30 January, 2010

you know, it is ok to hate warhol

the fetishisation of art. art has gone from being important, in the way works reflect and speak to the nature of humanity and what that means during the time of the artworks birth to something to be owned. now though art, especially contemporary art, is nothing more than a commodity for profit or status or even both. for example, picasso’s painting entitled ‘garcon a la pipe’ was first bought by john whitney in 1950 for us$30, 000. in 2004 he sold this work for us$104 million! the art dealing industry is also an incredibly unregulated business due in part the the opaque nature of the fine arts world and private sales. currently the epicentre of the art dealing world is, the unquestionably fashionable new york city. last year the two largest art auctioneer houses (christie’s and sotheby’s) sold us$14.6 billion worth of art.

so what? well i guess my real problem with this is price. price is far too much of an issue when considering an artworks value. value is not price. yet, we as consumers and art lovers cant see beyond that. art has a use, what it does is important and when dealer and collectors tell people that a certain painting or sculpture is worth 20 million dollars culture is bought and sold as well.

art is meant to be confusing, it is supposed to challenge and force you to think for yourself. still, when you are told that the piece you are looking at is worth such a high amount you are given an easy way out. instead of looking at warhol’s later works (during the 80s) with a critical eye and deciding for yourself its merit, you are told it is a priceless masterpiece and deserves your reverence and respect. what if it doesn’t? what if its expensive screen printing or even trash? then and there culture is sold and we forget to think for ourselves.

through this passive way of consuming art, meaning is also lost. what the artist intended, believed and wanted to tell you disappears. i blame the mona lisa. she started all this. arguably the most famous painting in the world, her 1962-3 tour of the world started this whole ugly affair. as robert hughes put it, “the painting left the louvre but its meaning stayed behind”. the painting was treated like royalty, with its own bed in its own air-conditioned cabin aboard a luxury liner from france; only to be received by american royalty in the form of the kennedy's. locals lined up for a glimpse of the painting. the actual meaning of the painting was lost, it was no longer about her enigmatic smile or the artist himself, but rather just the opportunity to say they saw it. the experience is then hollow.

art collectors, calling art as their own is similar to this. the art they spend millions, if not billions, of dollars on does not actually belong to them. legally perhaps, but culturally and symbolically? hell no! in the same way the mona lisa doesnt belong to the louvre, the museum is merely a caretaker of the work. it belongs to the entire world. still, the difference is, if you wish, you can go see the mona lisa, she is on display for everyone. modern art is, for the most part not available to all. this right is reserved for the rich elite who scurry around like squirrels hoarding art shaped nuts for either a raining day when they need to sell it or to simply lord it over their other rich elite friends.

so what of the future? well artists are now a part of this business and as a result, if they wish to make a living now must produce works that appeal to such buyers and dealers. something is lost there i think. most significantly the ideals of great writers and artist of the romantic era. the philosophy and even mantra of, l’art pour l’art (‘art for the sake of art’) was important to men like theophile gautier, edgar allan poe and victor hugo. oscar wilde most famously wrote "a work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. it has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want. indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or dishonest tradesman. he has no further claim to be considered as an artist.".

andy warhol, realised this fact towards the end of his career; the art world had changed and he began creating art for that world (to be sold to the highest bidder) and no longer for himself, to say something about himself. perhaps he had just run out of things to say, all his past great ideas had run dry. damien hirst is warhol’s most ‘successful’ contemporary in this respect. his sculpture, ‘for the love of god’ is said to have sold for 50 million pounds. consisting of a platinum cast of a human skull it is incrusted with 8,601 diamonds and cost 14 million pounds just to produce. its actual meaning is never really discussed, rather critiques prefer to contemplate its financial mastery when what they should be doing is calling the whole thing vulgar and hirst a talented craftsman.

wilde must be turning in his grave, in another 50 years i expect i will be as well.

1 comment:

gp said...

i like a lot. art is a little bit bullshit some of the time. i think you and duchamp would have gotten on like a house on fire :)http://psyc.queensu.ca/~psyc382/duchamp-LHOOQ.jpg

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