An Art Critic Outs the Art Market, Damien Hirst is flabbergasted

sothebysFresh from the editing lab comes the documentary The Great Contemporary Art Bubble by the British filmmaker, critic and writer Ben Lewis. It has been shown on BBC4 in May 2009 and on SVT in June, watch it here. It starts off a bit tardy but Lewis’s indie style is brilliantly intermixed with interviews with hedge fund managers, economists and art market journalists. The result reveals a market that is unprotected from wild speculations, monopolistic conglomeration and a rampaging rhetorical structure hard to decompress. The end of the bubble is in the film supposed to marked by the Damien Hirst fuck-the-galleries-action at Sotheby’s last year, but it end gloomy with Jay Jopling and Larry Gagosian themselves bidding and raising the prices of Hirsts supposedly easy-to-sell works. I would like to see more of this criticism in the Nordic region, although the scarcity of major dealers and collectors in this region often blow such statements into oblivion.

The recent issue of Art Monthly contains an interesting article on the Art Economy by artist and art writer Michael Corris, where he among many things reiterates and discusses the statement by Hirst and critic Jerry Saltz that in hard economic times, more good art is produced. Sure, Saltz is a theory hater to begin with, but his poor reasoning for it goes like this: When prices for art are high, mediocre artists rise to the top, but when prices fall all the artists that do it for ‘love’ or other good reasons remain through hard times. Corris continues with theories of art economists Hans Abbing and Don Thompson, a few years old I must say, but still engaging. shark_1475cAbbings notion that a democratisation or normalisation of the art economy would devalue art’s social status globally is rebutted by Corris with the argument: art’s status is not based on any one values, such as money, instead art has an epistemic structure, being debated over time. Corris has a point, but too poor a knowledge of the mechanisms of the art market; Abbings reasoning is by and large economic, sure, but not merely monetary. He argues that the rhetorical structure of art and art education increases the peculiarity of the art market and keep artists in a spiral words like ‘creativity’, ‘talent’, ‘masterpieces’, ‘pricelessness’ and ‘genious’. What is needed is a thorough walktrough of what the market means for artists regardless if they benefit from it directly or not. According the Thompson only 6% of artists in the New York City area earn any money from selling art-works. Whether the other 94% can just relax and forget about Mary Boone’s parties is left unsaid, but I bet you that the research being conducted in the wake of The Crisis will point to a substantial effect of markets of artists, education and museums.

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