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This Week at Brooklyn Street Art Blog

Big Money's Big Boo Hoo Regarding Art

When does the excessive flow of money into the art world begin to corrupt the quality of art being produced?

The New York Times reports on a fascinating back and forth discussion - from critics to monied art buyers - on how the glamorization of the artworld through high spending collectors is diminishing the cultural quality of the art being produced. Click here -- Here is the article in its entirety.


In short -- 

The article says that prominent art writers and critics, including Sarah Thornton, Felix Salmon, Will Gompertz and Dave Hickey, have been attacking the art world, arguing that the staggering sums of money being spent on works are distorting judgments about art and undermining its long-term cultural significance. “Money talks loudly and easily drowns out other meanings,” Ms. Thornton wrote in TAR magazine in a recent article, “Top 10 Reasons NOT to Write About the Art Market.” In its special edition for the opening day of the fair, The Art Newspaper asked whether “the art world is facing a crisis of values” because of the “pernicious influence of the market on art.”

And in the eyes of many critics, Art Basel Miami Beach — or what Simon Doonan, writing in Slate last week, labeled a “promo-party cheese-fest” — has become a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the art market. The fair’s extraordinary success in just over a decade, and its celebration of wretched excess, have triggered a backlash.

But the Rubells, along with a growing number of other prominent collectors, art dealers and curators, are having none of it. The backlash against the backlash has begun.“The market supports artists,” Jason Rubell said. Given the limited amount of government support for the arts, he added, “it’s an industry that without commerce doesn’t exist. What do people want — to go back to the recession?”

Ms. Rubell was annoyed that critics seemed to ignore the social, economic and cultural transformation of Miami that the fair and collectors like her have helped bring about. She noted that the Rubells’ 45,000-square-foot art center — where one huge gallery is now filled with works by Oscar Murillo, a 26-year-old Colombian immigrant who lived with and was supported by the Rubells while he created dozens of mural-sized canvases — used to be a Drug Enforcement Administration storage center.

Outside, in the center’s courtyard, visitors like Martha Stewart admired the French artist Bernar Venet’s collaboration with Bugatti, the superluxury sports car brand, on a one-of-a-kind Veyron Grand Sport Venet car (a price hasn’t been set, a Bugatti spokeswoman said, but will undoubtedly be in “the higher end of the millions”).

“I’m grateful to Bugatti, Perrier, Bank of America and other companies,” Ms. Rubell declared. “Their support helps facilitate quality programs and opens exhibits like this” — the Murillo show — “to the public.”

In Miami Beach, at the main fair, the consumer-oriented glitter abounds this week: coffee carts with $20-a-glass Ruinart Champagne; Davidoff cigar rollers; BMW’s artist-designed cars; and Takashi Murakami’s $70,000-and-up commissioned portraits. One could almost imagine that the Barbara Kruger work on display at L&M gallery — a super-sized sign reading “Greedy” on one line and an unprintable expletive on the next — had an invisible subtitle telling the wealthy V.I.P.’s who had come to shop, “I’m Talking to You — Yeah, You!”

Of course, rich patrons have always supported artists, Don Rubell pointed out, from the pharaohs to the Medicis. Today, multimillion-dollar sales represent only a silk-thin layer of a deeply varied and thriving art market. The art world, Mr. Rubell asserted, is “actually becoming more democratic.”


Okay, let's take a breath here. First of all the art market is not a democracy. Any market that relys on the fickle tastes of gallery owners, the self aggrandizing, status seeking art buyers and a starving artist underclass whose hourly rate day job pays the rent, is not going to foster democracy. It is not an environment where all is created equal, given the same access and opportunity.The artist that creates a "bad boy" (and yes most highly successful - read: saleable - artists now are men) persona, like a Schnabel or a Koons, will succeed. The artist that quietly works in their studio turning out impressive art is more likely than not, doomed to obscurity. For those who get that glimmer of opportunity to showcase, they soon realize that they need to produce what sells, creating a commoditization of art as high end "must have to demonstrate your cultural savviness" status product.

So yes, art buyers support an art market. But no, they are not altruistic. They do not buy a pile of rocks labeled as minimalist art to support that artist. They do it for far personal and selfish reasons. Just as the Medicis made sure that their portraits were added to an adoration scene, today's art buyers want to feel part of the trendy emanence that the art world emits.

In fact today's art buyer help create a toxic atmosphere where less is more. Or should I say less costs more.


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