Friday, July 15, 2016

gallery rivalry -- the solomon solution

Art is an odd business -- half government enterprise and half in the public realm, two sides with little in common conjoined in the same body, a revolting predicament. See the academic side has disdain for commerce and it isn’t just implied, it’s out front, proud of the fact. They think that art that won’t be sold, can’t be sold, is superior, simple as that. They endeavor to prove it with the stuff they make, the things they teach, the awards and grants they bestow, and the exhibits and competitions they curate. Artists with steady incomes, professional prestige, and a package of perks already have no need for the public’s approval or participation. In fact it’s sorta natural they’d want to insulate their lucrative little worm garden from the rest of us, as dependent institutions of all sorts tend to do.

The public approach to art is much different, seeking insight and significance in the frame, on the wall. In this arena the objective is finding common ground with an audience, and appealing to someone enough to want to own it. This is the twin that suffers, losing nutrition and vitality to an overbearing state supported usurper, and there’s a funny reason why. Gallery owners have been trying to sell their consignments using credentials supplied by the academic side, meanwhile complaining no one buys art, like they was the victims. I’d like to sympathize, but also notice that people aren’t owning art, talking about art, or thinking about art and the stuff you’re showing isn’t helping, is it?

A man ran for president on the sole accomplishment of having separated conjoined twins, books and lectures, television interviews, and I’m here to do surgery. Gallery directors -- all those credentials you fan out are from that other side, that insular, exclusionary, copy planet called academic art, and they don’t really convince people, enough people, that the derived macaroon in front of them has value. Instead consider the ‘sunday’ painters in your midst, and cultivate a couple who are committed to depicting familiar subject matter. Two things will happen. Your clients will show more interest in owning art, and the artists will get better, rapidly. Art is a community business, could be, ought to be, and local-source galleries can be profitable doing business at face value, or will be soon.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

poverty’s up side -- art’s coded rap

Who buys art and why? There are the investors, they get the press. Here’s a Rothko and a Van Gogh in the same auction estimated to bring about the same price, around twenty seven million, immediately to be re-crated and sent back to storage hoping they bring fifty the next time they see daylight. So much alike. ‘Art accrues value faster than the stock market,’ becomes the boilerplate refrain for almost any hustle chasing big discretionary bankrolls. It was housing equities before the crash of 2008, just as the dutch once went crazy for tulips, the classic case of market mania and the frenetic psychology of auction. As art appreciators the ultra-wealthy don’t count since they don’t look, only interested in outbidding their ‘friends’ and bragging about the big return, just another form of gaming to them. Pretend you ‘get it’ if you must.

Big corporations buy art to gain prestige among peers, and in an attempt to infuse some color into their cost efficient, steel and glass architecture. They favor abstraction, open-ended, non-committal, big splashy patches in the chrome and grey conference room, behind the receptionist. Existential questioning isn’t their bag, and they purchase through agencies, hire a curator, don’t really care. The large public institutions, museums and such, favor big ticket units, doing an indecent tango with the donor class as the tax burden trickles down, and they measure their success in bucks transferred.

Turns out the ones who generally like art best are poor people, those who can least afford it, an irony passing itself off as a law of the universe. Economics aside, maybe it’s life experience, the grind of physical work, learning a trade, doing home repairs that makes the common citizen receptive to art’s physical presence. Could be they can better conceive of process and practice, and what it takes to turn pure thought into a material object. It’s also possible they live in less than glamourous circumstances and feel a desire to own something of value they can see everyday, unlike their retirement fund. Might even turn out some of them are thoughtful and well read, dropouts, too skeptical of cultural politics to believe in soup cans but willing to consider actual accomplishment. Pushed aside in a rigged system, blue collars are not disinterested in art.

You can see art like them without giving away your stuff, scuffing up the hands. Art will help you -- try going back the other direction. When you look at art consider how it was made and what it tells you. You can squint at the explanation posted on the wall, or attempt to see and comprehend what’s actually in the frame, the way the less culturally sophisticated, more-grounded poor person might. You can bet the cavalier looking out at you there among the gawkers at the corner of the painting is the artist himself, just as he looked the day he delivered it, wearing that same sly smile, never to be noticed by his rich patron and finally to be seen by you this morning, he winks at you across a couple of centuries. Such as that.  

