MULTI-CHANNEL LINK 05 [IS MODERN FINANCE RUINING MODERN ART? (PART 1)]

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IS MODERN FINANCE RUINING MODERN ART? (PART 1)

By Mark C. Taylor

Jan 29, 2012

Art and money have always been inseparable. As Andy Warhol declared almost four decades ago, “Business art is the step that comes after Art.” During the past several decades, however, this relationship has been transformed by the appearance of a new form of capitalism: finance capitalism.

In previous forms of capitalism — agricultural, industrial and consumer — people made money by buying and selling labor and material goods; in finance capitalism, by contrast, wealth is created by circulating signs backed by nothing other than other signs. When investment becomes more speculative, the rate of circulation accelerates and the floating signifiers, which now constitute wealth, proliferate.

The structure and development of financial markets and the art market mirror each other. As art becomes a progressively abstract play of non-referential signs, so increasingly abstract financial instruments become an autonomous sphere of circulation whose end is nothing other than itself. When the overall economy moves from industrial and consumer capitalism to finance capitalism, art undergoes parallel changes. There are three stages in this process: the commodification of art, the corporatization of art, and the financialization of art.

Virtual Versus Real

At the end of these interrelated trajectories, the real seems to have become virtual and the virtual appears to be real. But just when the circuit seems to be complete, the system implodes and the real returns.

When Warhol proclaimed art to be business and business to be art, he was acknowledging the overwhelming importance of postwar consumer culture. Not only had the center of the art world shifted from Europe to New York, but the U.S. had become the world’s dominant economic and military power. The work of many of the most influential artists of the era both reflected and promoted American values and power at home and abroad. Warhol’s artistic appropriation of the images and icons of consumer culture put on display both the machinations of consumer capitalism and commodification of art that was so vigorously promoted by the burgeoning gallery system.

With increasing economic prosperity, art, whose collection and exhibition had long been limited to the church and aristocracy, became the social marker for individuals aspiring to rise above the middle class. But even Warhol could not have anticipated the explosion of the art market by the turn of the millennium.

According to reliable estimates, by 2006, the private art market had reached $25 billion to $30 billion. Christie’s International and Sotheby’s, the two leading auction houses, reported combined sales of $12 billion, and more than two dozen galleries were doing $100 million in sales annually.

This phenomenal growth in the art market was not limited to the U.S. Global capitalism created a global art market. From 2002 to 2006, this market more than doubled, from $25.3 billion to $54.9 billion. This astonishing growth was fueled by emerging markets in Russia, China, India and the Middle East. The price of individual works escalated as quickly as the purported value of the financial securities with which they were being purchased. In 2006, Ronald Lauder, honorary chairman of the board of the Museum of Modern Art, purchased Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” for $135 million, which at the time was the highest price ever paid for a single painting. One year later, Jeff Koons’s “Hanging Heart” sold at auction for $23.6 million, which was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist.

Flower Puppies

Koons is the poster boy for this frenzied commodification of art. What began in Warhol’s Factory in the 1960s ends in Koons’s factory, where his cast of assistants fabricates whatever he imagines. Whether pornographic figurines or cute flower puppies, remarkable craftsmanship characterizes Koons’s art. Just as Warhol, reacting to abstract expressionists, removed hand from work, so Koons further mechanizes the means of production.

There is, however, a critical difference between Warhol and Koons. Neither Koons nor his art gives any hint of the irony and parody that lend Warhol’s art its edge. While Warhol’s work unsettles, Koons’s art is crafted to reassure. Unapologetically embracing banality and freely admitting his ignorance of art history, Koons sounds more like Joel Osteen than Marcel Duchamp: “I realized you don’t have to know anything and I think my work always lets the viewer know that,” he once told a reporter. “I just try to do work that makes people feel good about themselves, their history, and their potential.” What is surprising is how many seemingly intelligent and sophisticated people have been taken in by this erstwhile stockbroker.

Having learned his trade on the floor of commodity exchanges, Koons does not move beyond the commodification of art. His exquisitely crafted works have become precious objects whose worth is measured by their rapidly rising exchange value. The next stage in the development of the art market — the corporatization of art — can be understood in two ways.

First, in the past two decades, many major corporations have appropriated the age-old practice of attempting to increase their prestige by purchasing and displaying art. In many cases, companies hire full- or part-time advisers and consultants to develop their collections. Second, and more interesting, a few enterprising artists have transformed the corporation itself into a work of art.

