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The financialization of the art world and the cannibalization of creativity

Prof. Murray Hunter

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Kovach Imre* and Murray Hunter

For most people, the art world is an area of sophistication, finesse, and creativity, which takes a high moral ground in today’s society. It s acknowledged that art is one of the highest social achievements of people within society, placing the discipline of art on a cultural plane that is viewed as being pure and uncorrupted.

Art is therefore seen as one of the most highly valued artifacts of society, sitting magnificently in art galleries, museums, and collections around the world, which are unquestionably considered to be one of the pinnacles of human prowess.

Maybe this was true in the past, but the authors believe that this has all changed because art today is considered a valid asset class, just as real estate, stocks, bonds, and precious metals are. The leading auction houses and art galleries of the world have commoditized the art market. Institutions which traditionally had nothing to do with art, like banks and transnational corporations have set up art funds purely for investment purposes.

The art world has attracted a number of business opportunists who have set up funds to dabble in art trading. These dealers have very little appreciation of art as art and see it only as a means to make profits. Thus the art market is adopting the characteristics of any other tradable commodity market. The trading of art around the world today is in excess of USD66 Billion, and growing exponentially, as more and more institutions are becoming involved.

As stock markets are losing their values during 2015, the prices of art are rising rapidly.

Contemporary art today is seen by many as one of the best means of wealth preservation.

Ultra-wealthy collectors can’t get enough new art and are putting pressure of galleries to produce more art of the right names, which are like brands in this market. For the right kind of art, this means that post WWII and contemporary art has multiplier effects which has never been so high. Collectors are going into a frenzy over these rapid rises in values, driving the market even higher.

It is undeniable that the contemporary art market is on a high. Some say this is a bubble, while others say that it is not, as the ultra-rich are sheltered from the ups and downs of national markets and economies.

The best contemporary artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, who are two of the highest priced, are owners and directors of ‘art factories’. The typical creation of an artist within these art factories is usually done without the artist ever touching the art piece. The artist develops the concepts and represents it to his team of technologists, assistants, and art manufacturing experts. Most often a computer model is pre-made of the planned piece. The concept for many pieces are represented not by sketches or drawings by the artists, but by an object he selects from a store or any other place he finds them. Jeff Koons for example, likes to find souvenir items from gift and toy shops and style these pieces into extravagant art pieces using the latest technology. Thus the tiny toy becomes a 2.5 metre shinny stainless steel object which can be sold for tens of millions of dollars.  

Such art factories are extremely reliable in their production and can consistently turn out art products which are branded by the name of the artist. Therefore art galleries and collectors vie for such pieces even though their prices are astronomical.

Today even lesser known artists maintain factory style production for their galleries and collectors. Their pieces are even booked in advance in massive quantities.

There is an even newer trend that tries to exploit the expected multiplier with the works of very young artists. These young artists are drawn into full scale professional art production by galleries, right after they complete their MFA, possibly even before their first solo exhibition. These artists are thereby coached by the galleries, who very actively participate with the artist’s work in developing concepts, and arranging manufacturing, etc. The desired end can be reached with continuing rising prices and increasing profits for the galleries; a cycle of profit making.

Collectors happily buy in, possibility in the first and second rounds, expecting double triple or quadruple multipliers in subsequent sales of the pieces, which no other commodity market can generate.

In addition, the art of such emerging artists is often bought in bulk. One hundred, two hundred or even three hundred pieces at a time, with the hope of massive profits on the successful ‘branding’ of these young artists.

In such climate of art production, art is created as a commodity, where the production is completely finance driven for the sole purpose of creating profit.

Art is no longer bought for appreciation but rather bought for resale.

The definition of good art is that it is saleable and the definition of a good artist is that he/she is marketable. In the finance art world today, those artists are considered the best.

This of course completely distorts the valuation of art and takes away the whole purpose of the creation of art, replacing it with financial aspirations.

