Funding and Flipping and Pint-Sized Picassos
First was that the Bloomberg administration and New York City Council have agreed to rework the way New York arts institutions receive City money:
The hope is that arts groups will find it less necessary to appeal to their council representatives for small amounts of financing, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at the news conference, in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. [...]As it should be.
“There will no longer be any cut and restoration dance,” he said.
“They can stop all the lobbying,” he added, “and get back to what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Arts organizations outside the Cultural Institutions Group are expected to compete for the $30 million between March and June of this year, Mr. Bloomberg said. Peer panels will evaluate the applications on a range of criteria, from education programs to management and financial stability.
“What this does is tell groups, ‘You’re going to move forward, or we’re going to take away funding and give it to groups that are moving up,’ ” said Dominic M. Recchia Jr., chairman of the City Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee. “It’s a sign that you have to produce.”
Organizations with large building programs will receive multiyear appropriations, the mayor said; smaller groups will have to apply on an annual basis. “They’ll have to keep proving themselves,” he said, adding, “It will give the city new ways to discover and reward excellence in our cultural institutions.”
The second story is somewhat sensationalistic, but might indicate the first real evidence that the art boom is slowing, for real this time:
Like shrewd traders making timely killings on Wall Street, a small group of collectors have been selling off some of their bounty in recent months and reaping king-size profits.There is a possible third explanation: this is simply how the art market has evolved. It's the new reality. With a good deal of work priced as highly as it is, and many colletions too large for their owners to really bond with each work (and many collectors having bought young artists in bulk), not every individual piece will have the same emotional value and some works are bound to be seen like any other commodity that the wealthy move around to suit their needs. In other words, perhaps more collectors are behaving like Saatchi, who, as the article puts it, is "known as much for disposing of art as acquiring it." The point being, though, he's still acquiring it. Moreover, maybe it's not the art market that's changing as much as the "art" of collecting.
Such boldfaced names as Hollywood mogul David Geffen, plastics magnate Stefan Edlis, former equities star Kent Logan and 30-something hedge-fund whiz Adam Sender are among those who’ve been divesting themselves of major works. [...]
Whether it’s simply a matter of taking advantage of a very hot market or lining up the funds for more-expensive prizes (many have speculated that Geffen is pooling his resources in order to buy the Los Angeles Times), there’s a palpable and growing sense that a “cash in your chips” mentality is taking hold of the upper tier of the market.
“It’s very aggressive now,” says one New York art adviser. “These collectors have been exposed to a lot of aggressive behavior from dealers, and now it’s their turn.”
Then again, this might be the beginning of a serious downturn. We'll see.
The final story probably deserves its own thread, but we've covered a good deal of its subplots here before. It's a swirling mix of topical issues, centering on a supposed art prodigy, a documentary filmmaker who wanted to believe, a family that now feels betrayed, and the ever-popular notion that contemporary art is a scam:
The film, “My Kid Could Paint That,” also reportedly delves into what happens to normal people who get caught up in a big story and indicts the media itself as much as the art world:
The painter, Marla Olmstead, was 4 years old when her work, with its vivid swirls of colors and dynamic brush strokes, began selling for thousands of dollars. She became a news media cat toy, with writers and camera crews parachuting into Binghamton, N.Y., from all over to cover the prodigy, a term her parents, Mark and Laura Olmstead, have never used. As often happens, the coverage crested, then curdled, and it was alleged by Charlie Rose on “60 Minutes” that her father, a night shift manager at a Frito-Lay plant and an amateur painter, was helping her with the work.
Back in 2004, [Amir] Bar-Lev, a filmmaker who directed the documentary “Fighter,” an intimate, hilarious portrait of two Holocaust survivors, read a commentary about Marla by Michael Kimmelman, chief art critic for The New York Times, and thought it would serve as the basis for a good film about the subjectivity of expression in the context of modern art. (Mr. Kimmelman also appears in the
The documentary gradually became a meditation on truth instead, one that manages to explore and sometimes indict the motives of all the adults who have swirled around Marla: her parents, gallery owners, reporters and, eventually, the filmmaker.
Again, we've discussed most of that before, but on the heels of lecturing to a group of BFA students recently (hi folks!), where the question of whether someone's art career is really over if they haven't made it by the age of 30 came up, I find the notion that working artists might also have to compete with 4-year-olds for the world's attention a bit too absurd for words. So, despite not having enough information to really say one way or the other, I'll confess to wanting to believe the father was responsible for painting (or at least resolving) the works:
“Amir did not set out to use the family in the course of making his film,” said Elizabeth Cohen, a reporter for the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin, who figures prominently in the documentary. “The film makes us confront the realities of the media process, the predatory aspects of journalism, filmmaking and storytelling. There is a constant need to feed a 24-hour news cycle, but what about the people we write about? What happens to them?”
More often than not, the apparatus unpacks, gets what it needs and then leaves town, leaving the subjects to try and reassemble their lives. Speaking on the phone, Ms. Olmstead was friendly, but understandably reluctant to re-engage with the press. It was not the first time she had heard something along the lines of, “Hi, I’m from the media and I’m here to help you.”
In a talk with Ms. Olmstead [Marla's mother], Mr. Bar-Lev reveals that he has doubts about the agency of Marla’s work — his effort to film her working have produced paintings that don’t resemble the other finished work.Which got me to thinking about my feelings on prodigy in general. I love the idea of a Mozart, for example, but the idea of a pint-sized Picasso creeps me out a little bit. Perhaps it's because I don't work in the music industry or because Mozart is no longer with us, but he seems truly marvelous. But Marla, with her work selling for thousands of dollars, is problematic for me, I'll admit. Not only because of what she represents for older artists not selling their work, but also because she would, if truly a prodigy, confirm the film's title to a good number of people and add high-octane fuel to the scepticism about contemporary art in general. Then again, no one assumed that just because Wolfgang could bang 'em out at age four that anyone else who sat down at the piano would sound anything close, so, perhaps my misgivings about pre-school art stars are unfounded.