The Value of Nothing and The Dare of Anonymity
[T]he general disarray of economists when faced with the art market is not new. The founder of modern economics, Alfred W. Marshall, believed that no "systematic explanation" was possible for the price of art and other rare goods. Adam Smith noted the disconnect between the cost of production and selling price of paintings and put it down to the whim and means of the buyer. David Ricardo saw art as an exception to the labor theory of value and also put price formation down to the "wealth and inclinations" of the buyer. W. Stanley Jevons found art to be an irrational exception to his theory that prices were driven by demand.There's so much food for thought throughout this piece, none the least of which is the connections he draws between fine art today and religious relics of Medieval times, but I wanted today to discuss this part of Bown's piece:
Ask an art historian for his or her take on the question of the cost and mystique of artworks and he will almost certainly refer you back to the emergence in Renaissance Italy of a number of related phenomena: to the new humanism which took art out of the churches and into secular spaces; to the concept of individual genius, which began to be attached to artists (in particular by the art-historian Vasari, in his Lives of contemporary Italian artists, to Michelangelo); ...In walking around Chelsea the other day, Bambino and I were discussing the prices of the work of certain artists under 35 years old and how branding has so horribly complicated the challenge of carving out a mental space for new collectors in which they can begin to train and then trust their own eye in a less anxiety-provoking arena. How do you send a message to new collectors that you truly believe it's ultimately about the art and not just marketing of the "concept of individual genius"?
I landed on an idea that I'm more intrigued by than Bambino was convinced would work: a group exhibition of strong (but not undeniably recognizable) work by good artists, but with absolutely no names attached. The Anonymous Show.
But, wait, you're thinking...there are anonymous art shows or benefits in which you don't know who the artist is when you make a purchase. Yes, I know. But most anonymous art shows that sell the work without revealing the artist's name do let the artists sign the back of them or later give the collector the relevant info. I'm talking no signatures anywhere on the work, no names on the checklist, no way for the collector to learn who made the work. The artist would of course receive payment for any sold work, but that's all. No press, a contract stipulating they can't add the show to their resume, nothing but the Art... The central question of the experiment being, of course: Is it about the art (for both the artist and the collector) or is it about name recognition, branding, prestige, etc. etc.?
Bambino's first impression based on his truly keen observations of how the art world works was that you'd never get a group of accomplished artists to agree to this. Some have no interest in experimenting to create work that isn't obviously theirs. Others will hate the idea of not receiving credit for their accomplishment. Moreover, he said, you'd never get any collectors to buy without knowing who created the work. I'm not so sure. In fact, I'm not sure it hasn't been done before exactly as I imagine it, but even if it has been it obviously hasn't been done too much.
Still, as many folks here have readily insisted, despite my asserting the opposite, if there's value in anonymous opinion and anonymously offered gossip (putting it out there for the "general good" of the art community with no repercussions--good or bad--coming back at you), wouldn't there also be value in anonymously presented artwork? True personal sacrifice for art's sake?
Consider this an open thread on "the concept of individual genius" and the cult of personality versus Art for Art's sake.