Thursday, March 20, 2014

Looking for Leaders...

I'm so sorry to tell you this, contemporary artists, but one way or another you're going to have to lead us out of this mess. 

I've read many a comment on social networks from artists arguing that they resent critics and others insisting that the way out of the death spiral that is the contemporary art market's focus on money over art must come from artists. They resent it. After all, they only work with galleries because they don't want to deal with the business end of things, so why can't the galleries figure out how to change all this?

The factors one must understand to appreciate why that's not likely though are that 1) a gallery IS a business and if there's a clear way to make money and a clear way NOT to make money in the current climate, the business owner part of the dealer's path is obvious; 2) dealers are their artists' representatives, with an obligation as such to work toward their true goals, so as long as their artists are making choices that favor money over art, they're simply doing their job in helping them; and 3) while other artists may demand their dealers make choices that favor art over money, unless there's some money involved there to cover expenses, dealers can't afford to represent too many artists like that (whereas entire programs are built around the other category of artists, and very lucrative ones at that, bringing us back to factor #1).

I'm sure some artists out there are chomping at the bit to interject here:  buh...buh...who ARE these so-called category 2 artists you're imagining here, demanding money over art? 

I kid you not, I had a conversation just the other day with an artist who confirmed for me that so long as there's money to be made in the current market, they felt they should try to make as much as they can too. Why should they be the cross bearer for their generation? And it's clear they're not the only artist who feels that way, regardless of what some would say if put on the spot. Which isn't to say all artists feel this way...just enough to fuel an ever-money-obsessed market.

But let me back up. What is this "death spiral" you're hyperventilating about, Edward? Adam Lindemann summarized it quite nicely the other day:
We’re in a pretty scary moment in the cycle. The number of people flipping works of art has never been higher, and they will keep on pumping up prices until the music stops. When it will stop is anyone’s guess[...] One can semi-plausibly argue that a Bacon, a great Picasso or a Warhol is a rare and precious thing and that in the 21st century we will always see more buyers (many of them from outside the U.S.) than there are works available. The young stuff is another matter altogether. Artists go on making it every day, and the higher it goes, the more they produce. The market now is rife with speculation and getting hotter by the day. Today, everybody’s a wise guy looking for an angle.

A guy gets offered a picture for a buck and thinks: Why just tell the seller “yes” or “no”? Why not be a player and re-offer it to 10 other guys you know for two bucks? Maybe you can buy it yourself for 85 cents and sell it for $1.50, or better  yet, just flip it without buying it. This is, after all, trading tulips; no one really wants to smell them roses. Collecting is now an anachronism. Some people are still doing it, but they have become the minority. The new generation is in it to win it, and it’s very bold and not risk averse. It will dive into anything that has buzz and hype and feels like it’s going to the moon. What’s ironic and sad is that some artists’ careers now seem to end only months after they began. This means we won’t get to “sell them later,” because there won’t be any “later.” [emphasis mine]
I've been talking about this issue long enough to know at this point, someone will chime in to suggest all we need is enough idealistic dealers who dig in their heels, show quality work without compromising, and they'll begin to change how things are heading. Again, though, waiting for enough dealers to do this increasingly seems like a fool's game to me. In her "Exit Interview," Kristen Dodge explains part of why she recently chose to close her Lower East Side gallery:
"I spoke with a successful art dealer recently who dismissed the notion of a new model, observing that when people set out to do it differently, they wind up doing the same thing as everyone else. This particular person has decided to look the evil (not my word) and fallibility of the art world in the face, embrace it, become it, and use it for financial gain. It's a job at the end of the day, right? I admire this person's tenacity to succeed and survive alternately over the course of changing markets, and their track record of launching artists’ careers. But at some point along the way, this person admittedly lost the art part of the equation. All I could think was, what happened and fuck that." [emphasis mine]

And so putting those two emphasized ideas together:  "Artists go on making it every day, and the higher it goes, the more they produce" and "when [dealers] set out to do it differently, they wind up doing the same thing as everyone else," it's hard not to conclude that whether artists resent it or not, shifting the focus from money back onto art must come from the artists themselves.

