October 16, 2013 · Print This Article
The Art Market is inflating out of control, making all but the wealthiest few cry foul. Like it or not, this is affecting the way contemporary art is viewed and thought about. Meanwhile, Jeff Koons continues to be the perfect Poster Boy for the inflation, and it just so happens he has work depicting the nothingness inside the bubble. Simultaneously, Banksy goes for a stroll in New York’s neighborhoods proposing a different model. Is this the beginning of the end of the glutonous market? Or is this merely a long beginning?
Don’t make the mistake of trying to analyze the Jeff Koons album cover work for Lady Gaga as if it were art. Think of it instead as a publicity stunt to drum up hype for his upcoming retrospective at the Whitney this summer. On the day the album cover was released, mtv.com ran a story with the headline: “Lady Gaga is Jeff Koons’ Biggest Fan…But Who is He?” This collage of leftover studio remnants and a Botticelli print gets him access to a generation of people who are not likely looking at a lot of contemporary art, beefing up his celebrity status which he craves, at the same time adding to ticket sales. This, and the animosity from art enthusiasts will help make his retrospective THE BEST EVER!! Just a couple weeks before the Lady Garbage cover, T magazine – the glossy pulp supplement in the NY Times – had a stereotypically vapid conversation with the artist about his recent commission from Dom Perignon to made a limited edition DNA – shaped champagne bottle. Low end and high end commodity containers from ol’ Koonie Balloonie. Not too different from anything he has done in the past, but the labeling becomes ever more irksome. Consider his output for the last decade, where most of his work is sold before its finished, and may only show at auction instead of a gallery or museum. Not that this is such a terrible thing. What has basically become a high end boutique practice is frustrating mostly because it is helping fuel the glut of the art market, and then regurgitated into the art world as important to the production and dissemination of art, to negative affect. As long as we wallow in the crystal palaces of Koons, Hirst and Murakami, we’ll think that art is as uninspired as Gormley, Marden and Whiteread.
Koons is in this rare position of being accessible to everyone but only collectable to a small handful of the richest in the world. As Carl Swanson recently stated in Vulture: “Koons can be the art world’s great populist artisan, even as he operates as its most exclusive salesman.” Everything about the work is right there, so there’s nothing to get. It is perfection and simplicity, the kind of thing that mocks you for looking too hard at it. Since critics are trained to look hard at things, they tend to hate Koons. And its boring to write about art just by describing what it looks like, so people tend to write about his career, his collectors, his record breaking prices at the market, his studio and the process of making his work. This only helps to build a persona around the artist, giving him the superstar flair that these major collectors are after. (And with this week’s art fair, London’s Frieze officially bigger and more bloated than ever, superstars have never been more in vogue.)
Both interesting and frustrating is how Jeff Koons’ rise to the art commodity machine that he is may have helped shape the way the art market is an increasingly insiders game of fewer and fewer players more knowledgable about trading commodities than how to tell good work from bad. And with the auction prices soaring, the big named galleries just keep getting bigger in a kind of go-for-broke mentality* (not breaking them, just the artists they rep, in less of a financial type of broke and more of an artistic quality and integrity type.)
[*for a throughly depressing take on this, see Jerry Saltz’s article on Vulture this week.]
At the same time all the grumbling about Koons’ latest fart hit the web, Banksy has been doing a residency in NYC, creating work in the city in his typical fashion – covert and unannounced – the opposite of how you’re supposed to make art. While seemingly on the other side of the art world, there are a lot of similarities between the two artists. Maybe Banksy isn’t able to sell his graffiti work for 33 mil, but he is still operating inside the art market, selling regularly and at high prices. Lately, his work is often either garishly covered by a piece of plexiglass bolted to the wall he painted it on or is removed and sold, either way being seen by an enterprising public as separate from graffiti art and reborn as high art/commodity. His work is no stranger to auctions, museum and gallery shows, while being loved by mainstream society. His imagery is understood at first look, you don’t need to read into it, and if you are, then you probably don’t get it. Also like Koons, art critics hate writing about Banksy, saying there isn’t enough to write about, because it is too surface and he isn’t playing the game. But this game is being co opted by the wealthiest of collectors who have realized there is a market that won’t burst and can’t crash, so they’ve taken advantage of it. Buying a Koons gets you a ticket into a very exclusive club. Buying the Banksy at auction though, means that you probably don’t get it, because his work is to be freely viewed and is mocking the very lopsided system of capitalism that allowed you to buy it at auction in the first place. Getting it, though, is no longer important. Its having it.
