Witnessing the first throngs of yet another busy fair opening, it’s odd to observe what a delicate house of cards this whole art world of ours is, not to mention that I am sat in the ironically flimsy tent of the Frieze Art Fair, this year given an even more precarious feel by a mysterious dent caused by Monika Sosnowska’s crash-landed sculpture which was removed from the roof before the opening (amazingly because the artist felt it looked too dishonest).
Across town, away from the moneyed aisles of the fair (where everyone is kidding everyone else that it’s a good year) is an interesting show called ‘Pop Life: Art in a Material World’ at Tate Modern, which piques the whole fragile institution of the contemporary art market. Its starting point is the vagary of late cash-for-portraits Warhol and his assertion that ‘good business is the best art’. What follows is a torrid wave of money- and publicity-hungry artists leaping from Keith Haring and Martin Kippenberger to Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami et al.
There’s much of the vulgar boom-time art that was discussed a couple of weeks ago here, but also some of the career-making moves of artists (whether knowingly or not) such as David Robbins and Gavin Turk. The catalogue briefly touches upon the phenomenon I seem to be witnessing all around me in this tentative marketplace, coined ‘subversive complicity’, in which those who posture towards defiance and anti-establishmentarianism are actually doing so from within the comfy system of value exchange that we’re all used to (also called ‘Capitalist Realness’ in one of the texts).
But most fascinatingly, this exhibition has an almost seething, disparaging undertone as if the curators (Alison Gingeras among them) were only too aware of how ridiculous some of these artistic positions (Koons astride La Cicciolina, Hirst’s straight-to-auction firesale) appear. Despite rooms titled ‘Worst of Warhol’ (his own term, natch) and ‘Almost Infamous’, there has been no mention of this implicit criticism in any of the extensive coverage – although it’s perhaps fitting that the star-blinded critics missed the critique at the heart of this show. It would have been more evident to the average viewer too, had the Tate the balls to stick with one of the original titles mooted for the show: ‘Sell Out’. But as it is, the new cheerier ‘Pop Life’ goes on making believe that everything is going to be alright.