OK, you say, but how? If an ever-expanding pool of MFA graduates are willing to crank out the production to fuel the speculation that's drowning out any demands to focus on art for art's sake, how can individual artists change anything here?  
The only answer (and I'll admit it's not instantly satisfying or easy) is to not get drawn in. Becoming a tool of the 1% is best left to politicians. From artists we have always expected a bit more. The artist above who told me they figured they might as well make what money they can from this market could have made other choices. They would not have died had they not.

I know there are those who will conclude, "well, the dealer who Kristen cites could have made other choices as well...they wouldn't have died either." And that's true, but in the current climate dealers making those choices are finding it hard to climb above a certain level, because their best selling artists leave them for bigger galleries who will more generously "clean up their messes." As that keeps happening, over and over, almost systematically, those types of dealers are being exhausted.

So again, to my mind, if more artists don't lead here, change will not quickly come.

I will say one artist who is leading in this regard (as I've noted before) has a show up right now at Postmasters. I think artists looking for guidance on how to change things could do much worse than to visit it.


Anonymous tskross said...

As an artist and a person in the world who truly believes in the necessity of art, this is something I have been thinking about very much over the past year. I have come to the same conclusion that only artists can change things for the better in terms of our place in the art world, the weight of our contribution to it (including, but also aside from our artistic output) and the standing of art in society in general, as general and wide ranging as that may be.
For artists like Powhida (whose show at Charlie James Gallery, Bill by Bill, most awesomely lampooned the commodity of art) it is part of their practice, but for others like myself, it is outside of it (maybe it will seep into my work eventually, I'm often slow that way). Now I have my own ideas about how to contribute to changing things for the better that, hopefully, play to my strengths but I think many artists would want some concrete ideas as to what they can personally do.
I think first and foremost artist should really evaluate what success means to them, as individuals and as artists. I think that many artists still have a vision of financial security balanced by artistic integrity, in an innocent idea that they just want to make enough to support their practice, that is rooted in a pre-2008 (post 198?) idea of the art world/market relationship. This relationship has totally changed (as pointed out here, and by Felix Salmon, Greg Allen, Powhida, and many many others in the past months) but I think that many young artists are blind to this change (and what the reality really was), and extremely naive about the role of money in their careers over their lifetime.
It’s not my place to say to another artist that they should be a pauper in order to maintain their integrity, or that they should have to work a day job (although for some of us this isn't a problem, at least not more of a problem than anything else!) or have to be independently wealthy. In fact I can't really say what I think, because it is a very personal question, hopefully with a different answer for everyone. But I do think that it is important for them to not think of themselves as passengers on this ride that is the art industry and seriously start considering themselves drivers of it. However we can we need to try to have some control over the direction, a say in the positive and the negative of this world we have chosen for ourselves, without making excuses for our position in it. It has been said before but we are after all the ones who allow it to exist at all in the first place.

Please forgive the long rambling reply, there is so much to say about this, so much more than I can fit into a reply here. I think that this idea is the single most important issue facing artists right now.

3/20/2014 01:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Powhida is part of the problem.

3/20/2014 05:49:00 PM  
Blogger John Powers said...

While I understand why you'd want artists to lead the way Ed, not only do I think artists aren't where the answer lies, I don't think leadership is what we lack. I think we lack good data. What young artists need is better information.

I've been asked on a number of occasions if there is any good writing on the economics of the artworld. (Fuck you Tom Wolf and your bullshit-reactionary Painted Word.) The best description I've ever read of the economic condition of being an artists in the contemporary artworld is chapter 3 of the book Freakonomics: "Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?" Replace "foot soldiers" with "emerging artists", "drug king pins" with "art star", and you have a pretty good description of the conditions (and delusions) most young artists labour under.

Talking with Greg Allen the other day, he joked: “Swing a stick in Greenpoint you’re going to hit someone desperate to be an art star." That's something most of us have thought, but Greg also observed that "That's not a practice, that's a symptom.” To torture Greg's the metaphor a little longer, the 'disease' is a perverse set of incentives that, like the crack trade, offer a very few outrageously large rewards, attracting lots of desperate players willing to risk life and limb for a shot at the top slot. But the problem isn't that the New York artworld functions like a crack gang, the problem is that the New York artworld exists inside of a nation that functions like a crack game.

