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Bunny alert

Post #1427 • December 8, 2009, 9:10 AM • 122 Comments

Inside the building, suspended above the great stairs, hangs an enormous scrunched-up ball of coloured cellophane, the sort in which downmarket florists wrap bouquets for mourners to leave at the sites of fatal accidents. This work, by Spencer Finch, is called Sunlight in an Empty Room (Passing Cloud for Emily Dickinson, Amherst, MA, August 28, 2004) (2004). ‘By attempting to capture the ephemeral and formless’, this item ‘investigates the imprecise nature of perception in relation to memory’. And indeed, its relationship to Dickinson does seem to be characterised by imprecision of perception, as this mess—Chihuly on the cheap— has precisely nothing to do with Dickinson’s weird, hermetic, dangerously sharp-edged genius.

Writing this good tempts me to post every fortnight as well.

Comment

1.

Jack

December 8, 2009, 10:10 AM

Dickinson, who obviously has no say or choice in the matter, will do as well as the next suitably hallowed reference to impart gravitas and intellectual cachet, at least for those predisposed to fall for this sort of contrivance. Bunny is most assuredly not part of the target audience.

2.

Tim

December 8, 2009, 1:17 PM

I just finished reading Ms Smedley's take on the Philip Guston exhibition at the RA in 2004 (Imaginary Battles, Real Wars: Philip Guston at the Royal Academy) in the archive section of her site. I'd seen that show at the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum where it originated, and one previous to that one in the early 90's in Dallas.

None of the writing that contributed to the mythology and folklore that quickly accreted around Guston's late work added up or made that work intelligible to me. I kept going away from it with the idea that Guston turned on himself like any good revolutionary who lives long enough, but I never got anywhere with it until I read Smedley's article, particularly her point about 'selectivity. elipsis and the fast forward button', which led me to an understanding and even a strange sympathy-with-though-still-not-liking-of that work.

3.

Jack

December 8, 2009, 1:23 PM

Looks like Bunny decided to pass on the Hirst show at the Wallace Collection. It's probably the right decision. There's really nothing more to say about Hirst, though there might have been something to say about the Wallace. Same as the Koons show at the Met, where the real issue was not Koons.

4.

Bunny Smedley

December 8, 2009, 1:35 PM

Wow, Franklin - thanks! Glad you enjoyed the review - I'm very much looking forward to reading your take on Miami.

5.

opie

December 8, 2009, 1:38 PM

The idea that a great big crappy ball of cellophane "investigates" something would puzzle even the great Sherlock Holmes, and that someone like Bunny Smedley feels the need to politely point out the disjunctive idiocy of a comparison between it and Emily Dickenson betrays the abysmal intellectual level of the art audience.

When will the art world cry out ENOUGH!?

6.

Jack

December 8, 2009, 1:50 PM

Well, Opie, P.T. Barnum would both approve and understand, and that's pretty much the level at which the art world operates. In other words, the ball of cellophane fits in very nicely into that world. It's only outliers and misfits like us that don't fit.

7.

Chris Rywalt

December 8, 2009, 1:52 PM

You're begging for Jack to run one of his mini-rants, OP.

8.

Chris Rywalt

December 8, 2009, 1:54 PM

See that? He beat me to it.

9.

Chris Rywalt

December 8, 2009, 1:55 PM

Of course, I was recently scolded, the foundation of the scolding being "Franklin's blog is not your and Jack's personal dyspeptic playground." So I'm trying to be nice from now on.

10.

dude

December 8, 2009, 2:16 PM

From the header of Bunny's Guston article (thanks Tim for the heads-up)...note the date!

’I am sick of the art-adoration that prevails among cultured people, more in our time than in any other: that art-silliness which condones almost any moral or intellectual failing on the artist’s part as long as he is or seems a successful artist. It is still justifiable to demand that he be a successful human being before anything else … As it is, psychopathy has become endemic among artists and writers, in whose company the moral idiot is tolerated as perhaps nowhere else in society.’ (Clement Greenberg, 1949)

11.

Jack

December 8, 2009, 2:30 PM

Silly Greenberg. Much too disgruntled for his own good. He should have gone with the flow, or the times, which would have made him far more palatable, even if also far more forgettable.

12.

John

December 8, 2009, 3:20 PM

Dude and Jack: Greenberg's preface "I am sick of..." can't be contested - only he would know. But the rest of his statement detaches from reality. Greenberg had a few moral failings himself, in accordance with the standards embraced by many, though he may have not seen it that way himself. As an observation, the comment about artists and writers tolerating "the moral idiot as perhaps nowhere else in society" should have been seriously qualified. For instance, politicians and entertainers can certainly give artists and writers a run for the money, most likely beating them for the dubious prize of "tolerance". Granted, politicians and entertainers are less likely to publicly tout immorality as a virtue.

"Silly Greenberg"? I'd say, yes, just like all of us say silly things from time to time. He knew better than that. Great art by an absolute bastard is still great art.

13.

Chris Rywalt

December 8, 2009, 3:39 PM

First, it's worth pointing out that Greenberg didn't have to be a moral paragon to point out that moral idiots are well-tolerated in the arts. He could still ask that better be demanded of artists.

Second, he doesn't say anything here about "great art" -- he says only "is or seems a successful artist". Note the difference between great and successful. Greenberg's saying the art world will ignore your lapses if you appear to be successful, with no mention of whether your art is any good or not. Goodness doesn't enter into it, at least not as far as the quoted passage.

You're right to note, though, John, that moral idiots are everywhere. And I don't think they're more prevalent nowadays than ever before; seems to me humans are pretty much as immoral as always. The morals change, but people don't.

14.

Tim

December 8, 2009, 3:44 PM

'Tolerance' actually now has come to mean 'acceptance' and even 'celebration of.' 'Moral idiocy' has come to be seen as resume enhancement in some quite public arenas.

15.

Chris Rywalt

December 8, 2009, 3:53 PM

In my most recent review I wrestled with the question of when tolerance shades over into tacit approval. I'm not sure.

16.

Jack

December 8, 2009, 4:52 PM

John, I hope you realized I was being sarcastic or facetious. Given that the comment was made in 1949, when the moral lapses of politicians and entertainers were far, FAR less likely to become public than they are now, and that Greenberg was much more familiar with artists and their lapses, I can see how he could make such a statement. I can also see how he might have thought that if artists could be adored for being successful, they could also be expected to deliver in moral terms. But as you say, only he could tell us precisely where he was coming from.

17.

Jack

December 8, 2009, 7:12 PM

I am, of course, quite hopeless according to prevailing norms, but if forced to choose, I prefer this to the pretentiously pointless cellophane ball (click on images for better ones):

The Broken Eggs
detail

It's a contemporary engraving after Greuze. Yes, the moralizing now seems heavy-handed and archaic. However, the technical quality alone, and especially the handling of the girl's face, are of considerably more interest than wadded-up cellophane, coloured or not.

18.

opie

December 8, 2009, 7:40 PM

John, as you must know, Clem had extremely high personal standards for himself and for others and was as critical of himself as he was of others, well, almost, anyway.

His "morality" was not consistent with custom, necessarily, but it certainly was consistent within itself and adhered to and worked on, and was one I could pretty much go along with. And he obviously knew that a moral idiot could be a good artist; he commonly criticized the behavior of artists whose work he admired.

I feel that what he was reacting to was the tendency for the art public to almost require that artists be moral idiots, which, as Tim pointed out, is endemic today. To my mind this is hugely insulting, and, furthermore draws people to art who are in fact moral idiots in the first place, and talentless to boot.

19.

opie

December 8, 2009, 7:46 PM

BTW everyone should read the Bunny piece. She has a kind of oblique sarcasm running through it which made me actually laugh a couple of times and is so much more effective than any kind of rant. And miore fun to read, of course.

20.

dude

December 8, 2009, 8:09 PM

The Greenberg text came from some remarks pertaining somehow to Ezra Pound, says a quick google. I think it's an interesting bit seen against stuff like this, a comment Opie made on the Miami Basel thread the other day:

"Tradition is past. we need a return to value, in more than just art, for that matter...The stuff in these shows discourages one for what it says about the people making art, buying it, selling it, talking about it...It is so damn low level, in a purely human way, so shabby, shoddy and sleazy that you feel like taking a shower afterwards. These are degenerate mentalities plaguing one of our highest callings. They should be doing something else, something useful, and let well-intentioned people who know what they are doing do the thing."

Yes Chris, "Note the difference between great and successful," indeed.

Again, if it's not about quality, what is it about? Where is the value? We can reasonably critique that which relies on convention, but what can be said about the rest? Is it still the same species of thing? Really?

21.

Jack

December 8, 2009, 8:18 PM

Les Oeufs Cassés. Sounds rather better in French.

22.

dude

December 8, 2009, 8:20 PM

The Greenberg text came from some remarks pertaining somehow to Ezra Pound, says a quick google. I think it's an interesting bit seen against stuff like this, a comment Opie made on the Miami Basel thread the other day:

"Tradition is past. we need a return to value, in more than just art, for that matter...The stuff in these shows discourages one for what it says about the people making art, buying it, selling it, talking about it...It is so damn low level, in a purely human way, so shabby, shoddy and sleazy that you feel like taking a shower afterwards. These are degenerate mentalities plaguing one of our highest callings. They should be doing something else, something useful, and let well-intentioned people who know what they are doing do the thing."

Yes Chris, "Note the difference between great and successful," indeed.

Again, if it's not about quality, what is it about? Where is the value? We can reasonably critique that which relies on convention, but what can be said about the rest? Is it still the same species of thing? Really?

23.

John

December 8, 2009, 9:43 PM

I was only 7 in 1949, but in the 80s when Clem said something like "is or seems a successful artist" he meant both the truly good and the ersatz good artist. The 1949 statement was not nearly as thorough as the one he made in 1980, which you can read here. It's called "Autonomies of Art" and covers life, artists, morality, and art in thoughtful detail.

