Notes on ‘Art and Money’

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On the 14th, Artforum hosted a panel at the New School with the stripped down and self-evident title “Art and Money.” The panelists included Tom Crow (much esteemed if somewhat dusty art historian currently installed at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts), Amy Cappellazzo (International Co-Head of Christies ‘s Post-War and Contemporary Art department, art world punching bag and proud mother of the auction house as “big box store” analogy), Yinka Shonibare MBE (perhaps the very definition of the post-historical, post-colonial, post-black artist), Kathy Halbreich (former Director of the Walker and now MoMA’s image disciplinarian-cum-Kultur defender) and Jeffrey Deitch (maestro of the art world spectacle who never met a hipster he didn’t like); it was, to say the least, an almost perfectly diverse array of the art industry’s different player positions. Tim Griffin (Artforum‘s soft-spoken editor) moderated the event.

The house was packed, no doubt in anticipation of the rhetorical grenades that the panelists, antagonists all, would lob into one another’s laps. But once again, “politesse” was regnant (see Andras Szanto’s dispatch from the ADAA/MoMA Panel back in February). Here is a brief rundown of the more and less interesting of the panelists’ comments:

Deitch opened with an astute statement on how the artworld had become the newest “platform” upon which “creative people” from all disciplines gather, adding that “people at the top of their game like to meet one another,” which sounds a lot like celebrity culture entering a plea of Innocent.

Shonibare noted that a “bigger market” makes room for “bigger thoughts.” As to whether those thoughts are actually better, he withheld judgment, but did add that bigger work continues to run the risk of appearing “superficial.”

Crow suggested that patrons and collectors (the difference? the question remained on the table) “search for artists to match their own personal ambitions,” a comment that would seem to square nicely with Deitch’s opener.

In assessing the issue of the “superstar” artist, Deitch pointed to the auction houses’ Evening Sales as the locus of the new “pantheon.” If you’re there, you’re in it; otherwise, beware of being banished to the “artistic Siberia of the First Open” sale. Of the museums, those former artistic kingmakers, Deitch observed that the “development office had smothered the curatorial department,” an observation which must have raised Halbreich’s hackles, but could also stand as the reason she was brought to MoMA in the first place.

Somewhere between declaring that “money is just money now” and claiming that the market for Warhol’s work is “perfectly efficient,” one began to wonder just how it is that Cappellazzo always seems perfectly to meet, rather than to exceed, expectations.

Cappellazzo did admit that the ghost of “Andy” undoubtedly pervaded the entire discussion, to which Halbreich attempted to explain that “Warhol wasn’t that successful while he was making his stuff,” by which she meant in comparison to the prices his paintings command today. When the finger pointed to Shonibare as the only “successful” artist on the dais, he jokingly admitted that he “couldn’t afford a Warhol,” to which the always-in-sales-mode Cappellazzo exclaimed, “You can buy a print!”

When the panelists were asked to give their art world prognoses, Shonibare’s offering was cutting and curt: “We will move from the fetishization of material to the fetishization of the idea.” Though it didn’t end the Q&A, perhaps it should have.

2 thoughts on “Notes on ‘Art and Money’”

  1. I attended this panel as well, and recall that shortly after describing the way in which the auction house has become the arbiter of the pantheon, Deitch made what I thought was a particularly poignant observation when he said that in response to people who come to him lately asking what the new “ism” (or artistic movement) is, he has started to think that maybe “these movements have been preempted by the market and the new movement is what’s most expensive.”

  2. Artist Lorraine O’Grady offers a clarification:-

    I was at the New School’s Artforum panel and would like to correct a misinterpretation contained in the final paragraph of Jonathan Neil’s post. The moderator did not ask for “prognoses” for the art world’s future. He asked panelist’s for their “hopes.” Shonabare’s “hope” was expressed, quite wryly I thought, as: “I would like to see a move from fetishization of the material to fetishization of the idea.” Since a move to the “fetishization of the idea” would represent a return to an earlier state of the art world, it might well be impossible. Everything in Yonabare’s tone of voice and facial and bodily expression indicated to me that, though he thought such a return would be impossible, his hope was that it could be attempted, though he was ironically resigned that it would not be.

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