I am, however, very suspicious of the idea of artistic avant-gardes ( heroic I like Bill's show at Postmasters as well - not because he's leading the way, but because I feel that his project is a form of data visualization. Bill is attempting to help us all see the signal through the noise. Rather than leadership, I'd like more qualitative analysis of the artworld. Call it "quant-criticism" or "critical analysis" - whatever you call it, its a corrective that the art world is big enough to support, and desperately needs. And unlike the youths caught up in Chicago's drug trade, most aspiring artists are well equipped to make good choices, if they have good information. Right now there is very little statistical information of any kind. Besides a little bit of statistical info assembled by WAGE and some other orgs, we're flying blind right now. No one can point in the right direction, when no one has any idea where we stand.

3/20/2014 07:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The year is 2014 Edward. this is as good as it gets for the art market.

What do you want from the art market Edward?

You want Artist to lead,, lead where?

Why do you begrudge artist for taking the money and jumping ship to a better gallery?

Artist are like pro athletes , musicians , actors. Very short shelf life. there is no tomorrow its right now .

You know 200 years from now 99.999 percent of the art being made today will be long forgotten, sculptures sold for scrap, worthless paintings burned by pissed of heirs.

Will anyone on the buy sell hold list stand the test of time? maybe a few.

The Trans Humans of the Future will laugh at the contemporary art market

Get out there and Kick Some Ass Edward,, Sell some Art. that's all there is.

3/21/2014 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

"Get out there and Kick Some Ass Edward,, Sell some Art. that's all there is."

How about you kiss my ass.

If art is so meaningless to you that it's nothing but a commodity, why don't you stay as far away from anything to do with art as humanly possible. Volunteer for a one-way trip to Mars or something.

Seriously, someone has to dig their heels in and say "enough" of this materialistic, me-me-me-me bullshit. Trans Humans may indeed laugh at the contemporary art market, but if this generation could just momentarily get its collective head out of its ass and apply the talent it has without immediately demanding it be praised and highly compensated for every time it lifts a finger, we might just leave some legacy the future will still marvel at.

"there is no tomorrow its right now ."

So grab some dope, get yourself stoned, and get the fuck out the way for those who'd rather actually do something meaningful with their time. I have no use for your kind.

3/21/2014 11:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I apologize that offened you Edward.I know I am blunt and use coarse language I will always like and respect you. I have learned a lot from you over the years and all the people who post here . and I would like to apologize to everyone out there in the artworld. Sorry.

Best Regards
peace love
Best of luck in all your endeavors.


3/21/2014 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Don't apologize!!

Fight back!

The thing that disappoints me most as I see the current state of thing is how unwilling artists seem to be to fight for ART.

Money seems to have won. Which entirely sucks.

3/21/2014 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


While I think you may be onto something, data is only useful to those who are using it to answer a specific, actionable question.

What question would you hope to answer with better data?

3/21/2014 12:49:00 PM  
OpenID briandupont said...

I think many artists, be they established or young and emerging, or even less recognized on the spectrum, are interested in seeing how the art world might be restructured. But in asking artists to lead I think a crucial distinction needs to be drawn as to which world artists are being asked to change. I may be misreading you, but it seems that you are asking artists to lead in changing the art market, and there I don't think you can expect artists to be the torch or cross bearers, at least not alone.

When John cites the drug dealers of Freakonomics, I think he also points in the direction of where change is going to have to come from: absolutely everyone. You can’t look to the street level drug dealers as the only instigators of change, there’s too little concentration of economic power; the primary weapon they have is to quit and not play the game and go work in fast food. To extend the drug metaphor, altering that market requires a host of changes, many coming from the top down (i.e. government) and involving expenditures of capital on education and reform that seem unlikely to be instituted in the art world (although I’d certainly like to see some “this is your brain on art” PSAs). That sort of change can’t only emerge from the bottom up, but where that sort of local community organization is effective, it would have to come from the entire community, which in the art world is not just the artists, but also dealers, collectors, critics, and academics. Artists have economic interests just as much as any other group does; if they’re not willing to risk their wallets to change the system, why should artists? As the street level drug dealers in this scenario they have the least to gain.

When you note that dealers are exhausted and finding it hard to climb above a certain level the thing that stands out to me is just how much climbing is built into the overall economic structure that we’re all enmeshed in; it’s a characteristic of our capitalist system more than anything else. I don’t think it’s likely that art is going to change the overall economy, but if we are going to change our strange, gilded little nook of it everyone will have to step up.

3/21/2014 01:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Harold said...

