Published on August 10th, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie1
The Commercial Corruption Of The Art World
The business aspect of the art world is a bewildering and a befuddled place. Why do some paintings and objets d’art command millions while others seem to not even warrant attention? Who decides which work is valuable and which is not? These are the questions continuously asked by people outside the close-knit art community.
Art used to be about clear intentions. Paintings were lauded for very specific reasons – people loved certain paintings for the world the artist created. The backdrop and meaning were critical to making a painting successful. This was the age of romanticism.
There were still others who loved the techniques that artists employed. The careful brushstrokes of the perfectionist painter or the rough, loosely controlled style of another artists. Technique for these people was what attracted them to certain paintings. These were the formalists.
There was another category that had always existed. Nevertheless, with the advent of modernism and the dawning of the age of celebrity this category began to be the dominant method of selecting which painting was successful, what was of high value and which was worthless. As this new landscape began to emerge and crystallise, it became increasingly clear that this new category was open to abuse and manipulation.
The new view of looking at art was populism. Although populism by itself was not new, what differed now was how it completely dominated romanticism and formalism. Who valued what became the determining factor in which piece held value and which was worthless.
Derivative Populist Money-Making Drivel
From the 1960’s onwards a new trend began to emerge in art. After the modernists had left an indelible mark in the early part of the century, a fresh preoccupation began to emerge, commercial art. This novel type of art was less about the work itself and more about money and fame. To achieve success these artists concentrated on networking and publicity.
The first famous exponent of populist art was Andy Warhol. Warhol cleverly tapped into the growing obsession with celebrity culture. By associating with so-called ‘stars’ he profited by getting his works sold for large sums of money.
Others quickly followed suit in the 90’s Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst led the next wave. Where at least Warhol actually made his art pieces, Koons and Hirst hired anonymous artists to create works for them. In this new age, art business was the all-deciding factor in artistic success.
One other factor also chiefly aided the new brand. Previously, artists generally had to be deceased for their works to have great value. Now living artists could command just as much money as the dead masters.
Rumours also began to emerge that some of these artists where manipulating the prices that their works were fetching. It was suggested that artists were engaging in setting artificially high prices by bidding on their own works and in some cases buying their own paintings at inflated cost.
The fact that anybody could suddenly create modern paintings and sculptures has certainly irked many people. This was brought to a head with the discovery of Marla Olmstead, a four-year-old art prodigy who could produce abstract paintings. Prior to her, no one that young had ever been able to create paintings on a par with adult artists.
Marla changed all that and her paintings began to command thousands of dollars as collectors, sensing a business opportunity, started to hoover up her works.
However, a revealing documentary, My Kid Could Paint That, in a follow up to CBS News’s 60 Minutes strongly suggested that her paintings were the result of specific coaching by her father.
It seemed that the art world was becoming increasing dominated by the business world. People with very little talent, through publicity and networking were instantly able to make huge sums of money. Power was now in the hands of the very few, often without any justification for having such authority in the first place.
Wildenstein Monet Controversy
Claude Monet is reckoned by many people to be one of the greatest impressionist paintings the world has ever produced. His paintings are technically exact and his eye for perceiving the world, not as we believe it to be but as it is has become his calling card. Perhaps though his greatest trait was his ability to be consistent right throughout his career.
If there is one name that is closely linked with Monet it is that of Wildenstein. Self-appointed guardians of classifying Monet, the Wildenstein’s are a five-generation art dealing family that operate a multi-billion euro empire. Now led by the egotistical and autocratic, Guy Wildenstein, this organisation has the final say on what is deemed a Monet and what isn’t.
The BBC programme, Fake Or Fortune? exposed the strange egocentric mindset of the Wildenstein’s for all to see. Despite fairly conclusive proof by experts in several fields that the painting, Bords de la Seine a Argenteuil, was painted by Monet, the Wildenstein’s refused to accept the obvious and declared that the painting was not a Monet.
This act of petulance by a clearly unfit judge of art who disregarded all the evidence may see the Wildenstein empire crumble as people quickly realise that such an institution should be replaced as soon as possible.
Where Does This All Leave Us Now?
It seems that all human activity follows patterns. Nothing lasts forever. Fads and fashions come and go in cycles. The same event never happens twice but the patterns of history continuously repeat themselves. Extreme cycles and movements have a tendency to stretch only as far as breaking point before they die out and transform into something else.
The same fate will befall the commercial art world. The movement will transform into something else. The question is what next?