"Virtually every gallery I know at the middle says that they're struggling much worse than the galleries at the top or the bottom, because those are the places where buyers speculate." That's Ed Winkleman, the well-known art blogger and owner of Chelsea's Winkleman Gallery. He recently reopened his West 27th Street space after it took on five feet of water during Hurricane Sandy. Despite being in business for years and having a critically acclaimed program, Winkleman struggles with the challenges of running "a family-owned business" in a world that insists on seeing art as an investment. According to the fortysomething dealer, the financialization of art has affected everything—from artists' expectations to what galleries actually show.

"Young artists get carried away by the crazy money out there. They believe the hype. They think success is about endless cash, about having lots of studio assistants, and getting picked up in a limo. As a mid-range gallery, you have to prioritize your spending. Do you spend money on a catalog, which actually helps develop an artist's career, or do you spend it on a limo? Many galleries hire the limo, and I've seen what happens when they can't afford that anymore. I've also watched experimental galleries migrate slowly to show only the artists that sell. Obviously, that strategy only increases the homogeneity of what's on view."

For Magda Sawon, owner of Chelsea's Postmasters Gallery, the distinctions forced by today's speculative market are far more stark: "It's not collecting when someone buys his fifth Jeff Koons for $15 million."

The founder of what many consider to be one of the leading experimental galleries in Manhattan, Sawon describes the current situation as "completely puppeteered from the top" and says it has "tremendous consequences for everyone else." As for the effects of all the investment-grade cash permeating the art world, she is disarmingly direct about what many in the industry are too timid—or conflicted—to say: "It kills radicality for artists, dealers, and everyone else. I think the word collecting doesn't even apply to that kind of activity. It's about buying to sell, really, it's gambling, and has nothing to do with any of the issues that are central to the creation and appreciation of art in our time."

Given that the sort of highly critical work she exhibits—what used to be called avant-garde art—has lost favor among the collectors, Sawon's harsh take could be written off as sour grapes. After all, shouldn't the 21st-century collector have every right to spend money however he likes? Who really gets hurt if billionaires and multimillionaires piss their money away on luxury tchotchkes?

"When money is concentrated among only a few artists and an even smaller number of collectors, then the middle gets squeezed—and that's where a lot of the most important art gets produced." Sawon counters. "Innovation happens in an artist's career where he or she can make advances on initial ideas and before these get locked into signature styles. This is becoming much harder to do, and the result is that art turns more uniform. I'll tell you what I really think—in this climate, I'm pretty sure someone like Robert Rauschenberg could never have made it."

Assuming Sawon is right, we are witnessing the emergence of what might be called Strategic Art—pieces designed to pierce the consciousness of a new investing class. This kind of art increasingly sees the marketplace as a kind of focus group. Naturally, it produces what buyers like best.

"There is so much work out there today that is a literal mirror of the values of the super-rich," says William Powhida, one of Sawon's most emblematic artists and a celebrated gadfly who once satirized Jeff Koons on the cover of The Brooklyn Rail (he's also the artist behind the lettering and portraits in this story). "There are the reflective surfaces of Koons and of younger artists like Jacob Kassay, and there's the sudden vogue in abstraction in the auction houses and the galleries on the Lower East Side. There are suddenly tons of slick-surfaced, object-based works that seem expressly made to sell and never offend."

Kassay, a 28-year-old painter of silver monochrome canvases who set a 2011 auction record of $290,500 for a painting that had sold only a year earlier for $8,000, essentially embodies the speculators' thirst for fresh talent. And while he is duly blasé about their interest in him—"all collectors have is money," he told a New Yorker reporter—it's hard not to wonder how they have straitjacketed him as an artist. Just as important is how these same art-stock traders are transforming what the rest of us get to experience. Take the October auction of Gerhard Richter's Abstract Painting (809–4). A work widely thought to be—like most of the German painter's abstractions—inferior to his far more influential photo-based paintings, it fetched $34.2 million, suddenly making Richter the world's most expensive living artist. Richter himself has called such prices "just as absurd as the banking crisis," "impossible to understand," and "daft." But this process produces more than absurdity; it's damaging to art's own historical priorities. When the mediocre is elevated by speculative greed, the real genius of an artist like Richter is diluted.