You can view video of the talk itself here.

Video of the Q & A that followed (no text available) can be viewed here and here. The first question is asked by Peter Plagens who asks when art fails both aesthetically and morally is it just bad art or is it morally offensive as well. Laurie Fendrich asked how can Greenberg disagree with Kant in question 6. (Didn't everyone know that Greenberg was a slavish disciple of Kant?) Robert Pincus-Witten, obviously unimpressed by Clem's publicly known and publicly practiced vices, asked "why are you so puritanical?" in number 7. In other responses Clem comes out in favor of censorship for porn under certain circumstances and is asked why should we listen to anyone about the difference between porn and art. Yet, and curiously, another questioner thinks Clem diminishes morality and asserts that narrative art is more or less intrinsically moral, and is joined by another who says the moral and the aesthetic are the same thing in narrative art.

If you have been reading Piri's book, you will notice that the questions about the narrative track with her assertion that abstraction was respected for a time in the 50s, but never loved then or since.

If you want to just listen to the talk, along with the Q & A, hit this. But the video is really pretty good for 1980 technology.

You need Real Player installed for either the audio or the video. The gents who own the site are too cheap to pay for a license that allows their Real Server to stream more than 5 clients simultaneously, so if everybody hits it at once, someone may not get a connection until someone else disconnects.

All and all, this will give you a much better handle on Clem's views than the '49 statement. That's to be expected, since he had 30 years to work on the subject.

24.

Chris Rywalt

December 8, 2009, 9:52 PM

Dude asks:
Again, if it's not about quality, what is it about? Where is the value?

I've been banging my head against this for a few years now and the closest thing to a satisfactory answer is basically what I get from Jack: "You'll never figure it out and it's not worth the effort. Find something else to do. Here's a pot."

I know I sound kind of flippant about it, but I do understand Jack (and the others) when he says that, and I understand how his answer could be satisfactory, in some universe; and yet it's not my internal universe. I'm still hoping to make some sense of it.

I don't think I will.

25.

John

December 8, 2009, 9:52 PM

For reasons I don't yet understand, when I open the links to the Real Server Video in Firefox 3.0.15 (Windows), Firefox crashes, whether I access them from artblog or type them in myself. Internet Explorer works fine.

26.

opie

December 8, 2009, 11:22 PM

Dude, you ask if art isn't about quality, what is it about, and I would say yes, it is about quality, but I would also say that "about quality" is not the way to say it, is insufficient and misleading.

This is not at all meant to be a criticism of what you said because there is no settled way to say it better. One reason we have such a hard time with art is that it is a non-verbal activity, through and through, and dealing with it runs right into language problems.

There is one thing we can clearly see about art, however. What something is is what we do with it, and what we do with art is value it. That is what it is made for. To build a theory of art that is where me must begin. Anything else will not work and nothing else has worked.

My comments on Basel were not directly judgements of the goodness of the art in the exhibit but an impression of the odor of human degredation given off by the art there once I had perceived how bad it was. It was by way of being a further observation.

27.

Chris Rywalt

December 8, 2009, 11:34 PM

I didn't think Dude's question was "If art (in general) isn't about quality was is it about?" but "If art (which is being sold by the art world at events like Miami Basel) isn't about quality (and clearly it isn't) what is it about?"

28.

Tim

December 9, 2009, 12:10 AM

Dude, "...where's the value?" The value for people who have invested in whatever way, emotional, monetary, personal identity..., in the stuff happening in the 'art world' today is more social than anything else. Everything that happens in that world is about maintaining the value of the investment and bolstering one's identity and place within it. Every time I get anywhere near the 'art world' I feel as though I'm in the 9 th grade again, where it's all about fads, crazes, and desperately seeking the approbation of one's peers. I don't think it's any more complicated than that.

29.

piri

December 9, 2009, 12:15 AM

My computer isn't adequate to access the Greenberg statement, but I do remember talking with him from time to time about the first generation of abstract expressionists (Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko et. al.), and I very clearly remember him distinguishing between the quality of their art and their quality as human beings. They all made great art, he indicaed, but Pollock was the only one he liked as a human being. All the rest, he said, were complete washouts as human beings (or words to this effect -- I think Still he even called a sociopath).

30.

Tim

December 9, 2009, 12:34 AM

Piri, that's interesting. A painter acquaintance visited Elaine de Kooning and, on his return, couldn't stop about her; apparently he was starstruck. And isn't it interesting that the popular culture has chosen Pollock to be the Bad Boy of AbEx? Did you see that movie or read that Updike thing? People around here couldn't stop about that silly movie for about a month. White T-shirt sales soared.

31.

dude

December 9, 2009, 12:49 AM

John, I realize the Greenberg text is well out of context on many levels for my purposes, although it's still a tasty preface to Bunny's Guston piece (I happen to like Guston very much, I think he's hardly so ugly). I don't presume to know exactly where a young Greenberg was coming from in '49, not my point really.

When I say 'about' I'm implying and assuming community as it were, asking in general, if we are not making art as a response to quality, then there isn't there another alien kind of motivation in play? Convention makes its own case, until we allow style to become an overriding and determining aspect. To me, it's scale. We need convention, because we need style, but go too far and style floods out the need for convention, but at that point we aren't connected to the initial impulse which was a response to quality, based on convention. Ok, I had to scrawl something in response. Night, night all. Better go plug my car in.

32.

dude

December 9, 2009, 12:52 AM

Tried to watch that CG vid a long time ago, but it wouldn't work for me then. Right now on my Mac, in Safari, it's a no go.

33.

Tim

December 9, 2009, 1:00 AM

Dude, in place of 'alien,' insert 'juvenile.'

34.

Noah

December 9, 2009, 1:40 AM

The Greenberg comment about Erza Pound was about whether or not Pound should be honored with a literary award. This was,indeed, 1949, not long after the war and Pound's well documented anti-Semitic activities.This was about drawing a line about honoring a person.
Greenberg was clear about separating the person from the art.He also said of Clifford Still that as the years went by he liked the man less and less and his work -more and more.

35.

Franklin

December 9, 2009, 7:30 AM

Still is especially interesting to me because his grating personality, when he showed up in the Bay Area to teach (I believe at the California School of Arts and Crafts, but I can't verify this right at the moment) caused everyone around him to immediately lose interest in abstract expressionism. Thus Bay Area Figuration was born.

36.

opie

December 9, 2009, 8:04 AM

Dude, keep it simple and keep it on the individual. Artists have all kinds of motivations and character levels which we can judge however we want to, just as we judge their art.

Personally, I prefer to keep everything (in life as well as art) down to cases, making judgements case by case rather than categorically. If someone makes a good painting it is a good painting. If that person does a bad thing it is a bad thing. If a politician does something right or wrong it is not a a matter of Republican or Democrat. To do otherwise is to arbitrarily abandon your option to judge freely. It is stupid.

Piri's observation about Clem accords with mine. He was scathing enough about his colleagues (and mine) that I often wondered what he said about me in my absence. Though he clearly separated a person and his art, I felt very strongly (though it nonplussed him when I mentioned it) that his art judgment had a strongly moral basis.

He was critical of Pollock personally, especially the final car crash incident, but had an almost reverential attitude toward Pollock's seriousness as an artist. And he did rather like and certainly admired him him, which as Piri indicated, was rare.

37.

Chris Rywalt

December 9, 2009, 8:53 AM

I'm glad to find, OP, that, as young as I am, my thinking agrees with your wisdom. It always comes down to cases. No human being is so consistent that you can judge them across all their actions at once. No artist paints nothing but great paintings.

38.

Jack

December 9, 2009, 9:27 AM

The social-fashion-image-money elements are obviously key factors in the official art scene. "Quality" has either been redefined to suit the players or is effectively a non-issue, whatever lip service may be paid to it. Given the potential profits involved, those who can take advantage of this situation will of course do so, certainly the dealers or sellers and the Hirst and Koons types. Even the "major" collectors are predictable enough, I suppose, human nature being what it is. What still manages to surprise me, though increasingly less so, is the extent to which the supposed guardians, stewards or gatekeepers, the ostensible defenders of the faith, so to speak, have essentially opted to join the party. In other words, the whole system, for all practical purposes, is now part of the problem.

39.

dude

December 9, 2009, 10:24 AM

Re 36, 37, and 38:

Case by case. I totally understand and agree. What I'm trying to say, and Jack's #38 is more or less the meat of it, is that there seems to be a whole new swath of activity, 'juvenile' or otherwise, that doesn't make sense basically at all in relation to the history of artists responding based on real quality. It goes over under the auspices of art, but basketball aquariums have nothing to do with their purported reason to be. Koons output matters only inasmuch as he is able to point to himself, his ability to actually make the stuff and sell it, in other words his success. Once 'successful' (this guy was part of a perfect storm), he can keep selling, the unspoken rationale for buying anything of his after that being simply the reality that the other thing sold in the first place. Played out, the value becomes literally the price tag, and not much else. Now Koons is a juggernaut case. The smaller case is every artist who succumbs to this impulse towards success, as it implies a market angle (read "looking around obviously I need a gimmick") rather than a quality angle. On many levels this obscures the real history, and the I see this late 20th c. predicament as art being hijacked for something else entirely. Again, the scale of this situation now, makes it possible to point to this malignancy. And innovation can't be the sole basis for quality, we know that already, and we didn't need Pop to know it either.

My point is that there is now, as never before, a mechanism of deceit in place that art, real art, won't allow for. So I have to ask, how can I reasonably evaluate Koons as art, or any other version of the same, with an understanding built out of completely different field of experience? THe tail end of #38 sums up where it gets really scary. Again, when I'm railing against Koonsism, I'm not sure I'm railing against art that needs to get better, I feel more like I'm railing against sheer greed and vice and superficiality. These have nothing to do with art as far as I can tell.

