Elusive silver linings

2577618297_a9eca1d130From struggling academics, to struggling artists. The New York Times started a blog titled Attention Artists!, on the recession’s impact on artists. So far, responses have been surprisingly sanguine, ranging from “I am completely adapted to being satisfied from my work and my work alone,” to “I think that the recession is making people understand the intrinsic and real value of art.” Some artists wax lethargic about their financial woes. But a more characteristic comment would be this: “The sick economy, combined with the collapse and confusion of the corporate music business, has actually been good for those of us who have existed on the fringes for years.”

Artists may be blessed with strong survival skills, especially in the putting-a-brave-face-on-misery department. Or is this a form of “false consciousness” (to dust off another half-forgotten thinker who is suddenly back in vogue)? How realistic is this new silver-lining discourse?

The idea that art-market busts are good because artists can “take over the factory, make the art industry their own” and “daydream and concentrate” was given an airing in February by Holland Cotter in New York Times in a manifesto-esque article,“The Boom is Over. Long Live Art.” Lots of people who make their living in the art world took note, and some felt the critic may have missed the point. At this stage in history, must art’s credibility depend on proof of human suffering and absence of commercial success? “Certainly, the excesses of the art world were alienating,” observed Alexandra Peers, an ArtworldSalon friend, in a riposte to Cotter in New York magazine. “But there’s Schadenfreude in the argument that bad times are good for the naughty, naughty art world.”

So which is it: An outbreak of gooey-eyed Romanticism? Or a sober reckoning with tough but healthy new realities?

One thought on “Elusive silver linings

  1. Karen Witczak of Karen 5.0 writes:

    Judging by what I heard at two art panels last week, the recession may have produced a hybrid of gooey-eyed Romanticism and sober reckoning. Perhaps a Romantic reckoning?

    The art professionals at the April 22 panel, Regrouping: Art World Professionals Examine the Art Market, noted ways in which the current economic climate continues to be a boon to creativity and discourse, while normalizing art prices. They included Yvonne Garcia, Director of Development of the Bronx Museum of Arts; Florence Lynch, of the eponymous gallery; Paul Morris, founder of The Gramercy Art Fair (now The Armory Show) and overseer of VOLTA and other fairs; art advisor Lowell Pettit; and Walter Robinson of Artnet Magazine, with NADA co-founder Sheri L. Pasquarella moderating.

    Ms. Pasquarella and Mr. Morris compared today’s situation with the early 1990s, after the massive 1980s boom. Morris said that although everyone is “sitting on their wallets, the lull is good.” He added that “entertainment is being flushed out of the picture,” and favorably compared last December’s sedate Art Basel/Miami Beach to the “mojito-fests” of previous years.

    Ms. Garcia was pleased that museums are showing their permanent collections, and she is encouraged by interactions with individuals who are collectors at heart, not investors. Mr. Pettit noted the abundance of buyers supporting artists selling in the $5,000-$15,000 range. Ms. Lynch was encouraged by the increase in arts dialogue, and that more dealers are mounting exhibitions they want to do, rather doing market-driven shows. The panelists repeatedly noted that collectors are obtaining bargains and dealers are extending bigger discounts.

    More silver linings were in evidence at the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) Collectors’ Forum, The New Market for Old Masters, April 25 at The Morgan Library. Moderated by Judd Tully, the panel included Richard Feigen, Christie’s Old Master department head Nicholas Hall, and two curators, Andrew Robinson of the Washington National Gallery of Art, and the Getty Museum’s Scott Schaefer. Mr. Robison emphasized the persistent role of quality and attribution in the Old Masters market. Mr. Feigen reminded that supply of Old Masters is still diminishing (partly as a result of countries more stringently protecting their national assets), while the number of museums collecting Old Masters continues to grow. No exodus of contemporary art collectors to the Old Masters market is in the offing, according to Mr. Hall, because the former group takes risks that have always deterred the latter, irrespective of the economic climate. The panelists encouraged collectors to choose a field in which they are able to buy the very best.

    Despite the gloom and doom, the Schadenfreuders and naysayers, and the media’s obsessive fixation on the negative, I came away from these panel discussions feeling encouraged by the passion for art, commitment to excellence, and determination that all of the art professionals displayed and continue to live by whether in good times or bad. Art will be created and appreciated in the midst of everything.

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