Art's Dirty, Big Secret

An old email prompts thoughts of a year in review

As one British constable put it in a BBC article detailing how "criminal gangs are increasingly targeting high-value works of art" in Britain and Europe: "Where there's money to be made, organised criminals will move in if we don't stop them." But the issue the art world faces today is not just about Russian mobsters or auction-house sharks in pinstripes. It's about emails sent by normally stand-up guys offering access to "insider information" regarding artists whose careers are treated not even like pork bellies, but like fixed football games.

Elba Esther Gordillo
YouTube
Elba Esther Gordillo

When I met Peter Hort for lunch and asked him about the email I'd received, he seemed positively nonplussed. The art world was like "the Wild West," he offered jauntily, and "driven by inside knowledge" that was "fully legal," if certainly less than fair or ethical. But what doesn't bother him and other players is news to many inside the art world, and fundamentally shocking to most people outside its cliquish confines. The big secret in the art world is that today nearly everyone agrees that art is a dirty business, though few speak out for fear of banishment from the ultimate insiders' club. It's high time the art market was cleaned up: by the government, by self-regulation, but above all by a resolve among club members to straighten out a trade that, when measured against any other legal industry, is downright criminal.

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116 comments
Jicito
Jicito

@AlfredoNarvaez hasta la Gordillo desfiló en ese artículo. Muy interesante (y triste). ¡Muchas gracias!

Gibson_Daniel
Gibson_Daniel

@MilesJHarrison The auction market is particularly corrupt with dealers bidding on & even buying their own work in order to drive up prices.

mocroc
mocroc

What are some solutions or alternatives for younger emerging artists who do not have a foot in this rickety corrupt door?

irene90
irene90

Yes, the art world is tough. What I especially don't like is that they are shaping "taste" when a lot of great talent goes unnoticed. http://goo.gl/HJskW1

Jennifer Timm
Jennifer Timm

I thought that was a picture of Rachael Ray; I was going to ask what the hell she had to do with art, lol.

NataliSBravo
NataliSBravo

@silvinaX0 Yes it's a fact, anyone with money can be an"artist".They are crooks and pay to have their names circulating in the inner circle.

Julian Lorber
Julian Lorber

This is a tough business. Mostly for artists.

fectin
fectin

@ZakSmithSabbath that's only true if you care about ART. If you just find things you like, that speak to you, you'll avoid that issue.

mistahrose
mistahrose

To be honest, the art world is not dominated by the one percent although these high flying financial cruise boats displace the choicest spots in the marina.  Most of the $13 billion in art world money is undoubtedly changing hands at garage sales, small galleries, print shops, etsy, ebay and museum gift shops (postcards!) without much fanfare.  It's true, though, a $143 million painting does garner attention, as does some young ruler of the universe talking shit and money in the same breath. 

nerskine
nerskine

Perhaps there's enough greed to go around here. What role do some of these artists have in all this? How high do they need to see their prices climb?  Perhaps, what we need to demand as artists are sales contracts that stipulate no secondary sales- that will dry up the crazy speculation, auction fever and back room deals, and the ridiculous notion that collectors"create" anything, including careers.        I know- I'm an idealist. So glad to be thousands of miles away.

marksink
marksink

A friend pointed out to me  " I wish people would stop referring to the "art world" when they complain about the blue chip art scene. The art world is a broader and more diverse animal."

artscritical
artscritical

It's sad that a "collector" needs a publicist to create any interest in the collector-client.  This says to me that the collector does not have enough merit or credibility on his/her own to generate interest.  Pathetic.  And to focus on the "price making" aspect of collecting is even sadder.


To characterize the Hort's (very public) and Cohen's (very private) as dynasties is a gross misrepresentation.  According to Merriam-Webster: a dynasty is:


: a family of rulers who rule over a country for a long period of time; also : the period of time when a particular dynasty is in power


: a family, team, etc., that is very powerful or successful for a long period of time.


Neither the Hort's not Cohen's are dynastic.  They have been collecting for about 20 years.  