If the whole system is now the problem (i agree with Jack and this is where it gets really scary), I am wary of spending time trying to figure it out. Time for a new system. In other words, I don't really care if Kuspit is coming around to good taste, there's no room for good taste in the first. This kind of new conscience will only mean something once stuff starts happening at scale to show real faith. Step one: A major Olitski retrospective!

40.

opie

December 9, 2009, 11:06 AM

Dude, you are sensing something that has not been adequately put into words, that factors of size and commercialization have changed the nature of what is accepted and expected of art, that art is not art any more (a colleague calls it "nart") and that those of us who have adhered to the traditional idea of what art is are marginalized, perhaps not in numbers but certainly by the market.

I think this is a natural process and I wrote 40 years ago that it should simply divide into simple catagories the way it has in literature & music, each different, with its own systems & audience. Partly because of the "unique object" character of visual art this has not happened but it may in time. In the meantime we just have to endure.

41.

Chris Rywalt

December 9, 2009, 11:48 AM

Dude, you might find it interesting to read Ben Davis defending Conceptual Art. The quote that ties in with the discussion here is:

You may or may not like Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living or Koons’ Flower Puppy, but they are both artworks that have an inbuilt "wow" factor.

I've read -- but haven't personally experienced, for some reason -- that one of Koons' Flower Puppy is a big tourist destination in New York, with people constantly photographing themselves in front of it. I also think, in this context, about Oldenburg's Clothespin in Philadelphia (or the bunch of smaller sculptures of game pieces, enlarged enormously, scattered in a plaza nearby).

These are works which excite people, which people love inordinately, which people get tattooed on their bodies.

In some sense, then, they're extremely successful examples of art. Who wouldn't want one of their pieces to achieve that kind of adulation? To be in vacation scrapbooks the world over? That'd be GREAT!

So I realized Davis has a point when he talks about this "wow factor". People are really impressed by a shark in a tank. (Floating basketballs not so much.)

Is that a product of the mechanism of deceit, that people really, really like this stuff?

Looking at it from within the art world -- not that I'm really within it, exactly, but it's where my head is at these days -- it looks pretty stupid. But from outside the art world, these things invite two strangely incompatible reactions: That "wow factor" and "That's art?!"

I'm not entirely certain, Dude, that your characterization of artists as historically "responding based on real quality" is quite accurate. I'm no historian, but I tend to take the view that people are pretty much the same as they've always been, so any time someone posits that they used to be different, I have to wonder.

On the other hand, that's part of the argument contemporary art people make for art today: They say it's always been like this and we're ignorant for thinking otherwise. One dealer once claimed -- with a straight face -- that the Old Masters just painted the pop culture of their time. I find this argument hard to swallow.

42.

Tim

December 9, 2009, 12:33 PM

Chris, "In some sense, then, they're extremely successful examples of art. Who wouldn't want one of their pieces to achieve that kind of adulation? To be in vacation scrapbooks the world over? That'd be GREAT!

"So I realized Davis has a point when he talks about this "wow factor". People are really impressed by a shark in a tank. (Floating basketballs not so much.)"

Isn't that just a description of how a crowd reacts to a spectacle? I wouldn't want that kind of attention.

I think Dude's right about artists 'historically responding based on real quality.' I think that impulse hasn't changed, though the externals change constantly. Art usually exists in its own day for entirely different reasons than it does in posterity. Posterity sorts it all out. In the meantime the challenge is to see that the art gets done. That's really all we have control over. And Dude is sensing the same thing I am, that many artists are breaking camp and moving on.

43.

opie

December 9, 2009, 12:45 PM

Chris, do the case by case thing on this. When we look to things for entertainment (and art is a kind of entertainment) we (you, me, both of us, lots of people) are either entertained or not. We have certain expectations and they are either satisfied or they are not. I can certainly take the flower puppy as a fun thing; if I try to take it as art it will probably be disappointing.

Unfortunately the art business cannot seem to accommodate the idea that there is a distinction between the "fun thing" and the real art, and most people haven't a clue that there even is such a difference, so everything is lumped together. The art business likes this because it makes lots of junky stuff "art" and that raises the price. We don't like it because what we value so much gets slighted.

It is all perfectly understandable. We just have to live with it and talk about art with the few people who know what art is.

44.

Chris Rywalt

December 9, 2009, 1:04 PM

You've put your finger on it perfectly, OP. The trouble is teasing out the strands of entertainment from those of art, or whatever we can call that feeling we get from art when it's really, really good. When entertainment is really good, too, there's some of the same feeling as when art's really good.

I was at the circus a couple of years ago. I would never have gone -- I'm way too cool for the circus -- but a friend had box seats they didn't need so my wife and I took the kids. I was blown away at how much I enjoyed myself and there was a point where I was simply crying with joy. It was that wonderful an experience of human skill and animal beauty. In a moment all my cynicism -- all the jokes about clowns being creepy and all the thoughts about animal mistreatment and where the elephant poop goes -- all of it just washed away.

So there's that overlap where even entertainment -- "mere" entertainment? -- can be sublime, liberating, soul-opening. That's what I -- I assume we -- want from art, too, in a slightly different flavor, maybe.

And we don't get it from a Koons balloon dog sculpture, and we're mad that someone puts it out there like that, like someone giving us a fast-food burger instead of the filet mignon we were promised.

But that sculpture can, maybe, be entertainment. I used to feel that way more before I became overwhelmed with the sheer human waste of such things -- of the energies and resources going into that instead of something more worthy, because the worthy stuff is out there and it needs help.

And there's that confusion, too, among those Jack calls the gatekeepers, who've forgotten, if they ever knew it, the difference between entertainment and art. But it's kind of understandable, isn't it? Because I can't even entirely get them apart.

45.

Jack

December 9, 2009, 1:13 PM

Even if one accepts the "wow factor" business, having such a thing does not make anything good art, or even art at all. Anything big and flashy enough could be said to have a "wow factor." So what? It may wow some and not others, but again, so what? And this Davis guy expects me to buy Hirst or Koons on such a completely flimsy basis? Please.

46.

Jack

December 9, 2009, 1:37 PM

The system is corrupted and corrupting. It is not reasonable, let alone realistic, to expect saints or martyrs, so to speak, to materialize in sufficient numbers to turn the tide. The system itself is so degenerate, so perverted, top to bottom, that it will never reform itself willingly or voluntarily, especially if the money holds up tolerably well. There is far too much in the way of vested interests, both material and psychological, for the system to face the truth (assuming it even could) and act accordingly. Lies beget more lies, and fraud begets more fraud. The system, I'm afraid, has gone past the point of no return. It must keep the game going at all costs, as it fully intends to do.

47.

piri

December 9, 2009, 2:24 PM

To the best of my recollection, the flower puppy was set up in Rockefeller Center, which is a tourist destination anyway. I'm sure tourists posed their nearest & dearest in front of it, just as they in all probability pose them in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree at this time of the year.

The Metropolitan Museum has a roof garden, and every summer they mount an exhibition of a single artist on it. The first year was Caro. I was so busy looking at the art that I didn't notice what the tourists were doing. One year recently however the show was Koons & I did indeed notice that tourists were posing their friends & relatives in front of the Koonses but then I suspect this goes on every summer, regardless of the artist. And since when do we look to the tourist population for value judgments?

I'd be the first to agree that that the whole current system of art production & reception downgrades quality and maximizes junk, but let's have a little historical perspective here. Is this fundamentally any different from the Salons in 19th century France? Go back and re-read dear old John Rewald's History of Impressionism some time, and you realize that the impressionists were up against much the same sort of problem -- which at its heart is the problem of letting majority rule what's praised and sold (and hiring critics who can be relied upon to mirror majority taste -- however much they may think they're praising art on the basis of its quality).

48.

Jack

December 9, 2009, 3:04 PM

The "system" or establishment has never been truly pure, certainly, and never could be. It's a matter of degree and scale, and the degree and scale of the current mess, to put it that way, is mindboggling and unprecedented. The academic artists promoted by the salons were at least highly proficient in terms of technique, which is something, certainly more than what the bulk of the current hucksters, "conceptualists" and assorted poseurs have to offer.

49.

dude

December 9, 2009, 3:21 PM

I agree, Jack.

I see your point Piri, although I don't think it's a totally appropriate comparison anymore, as it doesn't quite address the lay of the land today. In the late 19th century it was this painting against that one, quite simply. Modernism was actually able to eventually make it's own case, slowly but surely, building from within. There were no obvious barriers, beyond developing taste, to thwart its very survival within the system it established for itself to go over in the first place.

The ugly unnerving flipside to this discussion is that Modernism isn't doing itself any favors from within, by and large. I'm in agreement with John, when he says he doesn't see a lot of good, let alone great stuff out there being made. This will get even worse as the dialogue and scholarship around meaningful work continues to wane.

Segway to Opie's argument for elitism. Hell, yes. Specialization and attention to means must be foregrounded like never before. Quality is that thing, that type of specific result of convention, that comes from nowhere else.

sidenote: I wish there could be more talk (maybe you guys carry on elsewhere) about where things have gone in the last fifteen to twenty years, within modernist painting especially.

50.

Chris Rywalt

December 9, 2009, 3:24 PM

I was given the impression by a couple of sources that the Flower Puppy thing was permanently installed somewhere in midtown. This surprised me since I'd never bumped into it. Today's research makes me think it was never permanent. I did find out that Basque separatists threatened to blow it up while it was in Bilbao, which strikes me as rather more taste than I usually accord to terrorists.

Anyway.

Part of me thinks we shouldn't look to tourists for value judgments. But then part of me thinks that tourists -- and regular residents of the area -- are fine judges of art from a certain angle. People don't flock to things they don't like. Having a large number of people like something is pretty much the definition of a good work of art: That's the art that's going to get saved when everything else is thrown away.

Crowds certainly shouldn't be the sole arbiter of goodness, but surely they count for something, don't they?

51.

Tim

December 9, 2009, 3:33 PM

Chris, the crowd you're looking for is the one which builds little by little over the years, decades, centuries. That's the crowd that good art is saved for, not the crowd which shows up around trainwrecks and then disappears as quickly as it appeared.