I think what you are asking for is regulation in the art world. If money vultures are picking this thing apart, maybe we need to rethink the rules that we play the game by. Artists most certainly have a voice in this thing, but if you are talking about the power to change a system - that takes a whole lot more than artists.
I think we will begin to see a lot more in the way of regional art communities cropping up to cultivate a sustainable community of artists who worry less about the history books and mainstream exposure. Gallery shows and auction houses are pretty weak indicators of the true meaning of art, so its time to act accordingly.
As far as I'm concerned the art market can piss off and correct itself with a good and proper crash so that things can begin to realign themselves.

3/21/2014 03:32:00 PM  
Anonymous B. said...

One form of productive protest is for artists to simply make THEIR work and take the time they need to make it, whatever it is. Slow down and sustain something instead of cranking out piece after piece of homogeneous, branded work that many galleries and art fairs are thriving on. Wouldn't this change the ravenous pace of the market cycle naturally?

3/22/2014 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger AvivaRahmani said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/22/2014 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger AvivaRahmani said...

Now that I've read thru your original post more carefully and the comments, in some ways I'm more confused about exactly what you mean by leadership. I believe artists do point the way to change. I think you're making a point about the art market as a paradigm for that change because economic systems that commodify art need challenge.

I thought that was addressed by Marxist analysis, Adorno & Fluxus a while back, amongst others, but apparently greed trumped whatever lessons might have stuck in the society at large. When I think of change and content and form now, it is all about process & practice which is pretty zen (I mean you choose the bed the you're going to lie in but can't be guaranteed a good night's sleep, like Powhida but we aren't all Powhida's focused on that area)...You lose me when I think you're proscribing directions.

Presuming good intentions by dealers (like yourself, Postmasters, Ron Feldman, many others) and a sincere engagement with life (including business) and intentionality, what more do you expect artists to do to change things? As an ecological artist, I can't imagine dancing any faster than I already am. I'm committed to my choices because I think they underlie all the other issues ... but we're trying to function as round pegs in an art system (often) with square holes.

Former dealers who have focused on the genre of ecological art, like Amy Lipton, for example find it difficult to find ways back into the market for all kinds of commercial reasons that as an artist, I feel very limited in my capacity to support. We are not living in a world eager to confront the sorts of issues artists like myself or dealers like Lipton are willing to grapple with, regardless of the value of the leadership that might be contributed.

There certainly isn't a line of Russian oligarchs beating down the doors to hear about climate change as a topic, for example, regardless of the form or the frame. What do you think artists like myself are missing?

3/22/2014 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Rusak said...

I think many artists want to be leaders and I think many of us are very passionate about visual & verbal discourse. Most artists I know committed themselves to a life of art because of some experience as a child that so greatly affected them, they couldn't foresee a better path forward. Then there are those of us who consciously left perfectly paying careers because we felt compelled to do something more creative. There will always be speculator-artists — who should we blame for Jeff Koons' lack of positive-minded leadership: him, the gallerists, the critics, or the audience?

The problem is many of us are starving, dragging a iron ball of debt with us wherever we go, and as soon as we get established somewhere, our rents rise, and we spend our time moving — ball still in tow — instead of making.

And, for the most part, dealers today are the ones selecting which artists to exhibit. Critics decide which shows to cover. There are plenty of artists leading right now, but the community has to come together to amplify the message. Socially conscious and positive-minded artists could exhibit at fairs, if we could only afford the fees, first. I'm curious: what type of leadership from artists alone will turn the tide of who is exhibited at galleries and who is covered in criticism?

Kudos to the artists who have the time to mass-produce and/or lead — some of us are just trying to figure out whether we're going to have enough money left over to buy food next month.

3/22/2014 04:57:00 PM  
Anonymous J.V. said...


We can't reform a market which thrives in the dark. There's no transparency in pricing and no central title registry.

Should galleries publish prices online, like real estate companies? Should artists do it if galleries won't?

Except that artists don't want people to know how much money they make either.

So maybe a title registry is the best idea. If a piece is flipped, it will show up as a fast sale in the database. The previous owners can be contacted by the prospective seller to see what the deal is.

3/22/2014 05:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Lisa R said...