High and Low

The most interesting example of the corporatization of art is the work of the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Like Warhol and Koons, Murakami collapses high and low by appropriating images from popular culture to create oversized sculptures and his signature “Superflat” paintings.

But he has also expanded his artistic practice to create a commercial conglomerate that is functionally indistinguishable from many of today’s media companies, advertising agencies and leading corporations. In 2001, he created Kaikai Kiki Co., which currently employs some 70 people. According to the company website, the goals of this enterprise “include the production and promotion of artwork, the management and support of select young artists, general management of events and projects, and the production and promotion of merchandise.” The products marketed range from more-or-less traditional paintings, sculptures and videos to T-shirts, key chains, mouse pads, cell-phone holders and even $5,000 limited-edition Louis Vuitton handbags. His 2007-2008 exhibition, “© Murakami,” at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art included a fully operational Louis Vuitton boutique.

Having formed a hybrid of a media corporation, advertising company and a talent agency, Murakami dubbed his for-profit corporation a work of art. One of the primary functions of this novel entity is the organization of a biannual art fair in Tokyo, “GEISAI,” which allows clients (young artists) to exhibit their work for a fee. As the artist and photographer Walead Beshty has observed, “the delirious intricacy of Murakami’s unrepentant entrepreneurialism” is hard not to appreciate. Kaikai Kiki’s “tentacles extend into a network of alliances spanning the entertainment industry, corporate image consultation, toy manufacturing and high fashion — this aside from the production of art objects. His ability to mold productions (and services) to varying scale into an ornate constellation is as mesmerizing as his willingness to almost selflessly dissolve his own business complex.”

Yet Murakami’s corporatization of art does not express the fundamental economic transformation that has taken place since the late 1960s. As financial capitalism expands, the production of tangible goods is increasingly displaced by the invention of intangible products. This is as true in the art market as it is in the stock market.

©2012 BLOOMBERG L.P.

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MULTI-CHANNEL_LINK 01 (Mark Lombardi: Global Networks)

Mark Lombardi.

In my opinion, an extremely underrated artist.  Not only are the works visually stunning and eloquently composed, but the research involved is mind blowing.  I was first introduced to Mark Lombardi’s work in graduate school and immediately responded to what seemed like “simple” pencil diagrams of celestial objects or molecules.  The understated complexity of the images and the connections being made between real people and events reveal not only layers of research and planning, but a glimpse into the shady underworld of globalization.  These works are conceptually rigorous without losing a quiet visual beauty, rendered with the order of a scientist and the ease of a draftsman.

A companion link to “Multi-Channel:  An Exhibition in Flux.”

January 20 – March 3, 2012

Intermediate opening: Friday, February 17th; 6-9pm

 

REVISITORS: MAIDS OF HONOR

As a young artist I was obsessed with Picasso, especially the way he drew figures. His later works in particular are filled with a crude energy conveyed through his loose but confident handling. I was consumed in particular by the figure in the lower right in one of Picasso’s many examinations of Velázquez’s Las Meninas. In his later years Picasso systematically tackled the greats who preceded him. Particularly fellow Spaniards Goya, and his Maja, and Velázquez. In 1957 Picasso made numerous paintings and drawings dissecting the composition, it’s major players, focusing in on specific characters and re-inventing the overall picture inside and out. It culminated in the one pictured below.

Pablo Picasso • Las Meninas • 1957 • oil on canvas • 194 cm × 260 cm (76 in × 100 in) • Museu Picasso, Barcelona, ES

The whole painting breaks down and becomes a field of blank white canvas occupied by this large spare figure. Offsetting this is the figure of Velazquez himself on the left, fragmented and sliced into panes, merging with the massive ramshackle canvas on which he paints. I was consumed with that casual, simplistic contour rendering. People are always saying “breaking the frame”, but that figure, like a diagrammatic symbol, steps into the world of the painting from some unseen zone, disrupting and confounding the picture plane in a way I have never seen anywhere else. It embodies everything about Picasso’s genius for abstracting and discombobulating the world around him. He sums it up in one of his oft-cited quotes: “I used to draw like Raphael, but it has taken me a whole lifetime to learn to draw like a child.” In Picasso we see the way Ellsworth Kelly has created an oeuvre of abstract shapes from the observed world or Cy Twombly and his frenetic scribbling.