52.

Jack

December 9, 2009, 3:46 PM

This impresses me (you may need to click on the image to get a better one). The Hirst shark thing is ultimately like an exceedingly pretentious exhibit at the county fair. So much for "wow."

And Chris, if you think that Flower Puppy is big with tourists, just imagine the popular appeal of a four-story statue of Elvis, even in his tackiest Vegas regalia.

53.

Chris Rywalt

December 9, 2009, 5:24 PM

Don't talk to me about Elvis.

54.

piri

December 9, 2009, 5:52 PM

I figured somebody would say the 19th century Salons were no longer relevant, but really right through modern history, the second-best has been stage front & center. John, God bless him, has made it to chapter 23 of my book, so he knows that even in the 1950s, abstract expressionism was being respected but not loved (and I might add that second rate ab-ex in the 50s, all that messy-gestural imitation de Kooning, was getting at least as big a play as the first-rate ab-ex, though anybody who thinks Guston and Mitchell are geniuses might disagree with me). In the 1940s, a subject I know from my dissertation, the "well-made" picture got much more exposure & praise than the young abstract expressionists -- late (gross) Picasso for example, late Max Weber (all those droopy-eyed nudes), people like Dali & Morris Graves (a wimp now largely forgotten) & B.J. O. Nordfeldt (who he?).

Nor was it any different in the heyday of Analytic Cubism. Sometime when I was in grad school, I ran into a professor of French at a party given by one of my mother's friends. Afterwards, he mailed me a book he'd translated. It was the writings of Apollinaire.He of course is best known for praising Matisse & Picasso, but this book of his writings was mostly if not entirely reviews of the big Salons of the day (Salon d'Automne, Salon de Printemps, maybe others, in the period after Matisse made his splash at the Salon d'Automne, on up through to the beginnning of World War I). At these shows, dozens & dozens of now totally-forgotten painters were represented. Picasso & Braque never exhibited there,at most these Salons got Gleizes & Metzinger, two thoroughly second-rate cubists. As nearly as one can tell from the Apollinaire reviews --- which were often very favorable about all these nonentities -- they were painting latter-day neo-impressionism, all those pointilist little dots 30 years after Seurat had made brilliant paintings with them. That was contemporary art to the general public.

I don't think it makes any difference that the materials are different today, or that technically today's awful is technically inferior to the hack work of old. Great modern sculpture today isn't made the same way that Rodin made his work, either. Does that make Caro or David Smith any lesser figures than Rodin? And although a lot of the chic work looks badly made, it takes a certain skill to make work look bad. Much as I hate to say it, I think even Tracey Emin is capable of painting attractive work, it's just that she's more interested in having her work look crude & ugly. Anyway, technical superiority proves very little. An artist can be technically excellent and have really bad taste, while things which are even fabricated by craftspeople (upon instructions from the artist) can be great.

55.

Jack

December 9, 2009, 6:22 PM

I still think we're talking about a clearly different degree, scale or order of magnitude. I can't think of a suitable pre-Pop equivalent for things like the Koons balloon nonsense, the Hirst diamond skull, the wad of cellophane Bunny described earlier, and on and on and on, ad nauseam. And if I have to look at hack work, I'd much rather look at technically accomplished hack work than the unspeakably lousy Hirst crap probably still up at the Wallace Collection in London. But that's just me, obviously.

56.

opie

December 9, 2009, 6:27 PM

One of my classes in my Cubist Seminar, which I have not taught in many years, was designed to get across a flavor of the Parisian art world in the years after Demoiselles and before the war. The way it is usually taught there are Picasso & Braque and a few hangers-on and a couple of Futurists visiting now and then, and of course it was much more complex and interesting, as Piri points out above.

It would be wonderful to go back and hang out

57.

Tim

December 9, 2009, 6:49 PM

Piri, I really don't see any comparison between the frontal assault on my sensibilities going on now and the "second- best' of the Nineteenth Century, which could be seen at worst as innocuous furniture. And in the 60's I could walk into a room with a 'messy-gestural imitation of de Kooning' and not be so offended that I wanted to leave immediately.

There is clearly a difference in intention and result between the hacks of yore the smartalecs of today.

58.

Chris Rywalt

December 9, 2009, 6:51 PM

Over at About Last Night, Terry Teachout's blog, with occasional entries from others, Our Girl in Chicago quotes Roger Rosenblatt. Rosenblatt is writing about writing, but it seems to me it shines a clear light on contemporary art as well, and in a way rebuts what I've written here today:

Of such writing one does not ask, "What is here?" What is here is painfully obvious. One asks instead, "What is missing?" And what is missing are recognizable human conflicts and the thoughts and feelings of people one cares for.

Maybe that's the thing about Koons and Hirst and Emin and all the rest: It's not what's there, it's what's missing.

59.

Jack

December 9, 2009, 6:51 PM

Here's some 19th century work by an eminently academic painter:

Veiled Circassian Woman
Black Bashi-Bazouk

I can handle this. I cannot handle a big ball of colored cellophane trying to disguise its abject nakedness by invoking the name of Emily Dickinson.

60.

Jack

December 9, 2009, 7:04 PM

The painter of the above, for anyone interested, was Jean-Léon Gérôme.

61.

George

December 9, 2009, 8:20 PM

There is no conspiracy against any artist or style. There is fashion but that has always been the case.

The art Game:

Art has one of the most Byzantine economic models of any luxury item, it is unique in the world of business. Like any business, the art market has a producer, the artist, and a consumer, the collector. The ultimate goal is to use commerce to move the art object from the artist to the cultural repository, the museum, without having it end up in the trash bin.

In a contemporary culture, where most objects seem to be disposable, the art object aspires to be preserved rather than discarded. The higher the monetary value placed upon an object the greater probability it will be preserved. Therefore, the art market works by exploiting the artist and buying the artwork at a low price. It is then traded it among the interested parties until it's value is high enough for it to be preserved and as a result, it is removed from the marketplace. Artworks which fail in the world of commerce are eventually discarded or otherwise lost.

The art market has been undergoing radical changes for two reasons. One is demographics, the US population is double what it was 50 years ago (world pop. doubled since 1969) and is four times what it was in 1900. It is more than just a simple arithmetic increase which is occurring, because it appears there are certain points of critical mass where the artworld grows faster then the raw population increase would warrant. The second factor has been the enormous increase in wealth world wide. The number of billionaires has increased by over 500 times since 1985.

The increased capital flowing into the art market has been sufficient enough to cause distortions in pricing and raise some questions about what actually goes on in the commerce activities that occur with an art object between the studio sale and the final museum resting place. I believe it is worth paying attention to the commerce process, including ethics, but also realizing that the goal is always to make the art object so valuable it will be preserved.

62.

Tim

December 9, 2009, 8:46 PM

George, worth, not value, determines preservation.

63.

George

December 9, 2009, 9:46 PM

Tim, define the difference between what you mean by "worth" vs. "value"

However you define it, in modern history there are no viable exceptions to my model. The artworks which are "valued" are preserved and artworks which are seen as having "less value" are more likely to be discarded or allowed to deteriorate. "Value" may be a result of aesthetic appreciation but this is not a requirement.

64.

Tim

December 9, 2009, 9:57 PM

George, I looked up worth, and it seems to mean value. But I think of worth as something beyond value. That is, something may have no monetary value whatsoever, but it can be worth something. That's often the case. Monetary value comes and goes.

65.

Tim

December 9, 2009, 10:10 PM

For instance, George, Rembrandt's work had no value for a long while, but that didn't diminish its worth. Same with Bach. And others.

66.

George

December 9, 2009, 10:18 PM

Tim, What's your point? What's Rembrandt have to do with it?

I did not say anything about time, about how long the process may take. Clearly some people "valued" Rembrandt's paintings enough to preserve them, that's all that's required.

67.

piri

December 9, 2009, 10:21 PM

As Adam Smith said, price is determined by supply & demand. The merchandise which attacts the largest number of potential buyers will command the highest price, so once again we are up against the popularity model. And there are two forms of potential consumers today, collectors & museum-goers. A lot of art made today is intended to go directly to museums, where it can be exhibited & the number of people who will come to see it determines the price that the artist will be able to command in future.

But demand is elastic, doesn't stay the same --- very little demand for Rembrandt etchings at the beginning of the 20th century meant that they were cheap (whereas Bouguereau was making a lot of money). Today, those prices are reversed. Which is another way of saying that it's the audiences over time that determine whether a work will last, not how many people want to buy it or even look at it when it's new.

As for the increase in the size of the art world, a lot of that is the rising level of education & occupational category. College graduates, students and white-collar workers are more likely to go to museums than are blue-collar workers and adults with only high-school educations (at least, this is what one Canadian study found, some years ago, and I see no reason to believe the U.S. is any different from Canada). The proportion of the citizenry which is college educated, student and/or white collar has been increasing in all the industrialized nations over the past half-century. In 1950, six out of every ten workers in the U.S. were either farmers or in blue-collar type jobs (manufacturing but also working-class service occupations, such as bus-drivers or janitors). In 1950, four out of every ten U.S. workers were in white-collar type jobs: managerial, professional, technical, clerical or sales. By 2000, those proportions were exactly reversed, and the balance is undoubtedly even more lopsided now.

68.

Tim

December 9, 2009, 10:48 PM

My point, George, is that monetary value fluctuates. I think this is a semantic matter. There is something beyond subjective value that causes things to endure. I call that thing worth.

69.

George

December 9, 2009, 11:02 PM

Forget Adam Smith. Where there is price elasticity (stocks, collectables, real estate, art) rising prices increase demand.

There is only "the consumer," generally art which ends up in museums is vetted first in the commercial market. It's not a requirement, but generally what occurs. Just because an artwork was made "to go in a museum" does not mean it will end up there. Regardless, it's a moot point, 500 years ago we had the Pope, same deal. Rembrandt vs. Bouguereau is irrelevant, both are preserved, we can like one better than the other because we can see both.