The artists who are doing things that are akin to what you are looking for are probably already doing them and also probably don't have the time or the interest in having anything to do with this particular leaderless 'artworld' that you are speaking of. There is at least one generation and probably more just in NY alone that have as little interest in the Chelsea galleries as the Chelsea galleries have in them. There are plenty of other art scenes in the US and in the rest of the world with people who only hear about what happens in NY from secondary sources, if they hear about it at all. What makes something (or place) relevant today is not necessarily what will make something relevant tomorrow. If an artist runs out of ideas, should she look to others to find out what to make? I did not get into art to follow or to lead, this kind of idea just isn't punk rock enough for me.

3/22/2014 10:04:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I didn't expect as many folks to get stuck on the "leader" or " follower" idea as they seem to here, but it seems to bring out many folks' independent streak (as well as anachronistic declarations of intent, apparently). :-p

The issue for me is a a favoring of art that's flippable in the market unlike I've ever seen in my 20 years in the art world. A favoring of money over art, essentially. If that's cool with artists, they can ignore thus post and carry on. If it's something they wish would change, my point here is it's not likely to happen without them making it happen.

3/22/2014 10:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

in an hyperlink world, i add in this thought, which hopefully can add to Eds meme for intrinsic value.

From over at Godin's

Kind of about quality over quantity, , "Better is better than more.",

, "Practice is not the answer here. Practice, the 10,000 hours thing, practice alone doesn't produce work that matters. No, that only comes from caring. From caring enough to leap, to bleed for the art, to go out on the ledge, where it's dangerous. When we care enough, we raise the bar, not just for ourselves, but for our customer, our audience and our partners." ,

Possibly art is about leaping and then landing on our feet.

3/24/2014 07:38:00 AM  
Blogger lee kaloidis said...

As long as art is anything you say it is
And everyone is an artist
There is nothing to lead

Art that is anything is nothing

Art will reappear
And money will disappear
When all the fucking words disappear

Words are the medium of conmen
And a compensatory necessity
Of the vacuum left by art’s collapse
And the art world
Is overrun with carpetbaggers
Profiting from the ruins

Nothing of profound human value
Matters anymore in the arts

Caring was modernist

3/24/2014 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

'caring was modernist "

I would have thought it was a-political. (a la Greenberg) As schism-ed from the messy life of social interactions, freed from the propaganda of fixed positions, seeking an opening for freedom to explore and hence abhorring narrative and hidden agendas side stepping narrative.

Hence possibly why abstractions are seemingly so initially accessible to all - international in scope and ideal for resale markets, lacking a cultural confusion of meaning- and so ultimately, much much more difficult to sustain an intimate relationship with- leaving the masses feeling cheated - where's the art, but sustaining the current art bubble.

Caring allows one to overcome themselves and risk it all, if but for a moment. I guess its just a question of what you're caring about.

Though I do agree with your premise that art speaks louder by being, then simply more words and theories.

(guess i am a robot)

3/24/2014 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger romkeh said...

I've been thinking about this a lot over the last few years. I think many of you are right, like Edward, Brian, and so on. The change is one that needs to come from everyone. Representation needs to be restructured. So how best to solve this?

I'm working on setting up our first gallery and its intention is to represent artworks, not artists. We will have to reconfigure our pricing system as we will be working with art that has already been online (and can remain there!). We are working on building a social network built specifically around art dialogue, and all popular works as well as the ones we represent will be open to commentary, as well as user submitted content. Commentary will rise and fall as people agree or disagree-- think reddit comments.

The gallery itself can serve as a practical middle-ground between emerging artists and established ones. Artists can focus on singular works for longer periods of time, allowing more focus on material and skill, and less on press releases. If an artwork was made by an assistant, we will not accept the artwork.

And so on. It's a work in progress but I feel it's something that will help push change forward, even if people disagree with its validity for whatever reason. I believe we can validate artworks that truly are sublime, or at least, come close to it. Who knows. But most importantly, it opens the market up to everyone. Our choices will span to many more artists, we can have faster turnover, we can make posters in-house for affordable prices, we'd be able to utilise the internet far better, and we can rethink our pricing structure to make art available to more common folk.

Many organisations have made attempts to make art affordable, but almost none have wanted to situate themselves entirely outside of the art world status quo. I'm not sure whether we'd be invited to art fairs, but we don't mind that. That's not what this is about!

