[iDC] Art Basel: Signs of a Broken Food Chain

Gere, Charlie c.gere at lancaster.ac.uk
Wed Jun 20 10:26:55 EDT 2007

How to rid the world of all known diseases

As featured in the Flying Circus TV Show - Episode 28

The cast:

John Cleese
Graham Chapman
Eric Idle
The sketch:

(Cut to a sign saying 'How to do it'. Music. Pull out to reveal a 'Blue Peter' type set. Sitting casually on the edge of a dais an three presenters in sweaters - Noel, Jackie and Alan - plus a large bloodhound.)

Alan: Hello.

Noel: Hello.

Alan: Well, last week we showed you how to become a gynaecologist. And this week on 'How to do it' we're going to show you how to play the flute, how to split an atom, how to construct a box girder bridge, how to irrigate the Sahara Desert and make vast new areas of land cultivatable, but first, here's Jackie to tell you all how to rid the world of all known diseases.

Jackie: Hello, Alan.

Alan: Hello, Jackie.

Jackie: Well, first of all become a doctor and discover a marvellous cure for something, and then, when the medical profession really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right so there'll never be any diseases ever again.

Alan: Thanks, Jackie. Great idea. How to play the flute. (picking up a flute) Well here we are. You blow there and you move your fingers up and down here.

Noel: Great, great, Alan. Well, next week we'll be showing you how black and white people can live together in peace and harmony, and Alan will be over in Moscow showing us how to reconcile the Russians and the Chinese. So, until next week, cheerio.

Alan: Bye.

Jackie: Bye.

(Children's music.)

-----Original Message-----
From: idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net on behalf of Isabel Walcott Hilborn
Sent: Wed 6/20/2007 1:37 PM
To: idc at mailman.thing.net
Cc: Cynthia Rubin
Subject: Re: [iDC] Art Basel: Signs of a Broken Food Chain

Let me try to answer your question  "Is there any way to mend the food
chain?" with one possibility.

As an Internet entrepreneur I find this a fascinating post.  If the problem
you describe truly exists (the alternative is that the "great art" of which
you speak languishing in garages is actually crud nobody would want - but
you sound as if you know what you're talking about) then clearly there are
market inefficiencies.

Where there are market inefficiencies, there's often a way to fix them on
the internet.

Digital cameras are much cheaper than art.  Why wouldn't all of these
artists, or whoever is representing the artists, simply take pics of the
canvases, upload them to an Internet site, describe them (size of convas
etc.), put a price tag on, and see whether it's true that anyone really
wants it or not?

The answer is, they are already doing it.  I shopped for art online last
year at a site like I'm describing, and ended up not buying anything.  Of
course the Internet doesn't give the same impression as looking at the real
piece, it's impossible to judge quality, and other problems with
perception.  The biggest problem, though, was that there was so much bad art
that it became impossible to sieve through it all.  This is the same
curatorial (editorial) problem that the entire web has.  How do you find
what you are looking for, and know it is "of quality" and trustworthy?

Perhaps all I mean by "bad art" is simply something I wouldn't hang on my
wall.   Another person's definition would be something that's a bad
investment. A third person might only like a certain style.  Therefore, if
we could apply some of the social network techniques we're learning from
sites like Facebook, Flickr and YouTube  to Artwork, we might really be
getting somewhere.  People could start to place art in "groups" by tagging,
so you could look at anything in the Expressionist style, or anything in
primary colors, or anything that reminded one faintly of Renoir.  People
could rate each work they looked at so the cream would start to rise to the
top.  The site would only accept works by artists that have received some
major honor already, so it was at least a bit exclusive.  Artists would be
paid when work was sold, not pay to upload their collection (it needs to
spread as fast as it can).

The the last key is you'd have to be able to try before you buy.  Set it up
so you rent the (insured) painting for two months, and then send it back or
buy it.  It's much easier to make the purchase when you already know how it
looks above the fireplace, and the digital representation doesn't do justice
to the original.  You simply have to see it.

So, to sum up since this meandered a bit and I don't have time to edit: to
fix the food chain, you can replace the outmoded curatorial system with a
large collaborative group of art fans and buyers.  As a group, aficionados
can categorize and sort more efficiently (and gage the market better) than
gallery owners, and the Internet showroom (though inferior) is much
cheaper.  Once the right site gains momentum and becomes the standard (and
I'm sure they're a few out there already vying for this), then the right art
can then get into the right hands instead of languishing.

But it means giving up control people may not want to give up: the
digital picture is up there so someone may copy it, your art isn't seen in
the best visual environment or hung next to the right pictures, you might
receive a label or a rating you didn't want to receive, have to sell it
for less than you wanted to, you can't artificially create scarcity to
inflate prices, and so forth.