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41 comments
jagemsacviretar
jagemsacviretar

I am founding the first modern art museums in Baja, and Sonora Mexico. Only by establishing new museums, and perhaps my original TV project named, "AMERICAN ART STAR," (which has the potential to go global as UK ART STAR, Mexican ART STAR etc.) can original art and artists be featured in an age when the biggest names in art sell work created by minimum wage paid assistants for $Billions, while the big museums, dealers, auction houses and critics fawn over fraudulent work that has no meaning to anyone "except" the bankers who count the profits from the sales. New artists deserve to be rock stars because of their work, not the billionaire dealers who  promote frauds into stars. By creating "real" modern art museums and Art TV Shows that "cannot be controlled by dealers," pure modern art by real artists will be possible. If not, the world of "passionate true art is lost," and the dead shark, that is the current norm in the great museums of the world, can float forever, even if no one attends the funeral. JACK ARMSTRONG ARTIST L.A. 

laurasaxon
laurasaxon

I agree with Mr. Irving Sandler.  I gave up the Graduate School Conveyor Belt to NY Galleries, as I felt it was just empty.  Since Katrina cleaned out my studio, I have been going back to that experimental stage, Back to Square One.  It has been very educational and enlightening.  I felt as though I had lost the "Artist's Hand" in my work and wanted to get it back.  So I looked to the Old Masters and artists whose work really moved me.  I know it's not for everybody, but what art is?  I just had my first solo show opening three days ago and was very pleased with where I am headed artistically.  My work can be viewed at :  www.laurafischersaxon.com.

FoodPantryArtists
FoodPantryArtists

Bruce High Quality Foundation, I hope this group becomes a model for more art communities. Perhaps a percentage of all art resold should go to a worldwide impoverished artist fund.


Miller
Miller

Is there really a divide between uptown and downtown now? real estate price in Manhattan are exhorbitant where ever you go. The Whitney is opening in the Meatpacking district.

diggswayne
diggswayne

Seems to me that we're talking about art in a very limited sense.  And further we're talking about a very small group of artists who, by their very aspirations, can't help but to be locked in the suffocating grip of the art industrial complex which reflects the values of the moneyed individuals who finance and profit from it.  While I understand the concerns about defanged and vapid art dominating hallowed institutions, I also understand that those institutions reflect the values of the moneyed individuals who finance and profit from them. (Notice a motif developing?) A plan of action: as consumers of art we should make an attempt to engage art that is made outside of the dominant institutional paradigm.  Simply turn our attention elsewhere.  There are many artists making beautiful work all over the world who're not concerned with stale and recycled "isms," elite art schools, blue chip galleries or certain museums which offer a healthy dose of prestige but very little frisson.  Let's broaden our dialogue around art and artists because honestly much of the work coming down sanctioned pipelines is quite boring, insular and solipsistic --and has been for a long time.

Jason_Pramas
Jason_Pramas

I don't see any problem here that couldn't be taken care of quickly and efficiently by the deft application of spray mount and cornflakes ...

Gomichaelgo
Gomichaelgo

That definitely is not Jacob Kassay!  

kfreed
kfreed

Why, then, am I experiencing this lunatic sense of optimism?

1) "'What can I tell you? It's nasty and it's stupid. I'm an intellectual and I don't care if I'm not invited to the party. I quit'" That's Dave Hickey, the widely beloved, 71-year-old critic. He made it official as 2012 drew to a close. For Hickey, art has turned into a plaything for the 1 percent."

2) A set of Bruces

3) Occupy Art

Yes, we can say NO.

When it finally becomes hopeless enough, we'll know exactly what to do.

[Artist for the Ethical Treatment of People]

depictionbell
depictionbell

I’m crushed to learn that a spell in Bushwick amounts to little more than an adolescent fling, artistically speaking. But I can’t argue with the overall analysis. We live in decadent times, a fading culture clinging to novelty, corrupt and capricious. Amerika is going down, no question. Its art no more than reflects that. It will take a lot of other places with it, but it will go. It may well end up a lot of other places itself. 

I agree with Rob, things won’t improve for art until we get that big bad correction in the market that leaves investors swearing off contemporary art, swearing off investment generally. There will be a lot of swearing. There will probably be tantrums. It will be painful but necessary. It will help artists think about what they’re making art about. It will put a lot of things in perspective, critically speaking.

