Art in the Shadow of Big Money

Even though nearly no one foresaw the implosion of the housing market, it now seems obvious that it was a bubble. After all a house fulfills a real-world need, you can calculate and compare what it physically gives you. Art doesn’t have those real tangible values – it is all in the eye of the beholder. I think that why, despite the insane amounts of money changing hands for art, it is still hard to say what is really going on.

Here are two documentaries (found in the German Digitalart forum) about what is going on. The first is called “The Mona Lisa Curse” by critic Robert Hughes. It’s a witty look at how the what is happening to art in the billion dollar market. Edit: Youtube nuked the playlist. Here is a trailer of “The Mona Lisa Curse”.

Mona Lisa Curse from Andrew Phillips on Vimeo.

I think he addresses a bit the direction I’ve been wondering about – how this affects the artist. Specifically of course I only care about my own problems: how it will affect me, as outsider of the huuuuge-sum market.

This system puts certain needs on the art. For example it has to be produced in mass. Speculation won’t work with only a handful of works, because the market would be empty too quickly (one painting per year wouldn’t do). So some art, even if good, will not be adopted.
These properties that fulfill the market-needs will become more important than the artistic qualities. And selection upon these will lead to a fall in quality of the whole market. They just don’t matter as much. It goes so far that many speculators store the art it in their basement still packed – never to be looked at.

And the public adopts the standards of the market. So if Warhol sells well, his art becomes a trendsetter. Even art outside the market will be judged by it. And since galleries aim to become part of the big game, they choose artists according to the trend. Museums will go with it too. If the open market is impoverished of artistic qualities, so is the public.

But I don’t want to paint a too easy picture here. “Artistic quality” is an evasive property… even if Robert Hughes pretends that as famous critic he can decide what is art and what is not, truth is, he knows no more than the speculators. That is the problem, and after all, the beauty of art.

This second documentary called “Great Contemporary Art Bubble” by Ben Lewis goes a bit into how this is not just a problem among the billionaires – since museums and the tax office help to finance this bubble. And he tries to show how the extreme prices may be more foul than it seems: influenced by price driving, manipulation and backdoor deals.
Following is the trailer – the full program I could unfortunately only find in German. Here the link to Ben Lewis: “Die Millionenblase”