In Spots We Trust :: Open Thread
This is not a review. I'm not a big fan of reviews before shows actually open (although this one by Will Brand on AFC does provide three of the most delicious lines I've read in a very long time...see final paragraph). And I have a general policy against reviewing shows in other commercial art galleries.
There is, however, no doubt that even though they may share my dislike for reviews of shows that the critic hasn't seen, Gagosian Gallery has been interested in launching a pre-exhibition dialog about art, commerce, and spectacle through their publicity efforts for this event. In case you haven't already heard, as part of the advertising campaign, they announced a somewhat tongue-in-cheek challenge in conjunction with the group of exhibitions:
Visit all eleven Gagosian Gallery locations during the exhibition The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011 and receive a signed spot print by Damien Hirst, dedicated personally to you.I presume it's "tongue-in-cheek" not because they won't actually honor the challenge, but because the number of people able to actually complete it are presumably few. Felix Salmon pens a hysterical piece calculating what it would cost to visit all 11 of Gagosian's spaces within the relatively short duration of the exhibitions...and doing so in style, of course.
Over at Artlog, Jarret Moran lists 11 (heh!) Facts about the Spot Paintings, summarizing nicely the general talking points about the event that lead nicely into what I find most interesting about this body of work. Fact #6, in particular, is important to keep in mind here:
6. Hirst is still making spot paintings, despite announcing he would stop in 2008. viaNow in his p/review of the shows, Will Brand said of the paintings, "they’re just some weird meme for the impossibly rich that nobody knows how to stop." That notion got stuck in my brain last week and I've been trying to pry it loose ever since. "Some wierd meme...."
It was helped loose somewhat by another post Will Brand subsequently wrote titled "Art is Not Gold," in which he very smartly explores the idea that, despite all the talk lately of art being a "safer" place to put one's money, "for the potential investor, art and gold simply don’t have a lot of financial characteristics in common."
I find this line of thinking fascinating, and I'm going to give it more thought, but it very nearly lost me entirely by insisting art is "intrinsically useful."
What does make sense is the idea put forward by Bruno Frey in his 2000 book Arts & Economics: Analysis & Cultural Policy (and before that in a 1995 research paper) that art is an awful lot like real estate: pricey, relatively illiquid, highly differentiated, intrinsically useful, and frequently purchased by Russian oligarchs. There are some key differences, of course – in real estate, for instance, there’s no chance of arbitrage, or picking up an undervalued house in Cologne and reselling it in New York – but I’d forward that art and real estate are a lot less different than art and stocks or art and gold. If you can find a housing price index for a particularly pricey area – like, say, the Hamptons – you’d probably even be dealing with the same buyers and sellers (a boon for comparing markets).
So can we make that our new cliché, please? It may take a few more minutes, as a writer, to look up a housing price index instead of a stock market index, but we’d end up a whole lot closer to the truth.
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is quite useless.
--Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
OK, so stick with me while I try to stitch this together into some semblance of a coherent argument. And I'll admit up front that 1) I am not an economist (I'm approaching this from a purely for-entertainment-only point of view), and 2) I reserve the right to be persuaded that I'm talking through my hat.
Still, it was the fact that Jarret highlighted ("Hirst is still making spot paintings, despite announcing he would stop in 2008.") that got me to wondering before I read Will's piece whether aside from their drug references and irresistible prettiness, the spot paintings weren't also something much more clever: a new, private international currency.
currency refers to a generally accepted medium of exchange. These are usually the coins and banknotes of a particular government, which comprise the physical aspects of a nation's money supply.Or they're supposed to. The idea of bank notes, as I understand it, originally was that they were promises to produce on demand the amount of some precious metal like gold or silver that they represented (try that in your bank today). That meant that a government could/should only print as much in coins and banknotes as they had in precious metals in their treasury (in case everyone all at once demanded the metals in exchange for the currency they held).
This representation of a nation's actual wealth has several obvious advantages: coins and paper are much easier to carry around and trade than the heavy metals; the use of currency permits loaning money much easier, and enables the sale of stock in jointly owned companies, among others. Currency also provides an easily verifiable indication of value. The number of zeros you see at the end of the big number on a banknote, immediately communicates its worth.
Enter the spot paintings.
Valued according to their scale and/or the number of spots they contain, they are immediately recognizable as a representations of their owner's wealth (which reminds me of what I consider the quote of the year):
“It is easier to have ten Damien Hirsts than to have ten yachts… besides, your yacht becomes more interesting with a Damien Hirst on it,” says the Mexico-based collector César Cervantes.
Furthermore, much the same way a government will sometimes simply print more money in response to economic hardship, the initial impact of the Great Recession on the art market and on Damien Hirst's work in particular, may explain item #6 in Jarret's list of facts mentioned above.Consider this an open thread on spots, currency, art and their interconnectedness. Feel free to elaborate on or obliterate my comparison.
UPDATE: And then there's Hennessy...
"Yes, Internet, he just said that money is his medium."