Today’s art is finance driven. The creation of artistic style equals the creation of a brand, i.e., brand Andy Warhol. Such finance driven art over the last few decades has shown truly incredible growth with a new asset class that produces more profit than any other known asset class today.

However this new financial high has created a morel abyss. The new buyers of contemporary art who come from the business world are based in completely different skill sets to the art world. So consequently, they have brought with them completely new techniques of management and money making to the art world, used in other fields like real estate, and commodity trading, etc.

These practices in many cases are not on the ‘up and up’. They can be construed as being incompatible with cultural activities.

These unscrupulous methods used like bullying or coercing artists into one-sided contracts, using legal and other administrative devices which the artist cannot cope with, or out-right cheating of artists, are not in the interests of young artists. Some very ugly cases are coming to light about how the so called collectors are treating the artists.

The old time appreciation and respect that existed between collectors and artists is a thing of the past.

Many of the new comers to the art market are there only for the money and not the appreciation of art. These go getters think that it OK to do anything and everything in their power to get the booty. This causes unnecessary hardship on the creative artists who are coerced and pressured into very disadvantaged contracts, or are cheated out of the possession of their own artwork, and/or its copyright, the collateral products, multiples of their artwork, and don’t receive any financial rewards.

Today a number of cases are coming into light, showing the dark-side of the financialized art world.

However, there is an effect with influences the core of our culture and the immune system of our society. Artists as a rule ever since they emerged from the shamans and healers of the old age have always been investigating the nature of the world, been the seekers of truth, and the philosophers of life. As such they often represented the highest form of intellect and culture in society like the famous Sufi poet Rumi, who was also a religious leader.

Artists always attempted to go beyond the bounds of normal art to unbound the secrets of the world, depict the true meaning of life, and ponder on the true purpose of existence. Many Chinese calligraphers were Daoist sages who practiced meditation, yoga, and perfected the art of living a long and virile life, including lifestyle as a whole, gastronomy, and even sexual practices.

In Europe, Durer, Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Parmigiano, and many others were involved in alchemy, mysticism, scientific research, and medicine. In general we can say, they had open creative minds which very few people had in their respective societies at the time. Even though they received payments for their art, their art was not a financial commodity.

The Turkish calligraphers were not just artists, but wise-men, who were often teachers and advisors to the Sultans, and we know of several Sultans, like Sultan Abdulmecid who were excellent calligraphers. In China, calligraphy was considered the highest art and the core of wisdom. Calligraphers were often teachers of Chinese Emperors, who respected calligraphers, often asked for their wisdom and advice, and many of them like Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty, were excellent calligraphers and painters in their own right. The emperors of the Toba Turk Wei Dynasty in China customarily had to have a profession which was usually that of the sculptor. The greatest Zen teachers of Japan communicated the unspeakable through their calligraphy to their disciples. Their calligraphies and painting like that of Hakuin are among the most highly valued treasures of Japanese culture.

The same cannot be said of an MFA graduate who is coached and instructed by a gallery for the sole purpose of making saleable art for a profit. It is significant that many of the new galleries led by ex-curators are becoming integrally involved in creating artwork which is way beyond the role of a gallery. They give curatorial guidance to the artists which in many cases gives the upper hand to the curators, where the artist becomes a mere executor of the curator’s concepts.

It is telling that artists themselves cannot apply to the Venice Biennale, where only curators who bring their artists can.

The curators know art and artists, and also know the buyers. Hence they are the key figures, the active agents of the financialization of art.

What does this all mean?

Putting it simply, the financialization of the last segment of society that had the potential to produce creative free thinkers, who are not directed by profit making financial intentions, is being wiped out in front of eyes.

Why does this matter?

This matters because only free thinking people can be the ‘compass’ of society. Artists through the ages have always made comments upon the ideas, aspirations, and events going on around them. This is being lost where the last bastion of intellectual freedom will have been commercialized by the ultra wealthy and sectional institutions within our society. The creative people who have the potential of free thinking is now controlled by financial interests, as soon as they have any professional success.

What will this lead us to?

