Monday, November 19, 2007
Deal With the Devil
“More than any other artist, Damien [Hirst] has used the art market as a medium,” says Jeffrey Deitch in Calvin Tomkins’ article "A Fool for Art: Jeffrey Deitch and Art-Market Exuberance" in the November 12, 2007 issue of The New Yorker. “You could dismiss this as over-the-top commercial, but he’s achieved a lot of cultural influence and power by using the market so cleverly. He’s using the power of the money to enhance the impact of his imagery and his art.” (Hirst’s infamous publicity stunt posing as art titled For the Love of God appears above.) Hirst’s name rises to the top of the current crop of “hot” artists for active buyers, which includes artists such as Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, and Takashi Murakami. Tomkins article serves as an enlightening if depressing glimpse into the current art market, where marketing seems to rule over art-making.
Another sad fact related by the article is the lack of American buyers for much top-level art. “We’ve never analyzed an art market in this new world, with China, Russia, and parts of the Middle East involved,” says an analyst. Such internationalism would be great if it meant that the works were being disseminated to museums worldwide, but instead it’s just the next phase of the separation between those who see art as an investment and those who see it as cultural food for the soul. Just as Greece and Italy today clamor for the return of their cultural heritage, one day Europe and America may look longingly overseas towards the works sold off today.
“The art world used to be a community, but now it’s an industry,” Deitch says later. “We live in an increasingly culture-based economy, and the value of art is in synch with other tangible assets now, like real estate.” Perhaps it’s this loss of art as a cultural, communal entity that seems the saddest. I’m not so naïve to think that art hasn’t always been a business, but part of that business always addressed the world around it in a deeper sense. Starting with the Pop Art movement of the 1960s, art simultaneously delved deeper into popular culture and away from its own historical roots, leading to today’s total divorce from “big message” art in the name of “big marketing” art, ala Hirst.
Deitch’s comparison of the current art market to the real estate market seems ominous to most Americans considering the current housing market bust after a long boom, and may actually be prophetic of a day when buyers seeking to “flip” a painting for bigger prices suddenly find themselves the owner of an overpriced Basquiat that nobody wants, including themselves. Deitch himself seems to have an actual love for art, admiring at one point the charms of a Courbet recently brought to market, but the utter soullessness of many of his competitors in the field paints a bleak picture for everyone who loves to look at art.