Neither have institutional relationships on record.  And the Rema Hort Foundation made grants of about $120,000 in 2011/2012 to cancer patients and artists combined.  (The foundation's 990 is on line, and is insightful.  They paid their fund raising consultant more money than they gave to artists.)


No altruism here.

Peter Cheney
Peter Cheney

But all that money trickles down. Right?

jschmuki
jschmuki

uh,  art does not have to be tied to market forces….if it looks like art, maybe it is not!


k.blakecash
k.blakecash

"Where there's money to be made, organised criminals will move in if we don't stop them."

How quaint to believe in a difference in criminals based on their address.

JRobertFeld
JRobertFeld

.@emilycolucci Financial corruption will only vacate the art world after spiritual value replaces financial value of specific art works.

aviroberts
aviroberts

@sarahkendzior dismaying that people will spend millions on a single Picasso when that much money could support countless living artists

zeitbauer
zeitbauer

@mocrocwork hard then work some more. recognition by this kind of money world doesn't mean anything. sell cheap to get into collections; work at a dumb day job, be frustrated and angry but take it out in your art.

zeitbauer
zeitbauer

@irene90do you really think the sacchi dumb-1970's art collection event, say, had any actual art-consciousness effect on what we do now? it's only about what and how we can do our own art, not what's in a penthouse in manhatten or remaindered to a museum in buffalo.

zeitbauer
zeitbauer

@NataliSBravo@silvinaX0  all this moaning about money, when the real enemy is trendy and chic for people whose art is food and sex... and, they're the ones telling people what art to like and where to go to see it. it's always been like this, and paris and new york have always been controlled by this actual dynamic being told what's safe to like and not like. 

the only thing we can do is just make an art that fucks them in the brain enough that they want to start making art too. maybe they'll even tell people to come see our studio.

zeitbauer
zeitbauer

that's right. we're the only industry which has also to create its own market need at the time of production.

vmingoa
vmingoa

@bombaywallah ...much of “the canon” is fraudulent, and the marketplace is an idiot. (actual line in essay I just wrote!)

vmingoa
vmingoa

.@bombaywallah most Indian art scholarship isn’t worth the paper its printed on, almost all existing “experts” are charlatans...

zeitbauer
zeitbauer

@mistahrosethe problem is in calling what you've embraced 'art'. as artists, we invent art and visual art is a function of your visual I.Q.: experience and ability to see more than just the name of a thing and show that thing's ability to be more than its habitual role in everyday conversation reality.


getting into your mindset, what happens is that machine made objects become 'art' -- included in your public trading of art things is 'avon bottle' collecting, and then, "the art of collecting is an art too", realities. intellectually, people come out of dumb to start understanding concept. most seem to stop there, saying, "art is subjective," by which they mean not much at all except they had to say something to save face.


separate the "industry" -- museum post-cards are part of the publishing industry, not the art industry... if they were, they wouldn't be such crappy repros of what they're attempting to depict -- from the actual making of an art piece and placing it, or not, in the market. that act itself is what art is about. 


anyway, i doubt that most of your 13 billion is traded as you say... it's more likely that most of it goes out in several and many over 1m sales of paintings and sculpture to speculators and social climbers.

zeitbauer
zeitbauer

i feel pissed-on all the time by the art world. saves shower time.

zeitbauer
zeitbauer

@aviroberts@sarahkendziorwe're unreliable and a bad investment. better to have the picasso somewhere in public where we can see it and learn something about how to paint from it: i'm not picasso... he had a lot of talent and experience, a lot of tricks which are very useful to a painter when seen up close and personal.

mocroc
mocroc

Thats more or less what ive been doin. It is always difficult hearing information like this even though you hear it everyday. Ive also been been contemplating moving to nyc but I hear more stories of financial/studio struggle than that of success or content. For someone living outside peering in, it is incredibly daunting and cant help but wonder if this success can happen outside the NY bubble..

irene90
irene90

@zeitbauer @irene90 I'm talking about who sees an income from what they are doing. Artists have to eat too and if you don't think people sell out, I've got news for you....

mistahrose
mistahrose

@zeitbauer@mistahrose   No, it's not "likely" that most of it goes out in quantities you describe.  If you want to talk about the 1 percent all the time because you as an artist desire their attention, go ahead.  But I was not "embracing" anything, Zeity.  I have long been a practicing artist and writer about art and the business of art.  If you don't want to include catalogs, fine art posters, prints and everything connected to what people believe art is across the country wherever they are, go ahead. If for you it's 100 players and everything else is subjective, you might want to catch upon the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s.  A lot happened.  