We are all going to be passengers on a boat with perfect technologies, perfect crews, and perfect stewardship leading us. However in this perfect world there will be nobody who can question the bearing and direction that the boat will travel.

(*)Kovach Imre is an independent spiritual teacher, thinker, calligrapher, painter, and sculptor.

Innovator and entrepreneur. Notable author, thinker and prof. Hat Yai University, Thailand Contact: murrayhunter58(at)gmail.com

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Public art that brings a smile to your face

MD Staff

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Artists observe a link between spending time in these spaces and a feeling of relaxation, safeness and peace of mind. Photo by Georgina Avlonitis

This International Day of Happiness on 20 March reminds us that life is happier when we’re together. It urges us to focus on what we have in common, rather than on what divides us.

One thing that has the power to bring us closer together is art. Art can also bring us closer to nature, helping to blur the boundaries between the “concrete jungles” of our cities and outside spaces.

This International Day of Happiness we sought inspiration, especially among young people, in public urban art. Despite being drawn to cities for a myriad of reasons, for many of us, happiness is closely tied with our proximity to nature and green spaces. Humanity evolved in close connection with nature, and a need for its presence is woven deeply into our consciousness.

“Connecting to our living environment through enjoying public art in urban spaces can change how we understand the world, help us relax and reduce stress and anxiety, and provide memorable experiences,” said Garrette Clark, UN Environment’s Sustainable Lifestyles Programme Officer.

“Sustainable living and lifestyles are about reducing negative environmental impacts as well as spending more time and resources on the experiences that add value to our lives.”

One example is Conservation Conversation Corners, in Johannesburg, South Africa and Livingstone, Zambia. This project involves four young artists—South African upcycler Heath Nash, Zambian sculptor Owen Shikabeta, Zambian painter Mwamba Chikwemba and South African installation artist Mbali Dhlamini.

Using mural paintings, public participation and sculpture, they visually and physically transform urban public spaces to reconnect their users with nature.

These artists observed a link between spending time in these spaces and a feeling of relaxation, safeness and peace of mind. Some stated that the only time they really felt safe and happy in these—and other—cities was when they felt connected with nature.

Twenty-eight-year-old Mbali Dhlamini observed: “As a woman in Jozi, you always feel like you need to keep eyes at the back of your head. We stay on our guards and alert at all times, whether walking or driving in the city, because of the crime here. How wonderful it would be to feel free and at peace. Nature has that. Nature gives us that. We need to access it and conserve it more in our towns and cities.”

Public art like this is playing an important role in shaping urban neighbourhoods, boosting a sense of community, and bringing people together.

In 2008, for the first time more people lived in urban areas than in rural ones. Urbanization is occurring everywhere and at unprecedented speed—especially in Africa. Urban populations in Africa are expected to triple in the next 50 years, and urban space is expected to increase by more than 700 per cent between 2000 and 2030.

Reflecting on how we can better bring nature into ever-expanding urban spaces, public art can help us provide access to green spaces in cities as a potential source of happiness.

A growing number of scientific studies demonstrate the power of nature to positively affect our health, well-being and happiness, and in 2017, National Geographic identified the greening of urban areas as one of the top five aspects shaping the future of cities.

Isabel Wetzel, Associate Human Settlements Officer at UN-Habitat and Greener Cities Partnership liaison between UN Environment and UN-Habitat, added: “The beneficial relationship between nature and happiness in urban areas is apparent – and public art can provide a beautiful channel to express it.

“Art has the power to connect people from different backgrounds and generations, and green public spaces have a positive impact on the health of the residents.

“Highlighting the need for nature restoration and conservation of our green and blue ecosystems in urban areas through public art is a powerful way to reconnect people, particularly young people, with the natural world.”

So, if you, your family and your friends are feeling unhappy in your city—seek urban green spaces, and if they don’t exist yet, create them!