I am surprised that more attention hasn't been given to demographics when considering the stylistic evolution of art over the last half century. Demographics along with the transition from an industrial economy to an information based economy beginning in the latter part of the 20th century accounts for the increasing emphasis on artworks which have conceptual influences. Further, starting in the 1960's the increased number of artists made it highly unlikely that a hegemonic stylistic environment would again be seen.

Whatever this discussion is about, it has strayed far from the truth. There is no conspiracy to make art be one way or the other. People have opinions about what they like, and many disagree. Take Gerhard Richter, he's the king of the squeegee painters and would appear to be a prime candidate for hero worship here, but nooo.... Take Alfred York, a reclusive painter superior to Morandi (IMHO) he managed to have a successful career without being a showman. There is no one way to make art, no one way to have a career as an artist. It appears to me that most to the commentors here aren't clear about what they're about.

70.

Tim

December 9, 2009, 11:03 PM

Piri: "As for the increase in the size of the art world, a lot of that is the rising level of education & occupational category."

A lot of it has to do with increase in leisure time.



"College graduates, students and white-collar workers are more likely to go to museums than are blue-collar workers and adults with only high-school educations"

Not at all sure what that proves.

71.

George

December 9, 2009, 11:13 PM

Tim,

I don't know what you're trying to defend. It doesn't matter, an artwork is either worth preserving or it's not. Monetary value, as distasteful as it may be to some, is one factor which will influence the decision to preserve something or not. It's not the only reason but typically the more "worth" (your meaning) something has, the greater its monetary value will be.

72.

George

December 9, 2009, 11:24 PM

The post WWII baby boom, the GI Bill, and the advent of the idea that art was a profession, meant that the number of artists increased dramatically. (When I was in art school enrollment was 50% greater than the preceding period)

Leisure time relates to the audience which I think is less a factor than the increased number of collectors. The amount of wealth created in the last 30 years of the 20th Century was stunning and had a huge affect on the art market. Increased patronage makes it possible for more art to be made.

73.

John

December 9, 2009, 11:41 PM

Welcome back, George.

Where there is price elasticity (stocks, collectables, real estate, art) rising prices increase demand.

That is so true, with exception, perhaps, of real estate in general, but holds up pretty well with respect to certain "prestige" types of real estate.

While I am hardly a commercial success, one of my dealers a long time ago multiplied my prices by ten fold, and sold everything he took, stuff that I had been unable to move at all at my bargain basement prices. Who wants cheap-ass art? Collectors don't. Neither do middlebrows or lowbrows. When it comes to art, if anybody can afford it, nobody wants it.

74.

George

December 9, 2009, 11:50 PM

John, Sorry I'm not back, just slumming for an evening.

75.

George

December 10, 2009, 12:11 AM

John, FYI. There is a huge Kandinsky exhibition at the Guggenheim until Jan 20 (?) There's a good catalog for $35

It's the best exhibition of Kandinsky I've ever seen and one of the best exhibitions of paintings I've ever seen. I was surprised by how good a colorist he was. His transition from the 'expressionist' paintings (1910-1918) to the more precisely geometric ones (1920 on) is astounding in its abruptness. The later paintings make sense related to the earlier ones but the stylistic shift is remarkable. There are also over 100 works on paper, so I looked closely at the drawings from the period around 1918 to see how the change occurred. Whatever, it was cool to see.

76.

John

December 10, 2009, 12:40 AM

The 50s may go down in recent art history as the golden age of the highbrow - an exception, like all golden ages. (See Piri's #54.) When you look at the history of contemporaneous taste and what it celebrates, respect is about as good as the best stuff ever got in the last 150 or so years. The preference, the love if you will, always goes to art that can be explained, no matter that providing grounds for explanation is beside the point of art.

The little hiccup in the 50s that gave respect to abstraction, some of which happened to be the best art there was around, got going because abstraction was "avant-garde", not necessarily because certain works were so good. That's why some of the not so hot got the same respect that the really hot stuff got.

The lovers and makers of explainable art began to realize in the 60s that being avant-garde was not exclusive to abstraction. In fact, being avant-garde could be simplified and dumbed down so anyone could see how explainable art embodied it, even more than abstraction. Transfering the effect of shock to explainable art was in itself an avant-garde gesture. Warhol copying Brillo boxes? That's a shocking, avant-garde gesture that the newly enlightened could easily wrap their minds around - besides, the boxes looked pretty good in the first place. Then it followed that doing something explainable but bad looking might be even more avant-garde, so Bueys took off. And so on, until the importance of being avant-garde was associated with explainable art, and the perpetually difficult to penetrate style of abstraction got tagged with the most negative words in critical vocabulary - rear-guard, old-hat, dated.

In her book Piri says that abstraction, whether avant-garde or not, is still the most radical style and assuming I understand her correctly, I agree completely. I have tried to say in the past that abstract art is like music without lyrics, but that is a strained metaphor. It really isn't. Music with and without lyrics has the same, almost mathematical, fundamental relationships that can guide and stabilize its many forms. Making abstract art requires the artist to start from a much more barren place, a place of freedom where everything the artist has seen can be theoretically brought to bear, but also "free" from external guidance. It is exhilarating but also paralyzing - a tough starting point.

I once mentioned the "inch wide, mile deep" path that the best art travels on. The best art makes its way down that path by persisting. That is the only strategy that appears to be available to abstraction, despite its being the most radical style the human race has ever come up with and all the curious praise that is heaped upon the easily explained (uni-referential Piri might say) "avant-garde". This stuff is held up as the placeholder for "radical" and hardly anyone questions that.

77.

John

December 10, 2009, 12:51 AM

I'll look into the catalog, George. Thanks for the pointer, slumming or otherwise. Kandinsky is really really good.

Way back in #23 I posted some links to a 1980 lecture by Greenberg on art and morality. I reinstalled Real Player on my system and they now work for the latest Windows versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari.

Can't test on a Mac. But for Mac users and anyone with a slow connection I placed click-on links underneath the embedded player that will download the videos to your local computer where Real Player will play them at the highest bit rate, no matter how fast or slow or intermittent your connection. You can, of course, play them anytime you want once you have them localized.

78.

John

December 10, 2009, 12:56 AM

Several of the twists and turns of this thread remind me that Darby Bannard's "The Art Glut" is one of the most important essays written in the last half of the 20th century.

79.

David

December 10, 2009, 1:56 AM

" When the crash comes a lot of money will be lost and a lot of reputations will lie twitching in the rubble. But painting, cut back to its roots of refined craft, ingenuous seriousness, uncomplicated delight, playfulness. subtlety and surprise, can rise, vital and refreshed, free from this orgy of belligerent silliness and far-out affectation, free from poisonous irony, predatory intellectualism, and the perverse abhorrance of ordinary pleasure, free from the arrogant posturing of no-talent egomaniacs.

It will be a hard lesson, but I can't wait." Bannard,1986

Well, that happened as predicted. Is 20 years about right for the cycle or do you think it has accelerated? Do you think Urs Fisher will be remembered in 20 years as the next Sandro Chia? Sorry, that's too easy.

80.

David

December 10, 2009, 2:33 AM

I suppose the cycle I'm thinking of has something to do with the collectors -Saatchi being the great example of the dumping of 80's artists -the great accelerator of the sinking of reputations. I'm thinking of the cycle re. say Dakis Joannou and the cycle of collector to museum to purgatory (museum storage, land fill). Here's a great study for some dual degree candidate in material culture: tag everything in Joannou's collection with some sort of electronic device so its location can be traced in 20 years, like they do with sea turtles. It would have to be able to broadcast from a land fill.

81.

George

December 10, 2009, 3:04 AM

Well David, more BS which doesn't fit the facts.

Since 1986 there have been two major corrections in art auction prices. The most recent one (2008-2009) saw prices decline by about 40%. However, this came from price levels which were roughly 10x (1000%) higher than they were in 1986.

Further, the correction in art prices was directly connected to the economic meltdown in 2008. It was a reversion to the mean, correcting the 2002-2007 pricing bubble and had little to do with aesthetics.

An Andy Warhol painting sold at a recent auction for $46 million. An excellent Peter Doig painting sold for $10 million. Anecdotally (in NYC) I'm hearing that sales are improving at the low (emerging) and high end of the market but still soft in the midrange. The world economic cycle has been reset, and I expect another 20 year growth cycle in the art markets, starting now.

The bitter tone of your remark is unfortunate. Typical of the sentiment on this message board, it's an indication that maybe you are spending too much time worrying about what Jeff Koons (whoever) is doing rather than your art.

I've been attending the open studios at the schools here in NYC, not only are these young artists optimistic and enthusiastic but they have improved substantially over the last year. Nobody seemed to give a shit about postmodernism, it's a chapter in a book to use or ignore. I would note that the downturn in the art market seems to have taken the pressure off of them, to good effect.

Happy Holidays to everyone.

82.

David

December 10, 2009, 3:42 AM

George, didn't you just confirm my 20 year comment? I'm trying not to think of Koons but he's been in the air lately. I'm also sitting in on final crits at RISD this week and next, and I agree with some of your observations. I wouldn't say the pressure is off at all, but youth is a wonderful thing.

83.

opie

December 10, 2009, 7:13 AM

John, re your #76, what worries me at this point is the apparent abandonment of the conscious application of the idea of "goodness" to art. That seems to be the one thing that is very different from before.

Implicit valuation still goes on in the market, as it must if objects are to be sorted out commercially, but our idea of esthetic valuation, which is the traditional method and what we stick to, seems to have been rooted out and discarded.

This, in turn, seems to have slowed the cycle of reevaluation considerably, allowing, or encouraging, such things as the sale of an esthetically neutral object such as the Warhol George mentioned at an absurdly high price. In the "old days" Warhol would be virtually forgotten by now, rejected by the process of esthetic re-evaluation.