Do you not call someone making and selling paintings and prints and earning $15,000 - $20,000 an artist?  


And by your reckoning sirloin steak is part of the agriculture sector, not the restaurant service industry.  


But maybe I misunderstand you. 


http://matthewrosestudio.blogspot.com/

zeitbauer
zeitbauer

@mocroc
i want to say, 'define success', but i never really understood what that meant until i turned 60 or so. for me, it meant that i survived anyway and never gave up.

irene90
irene90

@zeitbauer @irene90 The government in this province  spends money on the arts, more so than in other provinces. It makes a difference. The belief that we are all creative and worthily so, seems much more ingrained here, although maybe I just fell in love with the French and am seeing what I want to see!


Nah. It's good here.


:)


zeitbauer
zeitbauer

@irene90@zeitbauer  yes, i think you're correct about R's money, and i'm corrected. i did only want to say that there was competition and that luck and talent were involved. and, maybe i visited the van gogh museum more than R's house... i don't know why i didn't get there, but only to rijksmuseum... 

i do want to say that we're the creators of art, and that the critic finds us, just as philosophers find poets, and invent us as artists, even though we invent the art in the first place. 

i think Quebec must be nice. 

irene90
irene90

@zeitbauer @irene90 Ugh I wrote a long response and I think it may have disappeared...I'll wait to see if it's moderated and try again. 

irene90
irene90

@zeitbauer @irene90 He was relatively rich until the very end of his life, when he lost his fortune due to bad management and, it's suspected, some bad habits. I visited the house he lived in for most of his adult life. It was opulent for its time and he used a front room as a gallery, showing not only his own work, but the work of others. I'm just saying that critics can have too much influence and I wish they didn't. It's a corrupting force in art and I don't like it. The language of art history is a language all of its own, which is a manifestation of this corruption (IMHO) and in some ways makes art less accessible, which I think is wrong too. I live in Quebec where art has a more accessible place among all citizens. It's not a perfect fit all the time, but at least there is a general recognition of the importance of art and the importance of our definitions of art having a broad scope. 



zeitbauer
zeitbauer

@irene90@zeitbauerpeople can sell, but selling out isn't an option if you're not an artist -- you're just going to making craft-commodities. inventing art -- that is, teaching the critics what art is -- is your job. making money has always been a problem for me too, but it just means i've understood, after 67 years, what i actually need in life. 


to be an artist you need talent and luck, not an income. income happens: in rembrandt's time in amsterdam, there were about 17,000 other painters competing with him for bourgeois wall space. he was often poor.

vmingoa
vmingoa

@bombaywallah too many suckers in marketplace, too many stakeholders in large-scale fraudulence, inc auction houses. you're right, no one.

zeitbauer
zeitbauer

@mistahrose@zeitbaueri only call myself an artist when i'm actually making a piece. the rest of the time, i'm as much a tourist looking at my work as any joe. but, inventing an art is different from making something which looks like art in a museum or on a calendar or something, and that's the point. if you're not hungry to define yourself through your art, and only through your art, then you're not going to be making art, just crafts and artifacts. i've never made more than 600 dollars on my art, even though i've got 12 images in the j. paul getty in L.A.... which were sold to the getty by sam wagstaff, who probably got a lot more than the 300 dollars he paid me for the 12 images. and, you know what? i'm very happy they're safe there in the getty -- free from fire and cockroaches... and, i made it fine working at shit jobs all my life... i survived while keeping my consciousness open to the art moment. and, the financial reality for me goes hand in hand with my identity as an artist: i'd sell my stuff to joe plutocrat's museuem for 300 dollars, but not for that price to joe schmoe at some saturday art fair. joe schmoe's price would be 20k, since i'm in the getty...

 
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