UN Environment

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5 Museums You Don’t Want to Miss in Athens

MD Staff

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The National Archaeological Museum is the largest museum in Greece. Although its original purpose was to secure finds from 19th century excavations in and around Athens, it gradually became the central national institution, enriched with finds from all over the country. With more than 11,000 exhibits, its abundant collections provide a panorama of Greek civilisation, from the beginnings of prehistory to late antiquity.

MUST SEE: The famous gold mask of Agamemnon and the Antikythera mechanism. Address: 44 28is Oktovriou St, Athens.

The Benaki Museum was the first private museum established in Greece and has three satellite spaces in hip areas around Athens. Its flagship building can be found in the first-class district of Kolonaki, housed in one of the biggest and most impressive neoclassical buildings in the city. This private collection was cultivated by Antonis Benakis, a wealthy cotton merchant, in memory of his father Emmanuel Benakis. You’ll find artefacts from Greek pre-history right through to the Mycenaean and Classical eras, continuing with items related to such pivotal events as the fall of Constantinople and the Greek War of Independence.

MUST SEE: The reconstruction of mid-18th century reception rooms found in stately mansions in Greek Macedonia, featuring the original gilded ceilings and wood-panelled walls. Address: 1 Koumbari St & Vasilissis Sofias Av, Kolonaki.

The Museum of Cycladic Art also found in Kolonaki, showcases a fascinating collection gathered by the late shipping magnate Nicholas Goulandris and his wife Dolly. Housed in a stately mansion that was built in 1895, this private collection expands over four levels. The artworks give insights into the ancient civilisations of the Cycladic Islands. The semi-abstract figurines inspired Cubism and 20th century artists like Picasso and Brancusi. Intricately painted amphorae (vases) are also on display.

MUST SEE: The renowned male figure believed to come from Amorgos, is one of the very few represented in the upright pose, it is the only known male figure of these monumental dimensions. Address: 4 Neophytou Douka St, Kolonaki.

Visiting the Byzantine and Christian Museum provides an oasis from city life. The building, nestled in a peaceful, well-kept courtyard that is set back from the road, was built in 1948 in a Tuscan Renaissance style and is an architectural rarity in Athens. The permanent exhibition is placed over several levels covering 18 centuries of art and culture. You will be reminded of how much power and influence the Byzantine Empire wielded and the legacy it left behind. More than 25,000 exhibits with rare collections of pictures, scriptures, frescoes, pottery, fabrics, manuscripts and more.

MUST SEE: A rare 13th Century mosaic icon of the Virgin Mary from Constantinople, one of only 40 known to exist. Address: 22 Vasilissis Sofias Av, Kolonaki.

Consistently rated as one of the best in the world, the Acropolis Museum is located at the edge of the southern slope of the Acropolis and should be visited before or after your visit to the ancient city. Devoted to the Parthenon and its surrounding temples, it showcases and protects the surviving treasures from the Acropolis. The collections touch on the Archaic and Roman periods moving all the way through to the 5th century AD. An obvious emphasis is placed on the 5th century BC, considered the pinnacle of Greece’s artistic achievement.

MUST SEE: If you’re short on time, don’t miss the Parthenon Gallery (Level 3) and the five caryatids (Level 1) that are the original maidens that once held up the roof of the southern porch of the Erechtheion. Address: 15 Dionysiou Areopagitou St, Athens.

TIP: The Benaki Museum, Museum of Cycladic Art and Byzantine and Christian Museum are all within walking distance of each other.

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Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again

MD Staff

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Andy Warhol, Ethel Scull 36 Times, 1963; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; jointly owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art; gift of Ethel Redner Scull; © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announces the exclusive West Coast presentation of the critically acclaimed exhibition, Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again on view from May 19 through September 2, 2019. Spanning the artist’s 40-year career and featuring more than 300 works on three different floors of the museum, the exhibition includes paintings, drawings, graphics, photographs, films, television shows as well as a personal time capsule of ephemera. The retrospective features examples of the artist’s most iconic pieces in addition to lesser-known abstract paintings from later in his career. Uncannily relevant in today’s image-driven world, Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again provides new insight into Andy Warhol himself by examining the complexities of this enigmatic artist more than 30 years after his death in 1987. The show’s title is taken from Warhol’s 1975 book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), a memoir featuring the artist’s musings on fame, love, beauty, class, money and other key themes that frequently appear in his work.