I think your analysis in #76 is excellent. Abstraction is certainly "radical" in the real sense of going back to the roots of the craft. It had its day, propelled for a moment by the authority of superior taste, but I think it will be years before it is really accepted as a basic convention, as it is in music, where we are accustomed to it. People still want other things from visual art - the explanations you mention, and such like.

84.

Franklin

December 10, 2009, 8:12 AM

I've been attending the open studios at the schools here in NYC, not only are these young artists optimistic and enthusiastic but they have improved substantially over the last year. Nobody seemed to give a shit about postmodernism, it's a chapter in a book to use or ignore.

Thus proving The Art Glut correct.

Adam Smith still applies - it's just that art is a product that consists entirely of perceived value. Raising the price only increases demand if some facts about the work seem to justify the higher prices, largely in regard to other work on the market. If I charge $400 instead of $200 for my watercolors I may successfully increase their perceived value, but if I charge $400,000 instead of $200 I probably won't. Lately I've been listening to The Wealth of Nations on audiobook (free via Librivox) during my long commute and his observations are fascinating. We still discuss the world in the terms he set out in 1776.

I don't believe there's a conspiracy to force art to go in a particular direction. I think instead that because of the circumstances described so ably by John in #76, admission to the top ranks of museum and academic positions has for thirty years required subscription to the tenets of explainable art. That has had a pernicious influence on the direction of art, and continues to cause hardship for all those who don't want to follow in that direction. As often as people with taste complain about Duchamp, I tend to think that more blame for the current state of the art world should be laid at the feet of Beuys.

85.

Jack

December 10, 2009, 8:47 AM

"When it comes to art, if anybody can afford it, nobody wants it."

Incorrect. In the print field, wonderful work can still be had for very little money, and those with sufficient knowledge of the field and appreciation for the work are delighted (and sometimes astounded) by how affordable it is. I am not, of course, referring to trendy stuff like prints by (or ascribed to) Warhol and Jasper Johns. The same is true for Japanese ceramics.

Knowledge and a decent eye, coupled with persistence, can go remarkably far on a modest budget, assuming there's no fashion fetish and no trophy issues.

86.

Franklin

December 10, 2009, 8:53 AM

Also, Tim generally has a point that Rembrandt has value that can't be easily rendered as a particular quantity of fiat currency. As Smith points out, you can value any commodity in terms of any other commodity, and one of the reasons for the invention of money is to facilitate transactions of disparate commodities. (He gives an example of a herder with a cow who wants a loaf of bread from a baker - without a fiscal medium, this exchange can't be made without ridiculous consequences.) The monetary value of a Rembrandt reflects a certain desire to preserve it, as George says, but it reflects it imperfectly, just as if we were attempting to describe its beauty and importance in terms of camels. Likewise, all the virtues of a camel would be difficult to translate into Rembrandts.

87.

opie

December 10, 2009, 8:59 AM

I don't know about that, Franklin. Once I saw a fat cowherd with a 3-legged cow.

Where there's a will there's a way.

88.

Chris Rywalt

December 10, 2009, 9:55 AM

A cow that good you don't eat him all at once.

89.

dude

December 10, 2009, 10:17 AM

I'm not trying to describe any sort of conspiracy. Koons is a type. I'm only trying to point to a tipping point where explainable art got real legs under itself, enough so that another type of work is nearly and completely displaced. Meanwhile, this virus, if you will, has modified its host to the extent that explainable art and it's requisite infrastructure has become the host and if your art ain't coded right, you can't latch on for sustenance. John's #76 says it all.

"I think instead that because of the circumstances described so ably by John in #76, admission to the top ranks of museum and academic positions has for thirty years required subscription to the tenets of explainable art."

In education, this lop-sided system, has gone over irrevocably and I feel more and more that alternate models should be considered for education in visual art. If done right, the 'atelier' model as Franklin labeled it a while back, might be the way to gain back some ground. Flesh out part of a new operating system. Commercial galleries are primed to receive it, it's the most direct route. The work just has to be good enough to matter.

90.

Jack

December 10, 2009, 10:39 AM

This [explainable] stuff is held up as the placeholder for "radical" and hardly anyone questions that.

Hardly anyone questions much of anything. Whatever is promoted by the establishment, whatever is fashionable, whatever is selling goes. The sheep just follow along, perfectly happy to be "with-it."

91.

John

December 10, 2009, 11:25 AM

Jack, when I speak of art "anybody" can afford I'm talking about $50 paintings. When I was writing commercial software for Apple II labs, I sold a product called Lockout for $10, including shipping. I advertised it in a national Apple magazine as part of my compensation for writing articles for them, so it was a known product. And people who bought it loved it. But it didn't sell much. So I gathered up a bunch of school teachers - my focus group I called them affectionately - and asked them what was wrong. They told me bluntly they would never order anything priced under $50 because they could not imagine anything cheaper than that being any good. So I wrote a fairly long manual (which it didn't need), had it printed to replace the instructions that previously had been placed on the disk, shrink wrapped the whole she-bang, and raised the price to $69.95 ... which was featured as a prominent sticker on the outside of the wrap.

My new ads noted the addition of the manual and discretely replaced the old price with the new one, but offered readers of the mag a $20 discount. (I also offered a 100% refund no questions asked satisfaction guarantee that only one person ever took advantage of, but I always offered that.) Sold a boatload of them.

I should have qualified my remarks about art though. When Franklin raises his prices to the $400k range, it won't work unless he can get a couple of people to pay that - which is why dealers are so important to the way art is marketed. They may look like lamprey eels hanging onto the school of salmon, but they are the fulcrum point upon which everything else swings. Without them, nothing much happens with the work of living artists, and not that much with the recently dead either. Critics simply are a side show to the process. Ink is better than no ink; but it doesn't matter whether the ink is nasty or sugary. Look at the initial reception of the hyper realists. Critics complained to high heavens, dealers seemed to say "I can sell this stuff", and sell it they did until the critics came around. Someone has to get someone else to pay $400k for a painting by Franklin before his career can take off. For quite some time, that's been the contribution of the dealers.

George is quite right that art prices have skyrocketed since 1986. I like his citing Richter too, as the king of the squeegee wielders. The chilliness of Richter that puts many here off squares well with Piri's observation that abstraction has never been loved. Richter's stuff isn't lovable, doesn't try to be lovable, and hence does not disturb the general feeling towards abstraction. His dealers have found a comfortable place for him in the larger scheme of things - he has "gone beyond" the hot blooded abex that has become dated. I don't know how explicitly they explain him when the pitch him, but it is clear that Richter uses a radical style without getting the burn that is intrinsic to the best art. Style is never more than a necessary condition.

What is important about Bannard's "The Art Glut" is that he was the first to note that the sheer quantity of art being produced was hurting the system, that the humanism that had once been the foundation of the art world was being trampled and overrun by the overload of artists and art objects that it was confronted with.

About the collapse Bannard was waiting for, well, he is still waiting. Crashes are rare events.

Reminds me of an unregulated stock market that was conducted in a parking garage in Kuwait some years back. Every day the traders arrived in greater and greater numbers, chasing the higher and higher prices in perfect accord with George's observations about higher prices leading to higher demand. Then, on one unprecedented day, no traders appeared. Statistically, that day represented a very unlikely probability. Realistically, though, it was the most definitive day in that market's history.

The dealer Andre Emmerich once said "God forbids the trees to grow into the heavens" with a clear reference to art prices. The problem is, we don't know where that limit is until the prices get there, just as those Kuwaiti traders didn't know where theirs was until it arrived.

Meantime the art glut continues unabated. The sheer size of it hangs everywhere heavy, but few notice. Its huge volume may be more responsible than anything else for the difficulty of aesthetically sorting out the massive output. Humanism has not spread nearly as far as art production, so it is left to other systems to process the result.

92.

Chris Rywalt

December 10, 2009, 11:41 AM

John, your remarks have become maddening to me. They're cogent, they're insightful, they're real, and they're killing me because you're giving me the worst case of presque vu, the worst of the vus -- the almost seen. I can almost see the outlines of a breakthrough, of an epiphany, of a way to make all this knowledge of how things are working (and not working) into something that will work, that will really bring the good art out and up....

But I can only almost see it. I feel as if I just think about it some more....

But probably not. That's the thing that makes presque vu so terrible.

Oh, but it's just there, if only I could squint a little more....

93.

opie

December 10, 2009, 11:49 AM

John, it may not be that the size itself is the causative factor but that it is whatever caused the size in the first place, perhaps a combination of factors that are harder to point to.

I think Bannard was not talking about a truly major crash of the market (though perhaps hoping for one) but a crash of the sort that happened around 1990. I can recall one of the minor stars of New Expressionism, at a dinner party in the early 90s, completely puzzled by his sudden lack of sales, and I have not heard about him since.

94.

Chris Rywalt

December 10, 2009, 11:57 AM

Schnabel was smart enough to find a new line of work. To everyone's benefit, I think -- I like his movies a lot more than his paintings. Not that that says much.

95.

Jack

December 10, 2009, 12:45 PM

John, while there's no doubt truth to your assertion, and while it may apply more often than not, it does not or need not always apply, certainly not in every area. You'd be surprised what can be had for under $100, let alone in the low three figures. Yes, one has to be knowledgeable and persistent, one has to have an eye, one has to value quality over brand name status, but excellent work can be had very affordably, at least in certain fields.

96.

John

December 10, 2009, 1:06 PM

Chris, epiphanies are at least as rare as crashes. Persistence is more likely the way out of this than a breakthrough, but it's not over until it's over - then we shall have our answer.

Opie, the art glut is one of the outcomes of the post war boom, especially the boom in higher education. GIs who survived WWII went to college under their bill of rights, then they sent their kids to college, and everyone was becoming better educated. Expanding the art world seemed like a compatible companion to all this. For a time it was, and both tracked rather nicely together. Then bam, the black hole showed up when things got to a certain critical mass, a mass that was too large for humanism to sort out, and so humanism was drained from the system, slowly at first, then faster and faster as the mass got larger.