I think articles like this are like canaries in a coal mine; pretty songs - worry when they stop.

gabi67
gabi67

The Voice does this same story every 10 years. BREAKING NEWS: The commercial art world is dominated by rich collectors and speculators! If you want to do some real investigative arts journalism, as @joshua.dechter suggests, why not take a few lessons from artists engaged in truly radical institutional critique (as opposed to myopic whining). Eg., artists like Andrea Fraser and Hans Haacke who, unlike Powhida and this article, always implicate _themselves_ in their critique (because we're all implicated), and simultaneously examine the larger system that makes us all have to sell our labor power under conditions we don't choose. Most importantly, they never pick the wrong target: the worker who just happened to win the lottery.

vascassio
vascassio

This articles are pure hypocrisy. Since artists exist they always depend from wealthy people. True the art world have become an industry/business. And so what? Don't you think they are more serious matters to write about? Who cares if rich people screw rich people? Do you realise that Sothebys and Christies pay taxes, creat jobs, pay people who build crates, etc.  Artists are all greedy in this days this is why they dream about blue chip galleries...if they are all so serious about there art they should just sell to institutions. People self proclaimed art curators are all upset because nobody cares about what you say anymore they are out of the game...the funny part is that they keep writing and get paid in magazines like art review that are full of publicity pages from banks and corporations for example owned by Pinault.

Get serious. Try to write about art if you can. If not dedicate yourself to important matters.

Binkconn
Binkconn

Surprised you didn't have at least one quote by the late great Robert Hughes, who discussed the collusion of art and the market numerous times in his supreme review collection, "Nothing If Not Critical."

sommerlucia
sommerlucia

I would just like to point out that the image of "Jacob Kassay" by William Powhida is, in fact, not Jacob Kassay. I've met the artist on numerous occasions and that is most definitely not him. Please note that here I am not questioning William Powhida's skill at rendering, which is obviously of an admirable quality, but rather, his source for the image. Furthermore, a simple Google search would have told your fact-checkers that Kassay is 28, not 29, years of age. Before you publish an article questioning the integrity of an artist, I would hope your journalistic integrity matches the bar you are setting.

Pablo
Pablo

Generally speaking, hasn't it always been the case that artists become known via the commercial gallery system? Curators (and critics) pay attention to who's being shown in the "important" galleries. Collectors look to them and act accordingly. It's always an interesting topic to examine. Maybe the only real difference is the amount of money being spent.

joshua.decter
joshua.decter

I have been an art critic, curator, educator and organizer since 1985, primarily based in New York City (and occasionally in Los Angeles). While this article is perhaps better than a piece celebrating the immoral excesses of these hyper-capitalized conditions of the art world (and there are various worlds within the art universe), I don't get how this is probing, investigative, arts journalism that illuminates anything new about the "umbilical cord of gold" (or, I suppose, now platinum), or offers even any tentative routes out of these economic, cultural and psychological conditions and contradictions. For better and for worse, this is emblematic of an ethos of acquisition that permeates all levels of a consumer economy. Yet the article seems seems more sentimental than critical. It features a familiar cast of characters (I've known a number of them for many, many years, and like and respect them) saying familiar things, promoting their respective practices or ideological positions. Rob Storr gets in another swipe at the Frankfurt School, which must be taught somewhere at Yale, but perhaps not at the art school. Does Storr understand that the theoretical critique of capitalism has been one of the historical and contemporary factors that has influenced generations of activists (art activists and other kinds of activists) around the world... including probably the Bruce High Quality folks who undoubtedly encountered that discourse at Cooper Union (tuition-free, I might add). Yes, the hyper-monetization of art (and just about everything else, including our genetic codes) is reason for concern, yet the opacity of art transactions is not a new condition- this troubling opacity has been with us as long as there have been markets for art, and the practice of art collecting as an investment, speculative or otherwise, is also not a new phenomenon. Is transparency a remedy? A remedy to the hyper-valuation of art as an investible (real) cultural commodity? I somehow doubt that some form of art market regulation would transform these conditions substantially. And even collecting for the love of art, or collecting as a political act to support under-supported artists and practices, has always been intertwined with a pecuniary transfiguration of art... even if it wasn't recognized as such on the surface. One of the things that I'm most concerned about is that the auction houses now offer educational programs about art history and art investment... and this is being mimicked by some legitimate universities who are offering 'art market' studies programs that are designed to mold smarter art investors... but with enhanced ethics? Yet, ultimately, we are all implicated in one way or another in these problems (yes, including myself), and to claim otherwise (and merely to point fingers elsewhere) can lead to the kind of hypocrisy that really needs examination. I could go on, but this is already too lengthy a comment. Related issues are examined here: http://www.artbook.com/9783037641958.html                             Thanks. Sincerely, Joshua Decter