Diego Velázquez • Las Meninas • 1656 • oil on canvas • 318 cm × 276 cm (125.2 in × 108.7 in) • Museo del Prado, Madrid, ES

Apropos of our subject: “Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.” -Picasso

Another painter who captivated me in my youth was also ceaselessly consumed by a Velázquez painting. Of course I speak of Francis Bacon and his screaming popes imprisoned in hell, derived from Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. Pope Innocent combined with the still of a bloodied woman’s face from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin became one of the strongest images of 20th century art and a motif Bacon returned to throughout his career. The iteration in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago is my favorite. It is dark and gloomy, like all of Bacon’s paintings. But Figure with Meat is even darker and creepier. This painting is almost evil. It’s disturbing and really fucking weird. It’s also a little bit humorously absurd. The pope, his teeth rotting out of his face, is framed by two sides of beef in some sort of black room or cage. Never has having logic and hope leeched from your soul looked so cool. It’s like the Picture of Dorian Gray somehow.

Francis Bacon • Figure with Meat • 1954 • oil on canvas • 29.9 x 121.9 cm (51 1/8 x 48 in.) • The Art Institute of Chicago, Harriott A. Fox Fund
Diego Velázquez • Portrait of Pope Innocent X • 1650 • oil on canvas • 114 cm × 119 cm (45 in × 47 in) • Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome

Damn it. And then there’s this. Another re-visitor, perhaps the king:

Glenn Brown • Nausea • 2008 • oil on panel • 120 x 155 cm

This is the third entry in Erik Wenzel‘s Revisitors project. See also
Revisitors: Olympia
Revisitors: Disaster

REVISITORS: DISASTER

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Sometimes engaging the work of a predecessor is less homage than an act of antagonism. Goya is Jake & Dinos Chapman’s main source of inspiration as well as source material and subject of ridicule.

You have the precedent of Robert Rauschenberg erasing a de Kooning drawing, of course, but with Willem’s permission. The Chapman Brothers, however, purchased a complete set of Goya’s “Disasters of War” printed in 1937 from the original plates. It set them back £25,000. They meticulously worked into each etching “improving” as they call it, by adding incredibly detailed grotesque and cartoony faces. This level of commitment and systematic execution is hard to dismiss as a cheeky bad boy prank.

Jake and Dinos Chapman • Insult to Injury • 2003 • gouache on etching, from a series of 83

 

Francisco de Goya • It Always Happens from The Disasters of War • 1810-1820 • etching, from a series of 83

 

This is the second entry in guest blogger Erik Wenzel‘s Revisitors project. See also Revisitors: Olympia.

Sreshta Rit Premnath

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Going along with the Plug exhibition “Remasters,” I submit artist, Sreshta Rit Premnath, for your consideration. Premnath works conceptually and semi-narratively through the modality of multiple mediums, favoring whatever form or vessel best fits the idea.

“Minimalism, Pop, and Conceptual Art offer Premnath an art historical language game, like so many of his generation who have returned to the “scene of the crime” of their parent and grandparent generations. But this game cum crime story also takes place between multiple media, which include photography, sculpture (the partial reconstruction of a kite designed by Wittgenstein in 1909), and painting.

 

Visual puns occur between objects, such as the five inkjet prints of detective fiction writer Norbert Davis firing a gun at a target out-of-frame (Toners, Dyes). The bullet hole seems to appear on an adjacent wall, as a hole cut-out of canvas (Eclipse). Similarly, the titles of many of the works play on the relationship between death and narrative (Storeys End; Toners, Dyes; Doyen’s Rest), a relationship defining of modern philosophy, art, and literature (think of Gertrude Stein’s comments about the structural importance of the corpse in her Everybody’s Autobiography; think also of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up and L’Aventura, in which the plots revolve around a corpse or missing person). The corpse of Storeys End, as in the detective novel, provides a pivot or absent center around which individual works interact, becoming visually and linguistically slippery—polysemous and indeterminate.”

-Text by Tom Donovoan

“Thinking about how political and economic power produces this unequal distribution of knowledge has remained important to me.

My work examines how paradigms of power produce and constitute our relationship to objects and events in the world. Consequently I tend to use media that I feel are most appropriate for the subject matter that each project sets out to investigate. In setting out to investigate how meaning is bracketed and produced by regimes of power I cannot but ask those questions of each medium I use as well.
Having said this, there is a particular medium that I find especially challenging and that I am always drawn back to: the photograph. I often find myself torn between the apparent transparency and non-materiality of the photographic image and the skin-like assertion of the surface of painting. I try to use one against the other and to interrupt the surface of the photograph with painterly procedures.