The taste that preferred Bouguereau over Cezanne was wrong, but it was not wrong headed. That is, it sought aesthetic value; it just didn't get there until later. But once things got too large, taste became anesthetized. Turning off was its response to the over-stimulation it had helped create and eventually it simply didn't bother at all anymore. Where it once had been a constructive force in the unfolding art boom, it became the appendix of the art business, contributing little or nothing to all the massive digestion that was taking place. The hard charging bull market for art had become large enough to take over the reins through brute force and power through any "relic" of the past that dared to say, "Wait a minute, what's really going on here? How much of this stuff is really that good?" It really looks like a case of majority rule, once the majority became large enough.

97.

George

December 10, 2009, 1:16 PM

Abstraction is certainly "radical"... but I think it will be years before it is really accepted as a basic convention...

If one is over 50, one might think that abstraction is "radical" but for younger artists it doesn't seem to be the case. "Abstraction" is a page in the book, a basic convention that young artists feel free to choose or not. The decision to work abstractly doesn't seem to be linked with the idea of radicalness but more to sensibility or the desire to make paintings which are less specific as image and act more symbolically or conceptually. (I asked)

There seems to be some confusion about what I described as an economic model for the art world. You can look for ways to see it differently, or relabel the terms, but what matters is that the art which society (culture) values is preserved (either in museums or the equivalent). Typically this "valuation" has a monetary component which is a way of keeping score.

Certain art dealers are aware of this simple fact, and in their business it is to their advantage to get an artists artworks into the museums (or equivalents). More expensive artworks, even those which fall out of fashion, will tend to be preserved, hence Gerome.

Rising prices increase demand when they are in concordance with a desire for ownership. Just arbitrarily raising prices won't work if there is no latent demand (interest) This works in both directions.

John said George is quite right that art prices have skyrocketed since 1986. Well, not quite. Aggregate blue chip art prices tend to track the S&P 500 fairly closely. This is a compounded figure between 7% and 11% annually, typically younger artists will appreciate at the higher rate (if they are someone like Basquiat). The art market was severely overvalued in 2007 and corrected about the same as the S&P 500.

I don't know about the art glut, there are many more collectors today as well. However I read that art schools are graduating 30,000 a year with art degrees -- where do they all go?

Finally, I think Piri's point about the change in the educational mix of the population starting in the postwar period is quite apt. Nearly everyone has a computer, etc, etc, is it surprising that there is more artwork which has a conceptual component?

98.

Chris Rywalt

December 10, 2009, 1:38 PM

I was at SVA's summer residency program for a month in 2007. Which is getting farther and father back. Funny how that happens.

My experience there, and my talking to artists over the past three or four years, supports your metaphor of the book, George. That's exactly how the art styles of the past are seen by young artists, as a book from which pages can be taken or not, depending on what one wants to say.

There are two problems with this as I see it, though: First is, "what one wants to say". Note that it's a verbal, or textual, phrasing. Young artists aren't asking themselves, "What do I want this to look like?" or "How do I make this visually worthwhile?" but "What am I trying to say?" It's my opinion that artists shouldn't be trying to say anything, they should be working visually.

The second problem is simply one of technical competence: Many of the pages of the book are useless to young artists because they can't work in that style. I knew one painter who wanted to work in a realist style at SVA and ended up switching to the illustration department because no one in the art department could teach her the necessary skills.

There's a larger problem inherent in the style book approach, too, which is that most artistic styles aren't something you can just pick up and drop as the mood strikes. They evolved for a particular time and place, for a set of cultural circumstances, and, to my eyes, at least, borrowing them for shallow contemporary concerns demeans them.

This is compounded by the basic fact of artistic ignorance: Not only are many pages in the book useless to young artists due to technical incompetence; many of them are completely unknown, or entirely misunderstood, by them. They just don't know enough.

Of course this doesn't include all art students. This is just the impression I get from my very small sampling. I don't see the problem as that serious, exactly; a lot of young artists will quit, and some will mature and learn things, and so forth.

But I do think your book metaphor, George, is apt.

99.

Chris Rywalt

December 10, 2009, 1:44 PM

George sez:
Nearly everyone has a computer, etc, etc, is it surprising that there is more artwork which has a conceptual component?

I touched on this when I wrote on my own blog about the worth of Pop Art in the time of the Internet: We all have access to the entirety of human history now. You say art styles are like pages in a book, but maybe we could say they're like sites on the Web.

A friend of mine recently pointed me at a&family_safe=no">the photos of Anton Solomoukha. His photos seem to me like a jumble of references across all sorts of artistic styles. I can only pick out a few -- is that Balthus? -- but I'd guess there are a lot more. It's like "Where's Waldo?" for art geeks.

The photos don't strike me as very good, but they're an interesting example of someone let loose across art history.

100.

John

December 10, 2009, 1:46 PM

30,000 art degrees per year!! The only way I can cope with such a number is to say that I hope their college experience enriches their lives because there is no room at the inn for that many artists, no matter how glutted and bloated it may have become.

But then, colleges were not originally designed to be vocationally oriented. But still, 30,000.

101.

opie

December 10, 2009, 2:14 PM

Georgte, I had forgotten, in your absence from "slumming" here, your habit of misunderstanding and distorting by selective editing.

What I said was "Abstraction is certainly "radical" in the real sense of going back to the roots of the craft", which means just what it says.

By leaving out the latter part of the sentence you give the word the more common spin of "rare, unusual, extreme" and then proceed to disagree with your own misunderstanding.

I confess I find this irritating.

102.

dude

December 10, 2009, 2:58 PM

Maybe he meant to type 'slurring'.

What I find irritating George, is your take-it-as-it-comes attitude towards the art being made out there, and the implication that by not adopting or acknowledging the half-baked zeitgeist you posit time after time, I am somehow out of the real loop.

Take for example your dumb comment on Richter, one of the most boring painters out there. He sells, so what? Richter made good on a wave of over-intellectualization of painting and process and art. Those paintings are cold, just like your beloved market. If he just left the squeegee out of it, just one time (it won't happen because this is just product and product answers to the market without conscience or restraint) he might have something, but nope, he's trapped and he can't help himself but follow his own fake hollowed out record. Ideas are not paintings, and vice versa. What gives?!

103.

Franklin

December 10, 2009, 3:31 PM

There were several Richter squeegee abstractions down at the fairs this year, especially at ABMB. His bigger abstractions, the eighteen-foot ones, can be pretty wonderful. The smaller ones I saw on offer, 24 to 36 inches, tend towards exhaustion and aimlessness.

The "verbal, textual phrasing" is something I've remarked on before. And it bears upon something that George said:

Nearly everyone has a computer, etc, etc, is it surprising that there is more artwork which has a conceptual component?

This idea looks superficially attractive but I don't think it holds up. The reason I like John's coinage, "explainable art," is that it not only implicitly criticizes work that relies on its conceptual components to succeed, but for the shallowness of its conceptual operation. This is an academic problem, not a technological one. Again, we're looking at thirty years of essentially literary people at the top museum and academic posts in contemporary art. Art has to be explainable to make any sense in this academic context.

104.

Tim

December 10, 2009, 4:00 PM

George's visit has brought out the best of the regulars here. I've learned a lot with this thread. For instance, I really didn't think there is anything left to say about the twitching corpse called the 'art world,' and though it still holds nothing for me that I'm aware of, this thread has filled out my knowledge of it and its workings more than I'd have imagined. I still don't regard those twitches as signs of life though, or share any of the forlorn hope about it that I encounter here.

Also, I'd only read at Adam Smith long ago, and now I want to get further into that.

105.

opie

December 10, 2009, 4:48 PM

I like "explainable art" also.

It is clear and simple, has a deceptively "easy" feel to it, and best of all, if there is "explainable art" there is a strong implication that there must be another kind of art that isn't.

106.

David

December 10, 2009, 5:08 PM

Thanks to Franklin I'm now reading the New Criterion and James Panero has a good article on the art market in the December issue which touches on many of the themes discussed here. I read it quickly this morning on the run and will have to revisit it later. Karen Wilkins also has a wonderful article on Gorky in Philadelphia. I read the last Gorky bio and learned a lot about his life but I learned more about his painting in her 4 page article.

107.

Tim

December 10, 2009, 5:47 PM

Franklin's #103 reminds me of the first reaction I had to conceptual art after it was introduced to me in the early '70s by a friend. The problem I remember having with it was that not only did it require splainin (sometimes multiple pages of it), but the splainin didn't enhance my experience with the 'art.' Also, I recall thinking that the writing in some of the explanations was really far superior to the 'art,' so that the explanation was really more the issue of my experience than the 'art.'

I dismissed the entire category then and hadn't thought much about it since, until I encountered talk of it on here. I'm amazed that it has metastasized to the extent that it has. I wonder if that's because nobody has ever cared enough about it to challenge it.

108.

George

December 10, 2009, 9:34 PM

Dude [102]: My "take-it-as-it-comes attitude towards the art being made out there,..." does not mean that I discard my critical evaluation of what I see, I don't. We may not agree on what we think is good but I have an opinion just like everyone else.

A major difference seems to be that I rarely take it personally, if I see something I don't like... well maybe an example...

I was with a friend and we went into Gagosian, we took one look around and walked out. The show was Mike Kelly, a kinda-friend from the past. I did go back for a second look, had the same reaction which essentially was "I'm not interested" and left. Rather getting myself into a negative psychic state over the fact that Mike Kelly is having an exhibition at Gagosian and I'm not, I just dismiss it, it is not worth the expenditure of my energy worrying about it.

The art world, the gallery business, the museums etc, is what it is and not necessarily what most artists want it to be or imagine it is. Consider Richter, how did he manage get get his squeegee paintings taken seriously when hundreds of other artists failed to do so? Sure, politics, gallery connections, reputation from earlier paintings, all these play a part but I don't think they are the reason he gets away with the schmear and the others don't.