Andy
Andy

This is news?  Money and art go way back.  New York = "New Florence" is right.

wbourne
wbourne

@Gomichaelgo Then we are being duped by his people in an elaborate fugue of identity instability. Which is fine. We love mind games.  WB

wbourne
wbourne

@gabi67 Do you mean the "larger system" as in, the global flow of capital that turns your "worker" into a widget-producer? This story is about that, actually. Do you mean "implicate themselves" as in acknowledging that the seductions of the market--i.e., cash--can lead them astray? It's about that too. It is not about the fact that the art world is dominated by rich collectors and speculators, as several of you on this thread seem to think, although it makes that point. And it's certainly not about 'targeting' any individual artist as the root of the problem, although it points at a couple who may have felt its effects. It is about the destructive effects of a flood of speculative capital on artistic innovation, about how that money and the resultant commodification "crushes creativity." And it is about how you, despite your rockin' "German Ideology"-style assertion that you "sell [your] labor power under conditions [you] don't choose," do in fact have a choice. You do, as Storr says, have volition. Our point was not to break the news that money and art were intertwined; it was to suggest that artists, critics, and gallerists and other "workers" (our word this time) might actually be able to do something about that. Thank you for shopping at the Village Voice. WB

cvfaune
cvfaune

@gabi67Honestly Gaby, there's nothing less radical than institutional critique today--unless what you're proposing is a critique of institutional critique, which I doubt. On the other hand, we did certainly want to quote Andrea Fraser for the terrific work she's done in charting a genuinely new phenomenon--the financialization of art. Our point in this piece is to try and speak to what the costs are creatively of an art world increasingly run according to the laws of finance. If you and Joshua Decter insist on thinking that the situation today is the same as it ever was when you happened upon Marx's Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, well, you'll want to think again. Also, you might want to stop thinking of tailor-making shiny, vapid art for rich plutocrats as somehow "winning the lottery."

Christian Viveros-Faune

depictionbell
depictionbell

Even to sell to institutions is part of the marketing, Vascassio. They get a discount on prices for being a 'public' institution, but they're only buying where the PR and heat is. They reinforce the support for an artist/gallery.
I think curators actually have more power now, more than critics, because they don't even have to write anything - most of them can barely write anyway - they just pick and place in suitable venues and jump on the bandwagon. Say a critic really wants to slam a show - editors and publishers don't want to make enemies and either won't publish it or insist it gets toned down. So sincere or authentic criticism gets muffled in the interests of doing favours on the way to doing business. What's changed is the way the whole thing has become so monolithic and monopolised - globalised even.

The argument is not really against rich people indulging themselves, but the lengths they're allowed to go now, the damage they do to our institutions and culture.

cvfaune
cvfaune

@Binkconn One of my several drafts of the piece had R. Hughes all over it. You are totally correct in saying that he pegged the problem of the "commodification of art" even before his 1991 book. His 2009 documentary The Mona Lisa Curse makes indispensable watching. 

wbourne
wbourne

@sommerlucia The image is indeed Mr. Kassay's, but you are right—he's 28. We regret the error. But we're not sure that reflects a lack of integrity on our part so much as our humanity. And I don't believe we impugned Kassay's integrity: We simply called him—and the price of his work—an expression of a highly speculative market, and asked whether that kind of money might "straightjacket him as an artist." Thanks for reading. Will Bourne

depictionbell
depictionbell

Fascism and art go way back as well - to Florence in fact. What's news is that a supposed democracy sinks back into less than democratic practices in the interests of common culture.