“He’s a complicated figure and a complicated artist,” said Gary Garrels, Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at SFMOMA. “His inner emotions, his psychic self were not his subject matter. Warhol is constantly labeled a Pop artist, but all that happened within a couple of years and then he moved on and the work goes quite dark and explores questions of gender and sexual identity, fame, subcultures. At the time of his death, the consensus was that Warhol was no longer relevant. But the last major retrospective in 1989 was a wake-up call: this is an artist we have to reckon with.”

First presented at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and curated by Donna De Salvo, Deputy Director for International Initiatives and Senior Curator at the Whitney, with Christie Mitchell, senior curatorial assistant, and Mark Loiacono, curatorial associate, this exhibition provides an opportunity for new generations to reconsider Andy Warhol, one of the most influential, inventive and important American artists. Warhol’s understanding of the growing power of images in contemporary life anticipated our social media-focused world and helped to expand the artist’s role in society making him one of the most recognized artists of the 20th century.

Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again also showcases SFMOMA’s impressive holdings of many of the artist’s most important works including National Velvet (1963), Liz #6 (Early Colored Liz) (1963), Triple Elvis (Ferus Type), (1963), Silver Marlon (1963), Robert Mapplethorpe (1983) and self-portraits.

THE EXHIBITION

Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again will be presented on three floors of SFMOMA: two, four and five.

On the museum’s second floor, two galleries of works on paper offer a detailed look at Warhol’s earliest drawings from the 1940s and hand-drawn commercial illustrations created for advertising in the 1950s. These early drawings lay the groundwork for many of the techniques and approaches he would use throughout his career. This portion of the exhibition includes delicate, gilded collages and sketches of shoes for the Miller Shoe Company, and illustrations for publications such as Glamour Magazine and The New York Times.

On display in SFMOMA’s fourth-floor special exhibition galleries, the exhibition takes visitors chronologically through the arc of Warhol’s career and his production in painting, drawing, photography, film and installation. The first half of the exhibition opens with his best known work from the creatively active period of 1960–68, with his earliest paintings such as Dick Tracy (1961) and Superman (1961), followed by the groundbreaking, iconic Pop Art paintings, Green Coca-Cola Bottles (1962), 192 One Dollar Bills (1962) and the sculpture, Brillo Boxes (1969, version of 1964 original). The exhibition then highlights Warhol’s depictions of celebrities, including Elvis, Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy. In a dedicated black box gallery adjacent to the early Pop Art work, samples of Warhol’s films and videos will be on view including his series of Screen Tests featuring Ethel Scull, Edie Sedgwick and Billy Name (1964–65).

Subjects take a darker turn in Warhol’s Death and Disaster paintings (1963–64) memorializing car crashes, the electric chair and a benign yet sinister can of tuna fish contaminated with botulism. An eye-popping gallery filled with 16 colorful Flower paintings (1964) will be installed on top of Warhol’s Cow Wallpaper (1966) for a bold immersive experience. Visitors will have a chance to experience Silver Clouds, Warhol’s sculptural installation of shiny Mylar balloons created in 1966, the point at which he declared himself to be done with painting.

Warhol’s work of the 1970s and 1980s focuses on post-Pop artwork, which Garrels observes are “very unknown to most people.” In these galleries Warhol shifts his focus with a massive portrait of Chairman Mao (1972), followed by a gallery featuring photographs and paintings of trans women and drag queens from the 1970s, which provide a look into Warhol’s fascination with the elusiveness and complexity of gender and identity. A separate suite of photographic self-portraits of Warhol in drag provides a different view into the artist’s carefully cultivated persona. A large single gallery is dedicated to Warhol’s grand experiments with abstract painting, featuring a gold Shadow painting (1978) and two large-scale Rorschach paintings (1984). Warhol’s influence on the young artists of the East Village in the 1980s is highlighted through collaborative works created with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Also on display is an unpacked personal time capsule, one of 610 created over the course of the artist’s life.