On 6/19/07, Frank Pasquale <frank.pasquale at gmail.com> wrote:
> My guess is, that when someone like Bryant complains about lack of great
> art, he's really complaining about a lack of art that has accumulated the
> "buzz" necessary to assure a prudent investor of the resale value of the
> work down the line.  It's an artificial scarcity based on the " economics
> of attention <http://madisonian.net/index.php?s=richard+lanham>" and
> Girard's idea of "triangulated desire": buyers want what everybody else
> wants.
> I found the Hans Abbing's <http://www.hansabbing.nl/> *Why Are Artists
> Poor* an insightful analysis of some issues here.  Tyler Cowen's Good and
> Plenty<http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2006/03/good_plenty_par.html>also does a great job commenting on gaps between economic success and
> artistic quality.  He states "we cannot have a coherent political philosophy
> without bridging the gap between economic and aesthetic perspectives" on
> arts economics.
> --Frank
> On 6/19/07, Cynthia Rubin <cbrubin at risd.edu> wrote:
> >
> > I am curious about how others are reacting to the buzz on the big art
> > fairs.  In particular, I was struck by comments in Carol Vogel's report from
> > Art Basel, June 14, NY Times
> >
> > http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/14/arts/design/14fair.html
> >
> > =========
> > quotes from Vogel's text:
> >
> > Collectors are grumbling about the scarcity of top-quality art.
> >
> > "There are some good things, but not as many as there used to be here,"
> > said Donald L. Bryant, a Manhattan collector and trustee of the Museum of
> > Modern Art. "The market is so hot, and the demand is so great, it's getting
> > harder to find great art."
> >
> > ===========
> >
> > The food chain is broken.  Everywhere I go, I find intelligent people
> > working on interesting ideas - wonderful artists who have stockpiles of work
> > in their attics, basements, under their beds, or digitally stashed on
> > hard-drives.  I am not talking about totally unrecognized artists, but about
> > artists who once were in important shows, who had their work discussed at
> > length in art magazines, or even on the cover of art magazines, or have been
> > honored with grants and commissions.  Not overlooking younger artists, we
> > find artists at all stages of their careers who are making installations or
> > exhibitions in their homes, restaurants, wherever they can.
> >
> > I am writing from Avignon.  Yesterday I stumbled into a gallery where
> > stacks of abstract paintings recalled the 1970s, but the gallery owner
> > explained that even these do not satisfy the local market of buyers who are
> > clamoring for Provencal scenes which could have been painted more than 100
> > years ago.  On Saturday night I went to an open house by an established
> > artist in one of those elite "year-in-Provence" towns --- an artist whose
> > name shows up in google searches of auctions - -and who does some
> > interesting work - and he had the stockpiles described above.  I also
> > visited the new contemporary art museum "Collection Lambert" , and saw the
> > Cy Twombly exhibit http://www.collectionlambert.com/pages/expofutur.htm.  Nice
> > paintings, but it still is not clear how these merit the title "quality"
> > while many others did not get there.
> >
> > We know that we live in a curated time, a time in which the interest
> > comes not from the artists but from those who envision and organize exhibits
> > around conceptual movements that they either identify or invent (who
> > knows?).  If work falls outside of the parameters of the curatorial mission,
> > then it is not shown.  If work is too similar to already selected work, it
> > is not shown.
> >
> > But if work goes too long without being shown, it fall out of view of
> > the curators, and it is difficult to resurrect it.  Consider this
> > observation in the Vogel article:
> >
> > =======
> > quotes from Vogel's text:
> >
> > Art fairs help to gauge popular tastes, and dealers hungry for material
> > often revisit artists who have gone out of fashion. A decade ago no one
> > would have paid attention to the installation of Belgium street signs by
> > Marcel Broodthaers adorning the booth of Michael Werner, a dealer in Cologne
> > and New York. But by the afternoon of opening day they had all been sold.
> > "Michael has had them since 1969," said Gordon VeneKlasen, his partner.
> > "He showed them at Mary Boone in New York in 1987, and nobody touched them.
> > Now everyone wants to have them."
> > =========
> >
> > The non-artist frequently has a view of artists receiving first local
> > attention, then national, then international, all of the basis of aesthetic
> > or conceptual merit.  What is really happening, however, is that if artists
> > are interested in "the market" (and many are not), that they artists are
> > forced to spend more and more of their time second guessing the
> > curators.  Others, who do "quality work", fall into void.  A few fortunate
> > ones, like Marcel Broodthaers, may get pulled out again, but consider that
> > he might not have been - that all these years he had to pay storage for work
> > that 20 years later is "great".  Was his timing off?
> >
> > Is there anyway to mend the food chain? Do we care?  What does the "lack
> > of quality work"mean for the many artists making quality work that never
> > gets shown?
> >
> > Cynthia Beth Rubin
> > http://CBRubin.net <http://cbrubin.net/>
> >
> > _______________________________________________
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