Saturday, January 23, 2010

The High-End Art World-2

In an earlier post , I suggested that the high-end art world is a work of the imagination. Whose imagination? That is difficult to say, for this art world is the product of many imaginations working together—dealers working with collectors, collectors working with artists, artists working with critics and curators and museum directors. All them interacting in every possible permutation. For the high-end art world is an environmental niche where certain forms of life evolve and thrive, and it is through such interactions that such niches are created and sustained. So far, so good. The dynamics of the high-end art world are no different, in principle, from those of any social environment. But, here's the thing. If we view a social environment as a work of the imagination, a collaborative artwork, a question arises: what is its medium? A painter uses paints. A sculptor of a certain sort uses uses sheets of cold-rolled steel. What, then, is the medium of the high-end art world? What else but works of high-end art—pricey items by the likes of Jeff Koons. Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, et al.
The problem, of course, is that works of art are difficult to see as raw materials, unformed globs of stuff equivalent to globs of paint squeezed from a tube. So the primary job of critics and curators—not to mention the anonymous functionaries who write press releases and wall labels—is to simplify the meanings of the pertinent artworks to the point where they can be seen as raw materials. In the high-end art world, interpretation is simplification, the more brutal the better. The goal is to produce a slogan that can be attached to an artist's oeuvre firmly enough to block the demand for any more nuanced response. So the policy of raising prices to nonsensical levels has a hidden cost. It reduces works of art to empty counters in an ultimately empty game.

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