wbourne
wbourne

@gabi67 oh now we're ganging up, sorry -- your dialog went up while I was writing that. I'll leave you to it! WB

joshua.decter
joshua.decter

@cvfaune @gabi67 

Dear Christian, That's a complete misrepresentation of my post, and you know it. Did you know that Marx wasn't actually a member of the Frankfurt School? I referred to the Frankfurt School, not Marx, and in any event, to understand our current late-capitalist situation (or, however one would characterize it), even mainstream economists (who teach) understand that various forms of Marxist or neo-Marxist critique are essential reading. And, by the way, I started writing about the contradictions of Institutional Critique in 1990 (and attended the Whitney ISP with Andrea Fraser, Mark Dion, etc.). The point, however, is that you did not actually prove anything in this article: what evidence do you have that the so-called financialization of art (which, after all, has been with us since the Renaissance, at least) is having a particularly adverse impact on the creativity of artists? It could, actually, be the other way around, since there seems to be an increase in artists engaged in various forms of activism, organization, and protest over the past few years. W.A.G.E., for instance. (And, remember the Art Workers Coalition from the late 1960s?) But we need to develop some way of evaluating the impact of art activism upon these economic conditions (which, actually, reflect fundamental inequities of economy and class in this country). My original point was that when art insiders lament these conditions, and claim to take the higher ethical road - as Rob Storr does in a rather pious manner, yet from a position of institutional power that is the outgrowth of being a relatively conservative, mainstream player in the art world for years - we also need to look at ourselves as not only part of a remedy (imaginary or not), but also as part of the problem. We should avoid hypocrisy, and so when Rob dismisses those who sit around reading Frankfurt School theory (which is a rather anti-intellectual gesture for a university Dean, and misses the point in terms of the interconnection between ideas and action), and then he calls for some sort of "volition," what is he really asking for? For artists (including those attending the art school at Yale, which is an institution that has produced quite a number of financially successful artists over the years ), to withdraw from the market, or to be more engaged in activism and protest? Or, to make the type of art that somehow goes against the grain of the market (whatever that might be)? Or, is he merely cloaking himself in the rhetoric of activism and outrage at the right moment? I wonder, because these are some of the questions (rhetorical or otherwise) that I have been asking myself, at different moments, over the past twenty five years. And there are no easy answers. All my best, Joshua Decter

gabi67
gabi67

@cvfaune  @gabi67

Yes, I'm aware of much of the recent writing on financialization as well as the history of institutional critique, and Fraser's current work on financialization can be understood as a form of institutional critique broadly defined, especially given the conditions of a thoroughly financialized art market. Straw men aside, my point was about the positioning of the author within their critique, and Fraser's work continues to productively foreground her own investment within the institutions she is critiquing in ways your "good objects" in this article do not, and in ways you do not yourself. You, like the artists you champion here as if they were somehow outside the corrupting influences of finance capital, are implicated in the system as well, and to avoid that fact is disingenuous and ultimately detrimental to understanding.

wbourne
wbourne

@depictionbell Now you, sir, ARE a close reader. Many thanks for being one. You are now invited to our parties. WB

sommerlucia
sommerlucia

@wbourne You certainly did impugn the artist. Publishing Powhida's claim that Kassay's work is a "literal mirror of the values of the super-rich," and "slick-surfaced, object-based works that seem expressly made to sell and never offend," and then going on to talk about Kassay (and you did not ask "whether… it might," you asked "how… it had"), the clear implication is that the artist is gearing his work toward what the wealthy want to buy.

As for the drawing purportedly of Kassay - once again, I know Kassay, and that is not him. Have you ever met him? Do your fact-checkers assume that the photo Powhida's drawing was based upon (http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mkl45jfhj/jacob-kassay-artist-28-4/) is legit, merely because it was published in Forbes? A Google of the artist would reveal that he never allows his face to be photographed. Both the drawing, and the photo it is based upon, are most definitely of someone else. 

joshua.decter
joshua.decter

@cvfaune @joshua.decter 

Dear Christian,

For some reason, you again default to an insulting tone. Do you imagine that referring to someone as "lamprey-like" is particularly civil? 

(Lampreys have apparently been around for about 300,000 million years, so if I have to be associated with that species, that's fine. They are clearly survivors.)