Ultimately my point is that I agree— we need to restructure our galleries and representation structures, because I believe artists will follow. Make art less like business or homework and more like art and you'll get art in return. Call me naive, but I think the solution is relatively simple, it's just a matter of waiving luxury.

Caroline Jones wrote a book called Machine in the Studio that reflected on how artists framed themselves photographically as masters and great individuals. It is my understanding that this fantasy has ballooned into this ridiculous present situation. Galleries should not focus on artists as brands. It is very destructive to the public's understanding of art. That is not to say that there are individuals worth focusing on or having solo shows, no, don't get me wrong, such affairs are crucial.

I hope some of that makes sense...

3/24/2014 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger lee kaloidis said...

"Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art."

"I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They're beautiful. Everybody's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic."


3/24/2014 07:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me it's clear that social practice art is a direct response to the tsunami-like market forces that are wreaking so much damage. It speaks of a desire to make art with an impact other than raising insurance premiums of objects that never even leave their crates.

That's one way in which artists ARE leading the way (making public art is another). It's unfortunate that many of us artists don't have minds that function in that way. I love what Theaster Gates does, but I can't make that kind of art...

3/25/2014 03:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is, only the .001% of artists have any power, economic or otherwise. Seriously, non blue-chip artists are like untouchables.

3/25/2014 04:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there is only money to be made in this market for a minuscule percentage of artists. same as it ever was.

3/26/2014 12:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

also...I agree with the Freakonomics/Drug gang analogy.

I also think that many in the art world are guilty of perpetrating the fiction that art making is a professional enterprise. It isn't. In all likelihood, you will be subsidizing your work for your entire life. Even if you have gallery representation & a pretty prestigious track record. The opportunity costs of being an artist are enormous, and one either needs to accept that with 99.99% certainty you are ceding a lifetime of potential earning to make your art (which is fine, if that's what you truly love) or have so much money to begin with that it doesn't matter whether you ever make a living or not.

3/26/2014 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

forgive me anonymous but I don't think Ed is talking about the money being paid out here. He seems to be saying that when artists chose as their muse the Auction house's infatuation of the inflation of price, that what we are left with to legate to our future as art, is no longer something cherished that embodies anything worth passing on.

His call for leaders is a direct call to you to offer up art inspired by something else - he doesn't state what - he's left that for you the artist to elucidate. He'll still vet the work. -But, He isn't finding much to cherish in the art thats inspired only by an escalation of inflation.

I think he's talking about the curretn muse that art seems to be chasing- it might not be worth catching. I don't think it's really about how much Mona costs because Mona wasn't inspired by that muse.

Show us the muse,

3/27/2014 12:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any thoughts on this?

3/30/2014 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger lee kaloidis said...

Here is your leader, Ed.

A little provisionalism, a little celebrity portraiture, a little appropriation, and lots of irony.

And he will only work for peanuts no matter how much bigger he gets.

3/30/2014 04:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Elizabeth Williams said...

Many of us are leading and/or fighting for art but are largely unknown and not noticed (not to mention starving). Is there a correlation? Is it anybody's, nobody's or everybody's fault?

4/05/2014 11:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Holly Hager said...

I've come to this discussion late, and, while I hate that we need to have it, I love that we are having it.

I'm a collector. I don't speculate. I don't put art in warehouses. I don't believe in that. I believe in buying art I want to live with because it enriches my life.

I also believe that the hyper-commoditization of art we have today is disgusting. Art isn't just a commodity; it's a force for social good. People need good art in their lives.

The value of art should correlate with its importance, and that's not in the ballpark these days. Even a stock can be downgraded by an accurate financial analyst’s report. Only the art market is unfettered capitalism at its worst—complete with speculation and its ugly stepsisters, insider trading and market manipulation.

I agree with almost all that’s been written here—with the exception that we should just accept that the art market is fucked up forever. Not gonna do that.

I particularly agree that, for real change to happen, it has to come from everyone in the art world. Greed is too powerful to fight against alone. We all have to do what we can in our own backyards (Romkeh,
love that new gallery model!) and also come together with a more unified shout of “Hell, no".

I'm guessing you might want to stop reading now because you think what I just wrote is bullshit pablum from someone in the privileged classes.

It’s not. I’m tremendously privileged to be able to collect art. But I was a D-list author for many, many years. Published, but not making a living because I refused to take sell-out book deals (and I wasn’t good enough to make it without taking a sell-out deal).