As his position in the art world becomes more clear, Banksy’s art frequently criticizes the market, and the latest example of this was a street sale of many of his iconic works on white canvases for $60 on the sidewalks of NYC. The work and the sale later appeared on his website, which is his way of providing provenance. These single color spray painted politically charged images lost all meaning shoved within the borders of these small store bought canvases, sold on the street among vendors hocking watercolors and prints of impressionist styled paintings. Subverted now to talk about the politics of class, taste and accessibility in a market that is more often hurting artists and keeping way too many people out of collecting art. It stifles artistic creativity to the point where every idea is either a recombination of greatest hits by the artist or an experiment to see how much money can prop up a bad idea. Artists start to flounder when they should be thriving. Shows are created for the specific tastes of the market and of a few clientele. Everything becomes dross and it feels like you are wading through a lake of effervescent puke whenever you go to a big exhibition, and anymore, they’re all big. ‘Cause if not, they may as well not happen at all. More and more, it sucks harder and harder to be a practicing artist in this climate. Unless, of course, you’re Jeff Koons.
Over the last decade the growth in quality and value of on demand printing has never ceased to amaze me. What only companies could afford 10+ years ago for major events can now be purchased by an independent art gallery at a fraction of the price. For a while now when it came to printing it wasn’t a question of if something could be afford-ably printed but more who do you trust to print it.
Having worked with companies that either printed overseas and you had long delays, color matching issues or just general customer services issues or ones that printed locally but quality was highly questionable at a 20% markup it was hard to have a good printer for long.
Then there is a company like iCanvasArt.com which is not only a Chicago based company but also has a drive to promote and expand contemporary art awareness. When I heard that they were selling high quality Banksy canvas prints and recently licesed Space Invader (now just Invader) prints I was even more interested.
Founded in 1999 by Leon Oks and Eugene Kharon in Chicago the business has grown and expanded all around the world and the quality hasn’t diminished. I had to check out what they do and personally got a museum streached canvas print of Banksy’s “Hirst spot painting with roller rat”.
First off I can not express how fast the turnaround was having the company print and ship out of Chicago. Comunication and tracking was top shelf and packaging when it arrived was secure and very liberal in its padding.
The canvas was properly streached without being too tight or the more often trait of so loose as to be unimaginable to hang. The entire purchasing process was fast, easy and almost without note which is what you want really in a transaction.
I say almost without note in that there were two comments:
- The Banksy prints obviously are derived from photos taken onsite and have been highly cleaned up in photoshop and I might assume vectored. Which is great when printing large scale images to keep the sharpness of line and richness of colors without noise or artifacts. The slight down side is the image has little gradient. Which with Banksy isn’t that much of an issue but could be in other vectored images where it is more human and less like a stencil. Easy way to solve this is give a cropped zoom in function to show what a few sections of the image would look at printed size. Then the buyer can be informed and aware to make the decision that is right for them.
- The image gets cropped based on the canvas size you pick. Which is honestly both great and horrible. Its is great considering that the image when shipped is properly filling the canvas regardless of the size you pick, it looks great at any dimension. Horrible in that I hate croping pictures just as I hate Pan & Scan movies and was a tad caught by suprise by this when it arrived. This could be easily fixed by having the thumbnail actually reflect the final cropping that would happen at the selected dimension and have a gold highlighted (ideal dimention) canvas size highlighted. So the buyer could know if they want the full image at the correct dimension, the gold one would be the best choice.