Two galleries in the museum’s fifth floor Pop, Minimal and Figurative Art presentation feature a 1970s “facebook” of wall-to-wall grids of large-scale silk-screened portraits representing a “who’s who” of celebrities, cultural icons, gallerists, athletes and business leaders. These galleries feature nearly 40 portraits such as Halston (1975), Dominique de Menil (1969), Liza Minnelli (1978), Pelé (1977), Leo Castelli (1975), Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1976) and Gianni Versace (1979–80), as well as the artist’s mother, Julia Warhola (1974). For the subject, a Warhol portrait provided social validation and an immediate status symbol; for Warhol these commissions were a consistent revenue stream that supported his studio and desire to explore other more personal ventures. Warhol’s television shows and videos are on display in the city gallery on this floor.

THE ARTIST

Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh, PA in 1928. In 1949, he graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) with a Bachelor of Arts in pictorial design.  Shortly after graduation, Warhol moved to New York City, where he would live for the rest of his life, and began what would become a vaunted career as a commercial artist, for which he earned numerous awards and accolades. Despite his commercial success, Warhol was determined to pursue a career as a fine artist. He first exhibited his work at the Hugo Gallery in 1952, though he did not gain recognition in the fine art world until 1962 when the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles staged his groundbreaking exhibition of Campbell’s Soup Can paintings. Through the 1960s, Warhol exhibited at Ferus, Stable Gallery, Castelli Gallery, Sonnabend Gallery and internationally to great acclaim. He established “the Factory” in 1963, the same year he began his pioneering work in film. In 1965, Warhol announced his “retirement” from painting to pursue filmmaking full-time; underground films such as Empire (1964) and The Chelsea Girls (1966) remain some of his most influential works.

In 1968, Warhol was shot in a near-fatal assassination attempt, but by 1969 he had founded Interview magazine and his interest in producing work across all media—including sculpture, video and performance—was reignited. In 1975, Warhol published The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) and by the late 1970s had expanded his practice to cable television shows with Andy Warhol’s Fashion, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes and Andy Warhol’s T.V. Warhol’s work of the late 1970s and 1980s exhibits an increased interest in abstraction and collaboration and often reflexively returns to his own earlier work and iconography. His late work speaks to a voracious interest in current events and enthusiasm for artists from the East Village scene such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, with whom he collaborated. In February 1987, Warhol died after a brief illness following routine gallbladder surgery. The Andy Warhol Diaries, his infamous account of his own life from the mid-1970s up to his death, was published posthumously in 1991.

Major exhibitions during Warhol’s lifetime include his first institutional solo exhibition at the ICA Philadelphia in 1965, a 1968 exhibition at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, a 1970 retrospective organized by the Pasadena Art Museum, which traveled extensively and Andy Warhol: Portraits of the 70s organized by the Whitney Museum in 1979–80. The final exhibition of his work during his lifetime, at Robert Miller Gallery, New York, in January 1987, debuted a new series of stitched photographs.  Warhol’s work is collected by significant institutions across the world including major repositories at SFMOMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate, The Museum of Modern Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum Brandhorst, Munich, The Museum Ludwig, Cologne, The Marx Collection at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh.

CATALOGUE

The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color, 400-page scholarly monograph edited by Donna De Salvo spanning all periods of Warhol’s career and including paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, videos, photographs, archival and printed material, installations, films and media works. A contextualizing essay by De Salvo is complemented by essays and contributions from Jessica Beck, Okwui Enwezor, Trevor Fairbrother, Hendrik Folkerts, Bill Horrigan, Bruce Jenkins, Branden W. Joseph, Barbara Kruger, Glenn Ligon, Michael Sanchez and Lynne Tillman, as well as a plate section with 450 images. The catalogue is published by the Whitney and is distributed by Yale University Press.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

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