Yes, I included a reference to my forthcoming book at the bottom of my initial post a couple of days ago- this was there for everyone to see. That you just learned of it is odd; it was not hidden. But for you to insinuate that my post was merely an effort to promote a publication is cynical of you, and yes, insulting.

I'm the one who has tired of your inability or unwillingness to actually respond productively or persuasively to the issues and questions that I have raised.

All my best, Joshua



cvfaune
cvfaune

@joshua.decter @cvfauneJoshua, I'm being perfectly civil, though you do tire. You're totally welcome to write your own article on the subject of financialization and art (I’ve been informed that you’re actually plugging a book, which I should’ve guessed), but hopefully by then you’ll have straightened out the history you so cavalierly mangle. But doing so in the comments section to my article is frankly lamprey-like. Let me know when you do and where it's published and I'll read it. Hell, maybe I’ll even sling a comment or two. Till then, it's the big see ya.

joshua.decter
joshua.decter

@cvfaune Dear Christian, There's no reason to use a nasty tone, or to be insulting. You should exercise more self-restraint, and be more civil in the public arena of discussion and debate. But clearly, I've touched a nerve. I believe that it's important to represent who I am in this public space of discussion- what's wrong with this? Again, you've largely misrepresented my post (and clearly distorted my ideological views for your own purposes). The use of art as a financial instrument is not a phenomenon of the late 20th Century; please re-read some art history (as well as economic and cultural histories). In terms of new phenomenon, I included a reference to W.A.G.E., by the way (they are a current group), as well as to an antecedent, just to provide some historical context for our moment. And, if people do not believe they are "above the fray," as you put it, then they should clearly state this and take more responsibility- we don't have enough of this in our current discussions on art, or more broadly in society. And you keep returning to the refrain that the current situation is "ruining art." But what do you mean? What criteria are you using? What kind of art? Do you mean that the category of art, per se, is threatened? If you can clarify these and related matters, then perhaps we can begin to get somewhere. Thanks. Best, Joshua 

cvfaune
cvfaune

@joshua.decter Joshua, got the details of your CV first time around, thank you. Secondly, while philanthopy, collecting and speculating on art are indeed Methusela old, the use of art as a financial instrument is a relatively new, late 20th century phenomenon and has as much to do with the Renaissance as your self-advertisement passing for commentary has with my article. Thirdly, no one interviewed for this article (and certainly not the writer) is in any way pretending to be "above the problem"--just like the mortgage crisis, everyone's involved, which makes volition and ethics particularly important in a way that fantasy Marxism simply is not. Fourth, methinks you protest way too much, especially for a guy plugging a "theoretical critique of capitalism" (which, by the by, I'm all for, but not at the expense of a wider discussion that overflows the echo chamber of, say, the Whitney Independent Study Program). Finally, I do agree with you that this is a problem with no easy answers. I am convinced, though, that the alternatives are ahead of us and not moldering in the same old postmodernist pap you keep going back to the well for. It's dry, Joshua. Realizing that is a first step in getting up to speed on a fairly new phenomenon that, for now, is savaging an important part of the art world and, frankly, ruining art.

cvfaune
cvfaune

@gabi67 @cvfaune Whoever mentioned "good objects" besides yourself? Talk about "straw men"! Similarly, there's nothing in the article that suggests anyone involved is beyond the corrupting influence of money--just the opposite. What the article does say, though, is that the noxious effects of financialization involve more than record prices and column inches for the usual gang--Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, et al. They erode the production and experience of contemporary art itself. To pretend otherwise is to go around today's art world with issues of October or Artforum strapped to your head like blinders. Now who's being disingenuous? 

cvfaune
cvfaune

@sommerlucia @wbourne This is not a gotcha piece, sommerlucia. If I'd meant Kassay, I would have said so. Keep reading.

sommerlucia
sommerlucia

@wbourne@sommerlucia 

Apparently I'm a close reader indeed. You wrote: "I don't believe we impugned Kassay's integrity…"

 @cvfaune wrote: "... tailor-making shiny, vapid art for rich plutocrats…"

I do appreciate your writer's honesty. 


wbourne
wbourne

@sommerlucia @wbourne You're not a very close reader. As for the image, if Mr. Kassay wants to let us to take it down, he can find me at wbourne@villagevoice.com. Thanks.

 
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