My diatribe of the Art Market as Unethical.

My brain is fully flustered after having spent the last hour and a half watching and listening to an actual debate about the following motion: THE ART MARKET IS LESS ETHICAL THAN THE STOCK MARKET. Three masterdebators (a name I called my first boyfriend who was in the debate team and manipulatively managed to win any argument we had) FOR the motion included gallerists Robert Feigen and Michael Hue-Williams and collector/author Adam Lindemann. Three masterdebators AGAINST the motion included art critic/hero Jerry Saltz, artist Chuck Close and Christie’s head/loser Amy Cappellazo. Each person had six minutes to defend their stand and I must say, those FOR the motion clearly won this race. Let me be the one to say business and money minded people are far more clear-headed, practical and defensive of their cause than the idealistic and self-conscious (artists and critics are naturally self-absorbed and closeted extroverts). I fully support the gallerist’s argument that the art market is in essence UNETHICAL because, unlike the stock market and any other market trading any material, FUNCTIONAL goods is highly regulated by law. Regulations for buying, trading, selling, and determining monetary value are for the most part clearly stated within an articulate system of guidelines. When speaking of cars, clothes, houses, and diamonds monetary value can be clearly determined by a set of definitions that includes its history, usage, mode and location of production, etc. ART, on the other hand, is a non-functional object, which makes it non-commodifiable in its purest form. It serves no practical or tangible purpose other than to maybe decorate the wall above your couch. Even then, it is not something short-handedly USED to DO something with. The art MARKET has been in existence (as Saltz explains) since the Renaissance. But only in the last decade has the MARKET experienced an uncontrollable and  vastly expanding bubble that everyone predicted and FEARED its popping; its demise, its inevitable approach to disappointment, and failure. The bubble blew up precisely because, as Feigen, Hue-Williams, and Lindemann argues, there was no regulation. Chandelier bidding (a non-existent bidder bidding on something just to get competition going and in essence, deceive the fuck out of a collector), misguided and secret price determinations between any three participants : collector, dealer, auctioneer, lack of transparency, and the hush hush inside trading all make for a viable argument that the MARKET is unethical. You also have to consider that when it comes to defining a price for an artwork, it’s monetary value is COMPLETELY ARBITRARY. There are no strict guidelines or standards that determine one work’s being worth 2 million and another 2 hundred. Two artists both in their 40’s who grew up in the 70’s going to calarts studying with the same teachers can have vastly separate careers. They make similar work but one sells for 2mil the other can barely survive on his artwork. Why? it’s the unregulated art market with its dealers and collectors combined with press that DECIDE arbitrarily that yea I think this artist is worth it, while this one is not. SAD, UNETHICAL, and TRUE. During the debate Chuck Close and Jerry Saltz argued that art market is NOT unethical, that value is not determined by money, ethics is irrelevant, art making is not a business, and art is a meritocracy. Saltz argues that art is not optional, it was here from the beginning and will never go away, it is a necessity that changes the world incrementally via osmosis. He would never want the art WORLD to be regulated, that the market expresses junkie like behaviors and that the art WORLD is not an industry. Art, he argues is not about ethics but Aesthetics. He would like us to sit back and let the art world be as it is, what it is, how it is and not mess around trying to determine whether or not it needs to be regulated or instilled with ethics. OK, all Close and Saltz is saying in TRUE. BUT, what they don’t see the difference is that this debate is about the art MARKET, not the art WORLD. The market is but one of various aspects and elements that comprise the art world. The MARKET does not include artist production, cultural, aesthetic or historical value. The market over the last decade HAS become an industry, an industry rotting with corruption, arbitrary value-making, conniving secret deceitful dealings, all as a result of unregulation. The market includes anything money related, an exchange for work for money between dealers, artists, collectors and auctioneers. There has been no regulation because a raging market as the art market has been is SO NEW and in such great proportions that has never been faced before and folks in the art world run around all neurotic in havoc not knowing what the fuck to do with themselves and in the end they just make up shit as they go along and DECIDE with no credentials or history what makes art SELLABLE, not VALUABLE or AESTHETICAL, but SELLABLE. The trend and movement in the last decade did not focus on some formal, aesthetic element. The trend in the last decade was MONEY. And a debate like this is where people from different levels are grappling and trying to find the significance and impact of MONEY in the art world. Now that the economic crisis hit and the art market has been blown to smithereens folks are still in shock treatment trying to figure out and go back to the way it was before the whole bubble thing happened. I’m trying to decide how this impacts me specifically. I am in a way looking in from the outside. I’ve never sold an art work, never worked as a dealer, never received a commission for selling a 2mil artwork. I am an arts administrator whose worked in multiple galleries doing things like spackling walls, bubble wrapping paintings and at this point, making sure exhibitions happen from start to finish. No significant individual in the art world knows who I am, nor do they give a shit. I am also an art blogger. I go to galleries that I can enter for free and I look at art and don’t think about its prices, which gives me unmediated access to the artwork itself, art for art sake. In the last year I’ve organized various food and art related events, such as Greenpoint Open Studios. It was a response to a movement emerged from the crisis where artists learn to and function within their own ecosystem that more often than not does not involve money. Art is anarchy in the sense that, as Saltz affirms, only 1% of 1% of 1% of artists actually get paid for making their art, and this was still true during the market’s boom. This does not mean art is not made. There are gazillions of ARTISTS who make ART without MONEY. But after the economic crisis I experienced a rise in COLLABORATION and COMMUNITY where artists came together in a very self-sufficient and DIY manner to create their work, exhibit it, and find others doing the same thing. Yea money might not be involved and they’ll have to go to their day jobs in the morning but this is how it’s always been. There are SOOOOOOOO many people out there in BOTH the art and food world that are finding MYRIAD ways to build a sustainable system focused on community, cultural exchange, and non-monetary modes of production. It is such a relief, such a warm and welcoming feeling, being able to participate and be part of this system. The gallery world, during it’s market boom was very cold and unwelcoming, secretive and unnecessarily competitive. Galleries and its dealers forgot the reasons why they entered the art world in the first place, not because they can make shitloads of money off selling an artist’s career, but because they believes in, and have great passion for, art, its producers, and its value within a personal and public level. The art MARKET as it stands is UNETHICAL and will continue to be so because an artwork is not something that can be compared to anything else in this world in general that is a material for use or commodity. This debate did not answer any questions for me, only affirmed the failure of approaching art as a business, that people in this art world are crazies, neurotic because it’s impossible to wrap your head around art and its potentials. Art gives and takes in accordance with your give and take. Try to own it as a commodity and it will spit in your face. It has the qualities of a domesticated cat that is wild enough to never listen to your commands. It will not adhere to your world. Let it be.