But, in 2011, I finally realized that Amazon had transformed the publishing industry with the same result that Napster got in the music industry. They took the tastemaking out of the hands of a self-interested few and spread it out to the larger, knowledgeable community. That’s data making a difference.

The art market is ripe for the same transformation. It wasn’t feasible before the Internet, but now it is. On the web, we can band together and publish the kind of data (quantified, unbiased art criticism) that will usher in desperately needed market transparency and merit-based valuations.

Ed, I hope you’ll forgive me for posting what might seem like an ad on your blog. But the other posts here radiate thoughtful frustration with the lack of practical tools to change the art market.

Two and a half years ago, I decided to make building one my mission. So I’m getting ready to launch a web-based tool to facilitate the remarriage of art’s value to its importance.

But, of course, garbage in = garbage out. To get the data that will transform the art industry into a meritocracy (not a democracy), we need as many knowledgeable art worlders as we can get to seed our database with constructive, non-verbal criticism—what art's good, what’s bad, why it is, and what it should be worth, regardless of what some speculator has sold it off for.

Using Curatious will be as simple as filling out a Zagat’s restaurant rating. It’s not meant to replace in-depth, verbal criticism. It’s meant to aggregate the views of the experts who should be informing the art market into a single voice strong enough to change it. It’s also meant to make the art world more inclusive; to channel great art, thoughtful art criticism, and art education to as many people as possible.

I’m all in on this, and the site is called Curatious. If you want to put your money where your mouth has been in these posts, please get in touch with me ( We'd love to have you participate from the start.

Again, Ed, I hope you’ll forgive me for using your blog this way. I wouldn’t normally. But everyone here is passionately looking for someone to take responsibility for initiating a big change, and I wanted to raise my hand.

4/09/2014 06:52:00 PM  
Blogger lee kaloidis said...

the very premise of Adam Smith's argument
that people act in their own best self-interest
overlooked how unfettered competitiveness
would flip the fundamentals of self-preservation, necessity, and comfort
into the contemporary virtues of greed and gluttony

state sanctioned gluttony and greed openly fuel the world's economy and the unfettered open market system

which is why the system inevitably crashes

actual self-interest is relatively simple

it's when people are wise enough to act in moderation in all things

eating 50 helpings at dinner and then hording another 10,000 meals for future use is not self-interest
even if it is lauded as maximizing profit

this utterly perverted appetite for more and more
now coupled with the artificially created lust for all things new
- seen as much in the art market as in every other market -
is what drives ambitious and insatiable acquisitiveness

as long as the motives of greed and lust are championed to fuel anything
whether that be competitive capitalism
technological progress
or the shallow acquisition of information over wisdom
the world is fucked

the wealthy are not success stories

4/10/2014 09:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Mark Creegan said...

Above it was mentioned that galleries should not focus on artists as brands.
I have come to the realization that I would like the ability as an artist to function in the artworld the same way comedy writers function. Say I was a stand-up comedian, a little bit older, not extremely charismatic or great on stage, but wrote solid jokes and was genuinely a funny person, one option would be to write for a another comedian or show. I could still be creative and use my talents without having to be the big guy on stage.
I wish this function existed for visual artists as well, although as Im thinking about it I guess that is what studio assistants are in a way. But that is usually not really a viable career, more of a stepping stone and a way to establish experience and relationships. I cant imagine a parallel position in art to head writer of Saturday Night Live.

4/11/2014 11:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Mark Creegan said...

oh what a coinkadink:

4/11/2014 11:12:00 PM  
Anonymous zipthwung said...

Money abhors a vacuum. Don't blame artists, many of whom have staggering student loans, blinkered world views (about the actual market, not the ideal one) and conflicting loyalties even within their peer group over styles, ideas, and brands. Not to mention the purest of the pure looking for true originality (what a white whale that is). As it should be, but cooperation demands a bit of consensus, the "80% solution" and academically trained artists are trained to be contrarian or "subversive" perfectionists.

Artists need to stop affecting "subversion" in favor of pure brand experience. It is no secret that top names use publicists, or at least many galleries do, and that owning a popular(ish) magazine/blog helps you market your favorite artists. You might believe that the cream always rises, but in my experience the cream often settles to the bottom and flounders. Sometimes for a very long time.

4/25/2014 11:31:00 AM  

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