I find myself returning again and again to certain writers for insight and inspiration. They include Jorge Luis Borges, Vilém Flusser and Ludwig Wittgenstein (his late work).
I have always been drawn to the questions raised by artists like Kosuth and Nauman in the late 60’s and 70’s, and have been attempting to use the methodologies of conceptualism to make socio-political investigations. I was recently introduced to the artwork of Edward Krasinski and have been interested in his ability to reconcile a complex analytical framework with formalist strategies and an understated narrative tendency.”

-Premnath

 

Sreshta Rit Premnath (1979, Bangalore) is an interdisciplinary artist based in New York, as well as the founder and editor of the magazine Shifter.

He completed his BFA at The Cleveland Institute of Art in 2003, his MFA at Bard College in 2006, and attended the Whitney Independent Study Program in 2008. In 2011 he received the Art Matters Foundation Grant and the Civetella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship. Premnath’s work has been presented in solo exhibitions, including Storeys End, Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin, 2011; Rhizome, Wave Hill, New York, 2011 ; Leo (procedures in search of an original index), Gallery SKE, Bangalore, 2010; Zero Knot, Art Statements, Art|41|Basel, 2010; as well as numerous group exhibitions, including The Matter Within: New Contemporary Art of India, YBCA, San Francisco; Before and After, Galerie Balice Hertling, Paris, 2010; Spectral Evidence, 1A Space, Hong Kong, 2010; Other than Beauty, Friedman Benda Gallery, New York, 2010. Premnath has also curated On Certainty, Bose Pacia, New York, 2009, and the ongoing Project for an Archive of the Future Anterior.

 

Leslie Vance

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I first came across Leslie Vance’s paintings at the David Kordansky’s booth at Miami Basel in 2010. Vance’s work was also featured in the 2010 Whitney Biennial. The paintings have a huge presence and have endless depth but are actually quite small, approximately 16 x 12in. The way Vance uses painting history as a depature point but filters that tradition through a language of abstraction actually brings the viewer’s relationship to painting, and all questions therein, into sharp focus.

Leslie Vance, Untitled (30), 2010, oil on linen, 20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Leslie Vance, Untitled (39), 2010, oil on linen, 16 x 12 inches (40.6 x 30.5 cm)
Leslie Vance, Untitled (35), 2010, oil on linen, 18 x 14 inches (45.7 x 35.6 cm)

 

Leslie Vance, Untitled (38), 2010, oil on linen, 20 x 15 inches (50.8 x 38.1 cm)
Leslie Vance, Untitled (53), 2011, oil on linen, 12 x 10 inches (30.5 x 25.4 cm)

Continued

REVISITORS: OLYMPIA

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We begin the Revisitors collection with Paul Cézanne and “A Modern Olympia.” Cézanne was compelled to tackle and “update” Édouard Manet’s Olympia (1863) for years. I find it quite interesting that such a short period of time had passed between Manet’s, which was created in 1863 but not shown at the Paris Salon until 1865, and Cézanne’s first update, painted between 1869 and 1870.

Paul Cézanne • A Modern Olympia • 1869-70 • oil on canvas • Private Collection

This work is good to start with since as an image it has a long lineage of re-interpretation. Manet’s Olympia was itself based on Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538) which in turn was based on Giorgoine’s Sleeping Venus (c. 1510) and so on. The reclining nude is a classic arty subject and one could go wild citing examples. With these iterations we have concrete instantiations that also have served to popularize and canonize the genre.

Manet dramatically modernized the female nude in Olympia. Rather than use the character of a goddess as an excuse to depict the female body, Manet embraced the Modern, i.e. contemporary people in contemporary situations. Which for Manet and the men of his era was a high-class prostitute. This is a frank depiction of bourgeois Paris sexuality told through historical symbolism, such as the pose, the cat, the ribbon round her neck and other details. And while this could be dismissed as another example of male sexism, it is important to note Olympia returns the gaze and sits proudly, unashamed of her body or her sexuality.

An additional tenant of modernism, as cited by early modernism’s main apologist Emil Zola, is the way Manet’s paintings look like paint. Rather than handled in such a way as to appear like fabric or skin or whatever, Manet’s paintings show their brushstrokes with pride. This was an earlier work by Manet, so it wasn’t nearly as messy as what he and the Impressionists got into later.

Continued

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