Oh and I didn’t mention anything about Amy Cappellazo because I think she is stupid and never has anything good to say.

3 Comments

Filed under Art

3 responses to “My diatribe of the Art Market as Unethical.

  1. Anonymous

    Joann,
    A good piece of writing. Really.
    Has momentum, pace, passion, a willingness to let it fly. it went on too long. As with most things, you could cut it in half (my work included).
    I am still amazed that people look at the details of this argument and still manage to think that THE ART MARKET IS LESS ETHICAL THAN THE STOCK MARKET.
    hah!
    The excesses of the art market didn’t bring this country to its knees.
    The excesses of the art market didn’t cost people their life’s savings.
    The excesses of the art market didn’t make any one kill themselves.
    Obviously the art market is not always “ethical.” Maybe its mostly unethical. I don’t know.
    You’re right about the trees; I think you’re not seeing the beauty, the chaos, and the magic of the forest.
    The way the question was put tilted the argument.
    But I still like your writing.
    The art market that that panel wanted to talk about no longer exists anyway.
    Now many many more artists will have MUCH MUCH harder times just surviving.
    Thanks.
    Jerry

  2. Jerry Saltz

    I meant to sign my full name: Jerry Saltz.
    Thank you.

  3. scold!

    No wonder they lost, the three points stated in his response here are as if the debate were ‘is the art market smaller than the stock market’.

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