Those two comments aside iCanvasArt.com is a welcome addition to my list of online suppliers that can get the job done right the first time at a reasonable price. I am currious what other contempoary artists they can line up knowing how difficult that can be but also how important.
Last year it was the amazing 8bit girl costume which I was eagerly awaiting to see what she would do this year and the costume seemed to be closing down her site so in it’s place the Best Halloween Costume idea of 2010 goes to the Amazing Banksy “Flower Thrower”.
George Schnakenberg has taken the iconic 2d graffiti work and turned it in to a living breathing (through a handkerchief) 3d person. You can see via his flickr stream his night out partying and either his proposal or attack of Raggedy Ann.
The costume is quite well done and best of all comfortable and versatile. Hope everyone had a great Halloween this year.
Takashi Murakami at the Château de Versailles
Takashi Murakami’s new exhibit in Versailles has recently opened (closes December 12th if you are of the jet set type) and from what I have heard and seen it is a show not to be missed if for no other reason then it’s striking contrast and humorous seemingly paradoxical existence. read more here
Inaugural Art Loop Open Competition Begins
From October 15-29, Art Loop Open—Chicago’s new art competition (presented by the Chicago Loop Alliance)—will transform ten venues throughout Chicago’s Loop into interactive public art exhibits (200 artists in total) having the public voting on the winner with 1st receiving $25,000 2nd: $15,000 & 3rd: $10,000. It looks to be a fun and smart program to engage the general public (which I still think we could do oh so much more in terms of) but sadly haven’t given it much promotion due to not knowing exactly how to aproach it. I will be looking forward to seeing how it plays out and more so to year two.
From what i can gleam the jury process was pretty solid and most of the artists involved I have either seen, worked with, known or interviewed so I wish them all good luck and more so remind them to forget the prizes this is a great opportunity to rewrite the image of the Chicago artist with the general public so in short “don’t be obtuse, rude, impatient or a douche” also Check out Tom Burtonwood and Pamela M Johnson’s work here & here respectively. Read more here
Banksy does the Title Sequence to the Simpsons
Interesting Video on How Printing Ink is Made
Having been a child in the heyday of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood I grew up with a love of lilting jazz music & seeing how everyday items are made (plus hand puppets but thats private) so it’s interesting to watch just how what I spend most of my money & art career touching plus half of my business career fighting with is made. watch it here
Race & Ethnicity Mapped By Block
As a footer for this week there is a visual map done by Bill Rankin using dots to show the more subtle changes across neighborhoods in Chicago using block-specific US Census data. Called a “taxonomy of transitions” it is quite interesting both visually and mentally but then again I am a data & logistics wonk so might just be me. read more here or even read about music preferences on Last.fm by gender here if you are so brave.
Back in May & June we wrote about Banksy’s trip to Detroit and his mural that was created in the old derilict Packard plant there. That mural of a boy with a paint can saying “I remember when all this was trees” was quickly excavated from the cinder block wall it was painted on by the local art group 555 Nonprofit Gallery & Studios, they moved it to their gallery space and quickly came under threats and negative attention. Well now they are in court.
Bioresource Inc., the company owned by land speculator Romel Casab, filed suit this week in Wayne County Circuit Court to regain possession of the mural. The suit which names 555 Gallery and it’s executive director Carl Goines as defendants says the 1,500 pounds mural, which may be worth $100,000 or more, was removed without authority and that 555 Gallery did not respond to a letter dated June 7th demanding it’s return.
The 555 artists have attested from the beginning in May that they took the work to prevent its destruction and have no interest in selling it. Gallery attorney Don Lewis said his clients were given permission to take the mural by a scrap metal removal crew foreman named Butch.
“That’s a key issue,” Lewis said. “Would a jury think it was reasonable to assume that he had the authority he said he did — that he was speaking on behalf of the owner?”
I keep saying this isn’t over and that eventually Bansky might make a statement since it serves his interests to be the final voice but he does have a history of disavowing works once they are removed or altered from their original state. This may be no different, but there will be more to come I am sure.