Also, to be fair we should realize that every artist worth mentioning, has periods when the work is less interesting. It is difficult for any artist to maintain a high level of quality, engagement and enthusiasm for a period much over ten years. Certain artists may have multiple periods but there seems to be a burnout factor at work here.

Further, the art world, the galleries in particular, want an artist to make everything stylistically consistent, make each paint like the last one but just a little bit different, take fucking baby steps. That is, until they can't sell it anymore.

This is the antithesis of what it means to be creative, but possibly profitable.

Finally, what does it mean to be "out of the loop?" While I have lived here in NYC for 25 years, I spent an entire decade "out of the loop," other than my own work, I wasn't paying much attention to what was going on in art. When I reconnected with the artworld everything was different (pomo for one) so I took it one step at a time, paying attention to what was going on. It helps that I'm here in NYC, mostly because I have access to the museums, especially the Met.

109.

piri

December 10, 2009, 9:34 PM

misc. thoughts

1) I am so glad I am not the only person who thinks Adam Smith makes sense. He was well aware that other factors could influence the supply/demand relationship, most notably combinations in restraint of trade (he inveighed against the government monopolies of his day). And I daresay there are some sectors of the economy where the supply/demand equation is similarly disrupted today. Not being an expert on the entire economy, I wouldn't know about that, but on the basis of the research I've done into the the art market, I believe that over time it still abides by that equation -- especially the secondary market. A gallery show of new work by a living artist may be susceptible to inflation by adroit huckstering on the part of the dealer or good publicity in the art press, but if you want to know how the wider society views your art, check out your auction prices on the web, and see how much collectors who bought you in the primary market years ago could sell you for today. Let us say that in 1905 you had X francs to spend. For that money, you could buy either one large Bouguereau or maybe 2 or 3 smaller Matisses. 105 years later, the Bouguereau might be worth maybe dozens of times what you paid for it, but the Matisses are worth hundreds if not thousands of times. In this case, I'm sure we'd agree that the price of the Matisses accurately reflects their esthetic quality, but just because this is true about Matisse doesn't mean it's universally true. Monetary value is one thing, esthetic value another (unless of course you're the kind of person who conflates the two, and I'm afraid there are more than a few people of that ilk).

2) I can remember Mike Steiner reading me a passage from a biography of Renoir quoting Renoir's opinion of Bouguereau. Renoir was just as upset by Bouguereau as we are by balls of cellophane. In 1890 (or whenever it was) Renoir felt threatened by Bouguereau, but Bouguereau has lost his power to threaten us today. He is yesterday's newspapers. That is why he looks cute instead of dangerous.

110.

George

December 10, 2009, 9:41 PM

Piri, I don't disagree with your evaluation of Matisse vs Bouguereau, but it has nothing to do with what I was trying to address. I wasn't addressing relative pricing as an indicator of value.

I was suggesting that artworks which achieved high values (price) in the marketplace were more likely to be preserved. This observation is independent of the timing, Bouguereau was high at one point, and the paintings were preserved. Matisse's reputation and prices continued to climb and his paintings were also preserved. That Bouguereau is in storage and Matisse is not, is irrelevant. It's a harsh reality.

111.

opie

December 10, 2009, 11:11 PM

Bouguereaus are in storage, but they have been preserved, and, in fact, bring decent prices because they are pretty good paintings. The ball of cellophane will not be so preserved. Or, to draw a a fairer comparison, Andy Warhol, a current equivalent of Bouguereau but not nearly as good a painter.

I can easily envision a time when Warhol - and the $43 million "200 dollar bills" painting - will be ridiculed at least as violently as the salon painters were, or worse. The pictures are just as silly and much shorter in the visual interest department. I would go so far as to predict this will happen relatively soon.

Money is not a good predictor of basic quality in the short term, but it certainly is our best indicator of what the market likes.

112.

ahab

December 11, 2009, 12:01 AM

Oh, George.

113.

Franklin

December 11, 2009, 7:57 AM

The James Panero article that David referred to.

114.

Jack

December 11, 2009, 9:31 AM

I suppose there is practically nothing to be done about people who will throw a fortune after rubbish. It's their money and their folly (though I realize they may wind up making a killing down the road, when new fools show up to buy the stuff for even more money). In any case, apart from financial concerns, the business is insane, even lurid, in terms of art as such (which is clearly not the real issue).

It would be OK, I guess, if there were parallel and distinct worlds--a genuine art world and a Bizarro art world, each with its own inhabitants and norms. Unfortunately, and utterly disgracefully, the entities and people who are supposed (and expected) to know the difference and keep things straight, as it were, have largely gone over to the dark side. This "legitimizes" Bizarro activity and confuses (or perverts) the hell out of those who can't figure it out for themselves but would respond to proper guidance. Naturally, this promotes the vicious circle we effectively have.

I doubt things can change significantly as long as the money holds up and keeps the game going. The establishment (meaning the ostensible guardians or gatekeepers) is already quite corrupt, so that bastion has been breached and co-opted. The sheep are far more numerous than those who won't play along, and being sheep, will continue to follow and comply. The non-art media and non-art public can hardly be expected to help matters. The dealers and sellers are precisely what one would expect. That leaves the artists, the genuine ones, but it's clearly an uphill battle against daunting odds.

Thank goodness for pots.

115.

dude

December 11, 2009, 10:22 AM

Re: 108

George, I know you have an opinion and I try my best to respect that. I am not part of Franklin's writer-to-writer audience and I know I can come off sounding like a jackhole (I just made that up, couldn't decide which word fit better) much of the time. It would be nice to have the skills to say things here with eloquence and precision all the time, without needing to worry that I sound personally slighted, as I guess I must sometimes. It's not personal for me, I just care a lot about this stuff.

As for Richter, I thought he was very interesting for a while during my BFA school days ('95-99). It was entertaining and inspiring at the time to see this guy thumb his nose as best he could at the bullsh*t of trying to explain painting. As Franklin notes, there are some good pix out there, as there would have to be with someone who cranks out as much stuff as he does. After a while, he started to look very repetitive and formulaic to me, and the smartness of playing dumb in his pictures, started to look, well, dumb. Soon enough his stock soared, and again, I don't take this personally at all, but by the time of his retrospective I was past him and wondering why the hell none of the really accomplished high abstraction was being shown along side his stuff. His stuff is way overrated and boring for lack of genuine development, and that's my opinion. Gallerists, be damned. No one's holding a gun to his head. Lot's of successful painters keep it real and interesting at the same time. Not sure what you want me to think when you talk about being profitable, in lieu of creative.

Ok, gotta go to work. Back to the loop, as it were.

116.

David

December 11, 2009, 10:27 AM

When I was 18 or so I wanted to be Picasso. My idea of Picasso was an artist who could buy large houses in France and fill them with my work, and when they were full, close the door and buy another one. The cover of Art Forum from spring 1973 - the year I graduated from RISD - has a great photo of Picasso holding a small owl in one hand and a cigar in the other. I still have that cover on my studio wall. Screaming against the sky does no good so we just keep trying to make good work and make it part of our life. It's not a right, but it is the best thing in the world for some of us.

117.

piri

December 11, 2009, 1:50 PM

I think Warhol will survive, though not at his present inflated level. But I find his pictures mildly interesting as a form of social comment. I see him rather like a Daumier of the 20th century. What could be more appropriate as an icon for a $47 million price tag than a painting of dollar bills?

Renoir would not have agreed with Opie on the subject of Bouguereau. Whatever Bouguereau's formal values, the insincerity of his work is so blatant -- all those sappy sentimental Madonnas & salacious nudes are as venal as they come. The people who buy Bouguereau today are the same sort of people who don't like abstraction in any way, shape or form -- so if they defend their purchases on formal grounds, this is the rawest sort of hyprocrisy.

I can't promise that the cellophane ball will survive, but then it isn't really considered a masterpiece, even from the point of view of those critics who admire this sort of thing. But you know, maybe Richter will survive, and even the more revolting "masterpieces" of Tracey Emin.

118.

George

December 11, 2009, 2:13 PM

I ran the numbers on the Warhol... The Warhol estimates were in a reasonable range but the final sales price was inflated by approximately 600%. From the previous sale, the Warhol dollars appreciated at a compounded rate of 23% per annum. This is an unsustainable rate of appreciation, leading to a $500 million price tag in 10 more years. Assuming normal inflation rates and asset appreciation, it will take roughly 20 years before the price normalizes for this Warhol painting. Lock it up in a vault.

119.

opie

December 11, 2009, 7:05 PM

Piri, Renoir would not have agreed for the same reason I can't agree with anyone who admires Richter. Bouguereau was the "enemy" for him, just as Richter is the enemy for me. Both artists are (were) very skillful painters and each, in his own way, painted pictures which, to the sensibility of a person who loves painting, betrayed the craft by painting schlock. And it is entirely likely that I can be more accepting of laughably silly cornball 19th C subject matter than I can of inept, painfully frigid "abstractions" with color that is like fingernails on a blackboard which sell for $5 million.

It is very hard to know what will survive because the very idea of "goodness", as we have traditionally exercised it, may not survive. It is difficult to find evidence that it will aside from the fact that the best artists to emerge in the second half of the last century at least seem to be making their way - sometimes just barely - in the auction market, which is the only solid evidence we have at hand. We may be in that "decline" Clem used to speculate about. Who knows.

120.

piri

December 11, 2009, 8:27 PM

Who knows, indeed. All one can do is assume/hope that at some point in the future, there will be people who can appreciate the good art that is being done now. And proceed upon that hope/assumption.

121.

piri

December 12, 2009, 11:39 AM

Let me add that I think #119 is exceptionally well phrased. Richter as a skilled painter who betrays the craft by painting schlock really hits the nail on the head.

122.

opie

December 12, 2009, 1:46 PM

Thanks Piri. Maybe one day we will get that nail driven in.

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