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

critic inside -- art's chemistry

Buying and selling art in galleries has nothing to do with art, I’ve concluded. What’s on the block is consensus approval, credentialed affirmation, all packaged and delivered in the slickly coded language of social ascension. For the market ‘good art’ has made its way into corporate collections, has been widely exhibited domestically and internationally, has won awards, garnered press, and when owned becomes an indication of sophistication and in-crowd awareness. Really? Is that all you’ve got, a stack of documents to close the sale? It’s understandable, even practical, since there’s no way to tell visually if the thing your looking at was painted by a farm animal, some plucky amateur, or a certified genius going to cost you millions. To give up the cash you’re going to need some sort of notarization.

All that paper is like homework. It’s the artwork itself we’d rather discuss, in terms that apply to all art no matter its style. What makes this thing, in this example something flat against the wall, worth more than all the furniture in the room? Original art has presence, and unlike other possessions, continues to appear fresh in the mind through the years. It’s of a different order than all the manufactured stuff, and has this unusual quality for a couple of reasons. The artist gave their best effort, part of the unwritten bargain they’ve made, imparting a quality that looks like honesty at any level. The art, itself, endures, and becomes a presence indeed when all the furniture has been worn out and changed, when households have moved to different cities, and when people have lived their lives in front of it. 

Better art does all this better, but there isn’t any way to quantify it, to grade it for market. That’s why it’s all so crazy out there -- see two hundred previous posts. Well it’s science to the rescue, finding the answer in a recent study with old people, love the old people. They took brain scans before and after having them look at art, and the blue chemical makes you sadder while the red one makes you feel elated. Well, the brain map lit up with the good one when they saw art they liked, or was it the other way around, no matter. Turns out there’s a critic ‘inside,’ a bit more reasonable and reliable than a ticket punched report card when it comes to recognizing what’s worthy in art. This app was part of your original package, becomes activated by looking at original art wherever found, and comes online when the consensus-driven art industry is ignored, forgotten. Listen to your brain.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

living the cliche’ -- art’s long road

There are as many different sorts of artists as there are artists, each unique, but here we describe the generic artist in any semi-free modern culture. The artist is a tortured soul, a basic truism of the occupation, and we know this because there are so many easier ways to utilize that set of gifts. Being talented means you can design stuff, meet with clients, go to lunch and not come back. Advertising agencies recruit, and industry loves the creative. Take the kinks out of the production line or come up with a new product, and no pee test for you. Why be an artist at all?

Like the shellfish with the grit inside, artists have some defect, a difficult childhood, a touch of Aspergers, confused sexuality, reflexive anger, something which leaves them out of step, lacking the charm and self-confidence to be the top salesman, without the patience and resignation for nine to five. They find satisfaction, perhaps relief, in translating the inchoate turbulence in their noggins into solid form, an artifact of their solitary wanderings, a signpost left on their formless path. The art they make, like the pearl, still has the grit at its center as a part of the composition, and it’s there that the connection with the viewer is made.

Life is usually difficult for that sort of person. The art they make is hard to merchandize, too idiosyncratic, too weird, and so it isn’t represented in galleries and can’t get by the curators, either. Still they make art which they can’t sell since it’s never seen, and they either work at unrelated menial occupations for low pay, or they sacrifice their talent to support a family, to take vacations, to gain communal respect, and sometimes wind up drinking too much. This classic case is all around, but there are updated versions. 

Occasionally the entrepreneurial wander into art classes, basket-weaving electives going for the mba, and recognizing gullibility and cash together, figure why not stay? They turn ‘anybody could do that’ into ‘I could do that,’ and a star is born. These are your big time artists, and their tribe includes grad students who aspire to be big time, along with faculty seeking cover and the vendors who supply galleries with a professional, predictable product. They’re called artists too, and the clever ones prosper, but there’s no grit at the center, no deep down universal to nod back to. There’s a way to tell the difference, and if you don’t see it in the moment, just wait a while. For some reason it’s the work of the compulsion-driven artist that endures, finds resonance in the public mind, and eventually goes up on the walls of museums to remind us that we’re human.     

Sunday, June 19, 2016

the wave -- telling you so

Another milestone, the two hundredth installment of owning art, a cathartic rant from outside the gate. In olden times with matted hair and tattered cossack, that’s me beseeching passersby to harken to the old news rewritten, but do they hear? Well I’m no Colbert, and folks don’t chant my name, but I’m in it for the ‘delayed squelch,’ a humorous filler from a long-ago magazine. In it some lowly character seems butt of the joke until the last line when he turns it all around and leaves them sputtering, such fun. 

Owning art was intended as prophesy, here conveniently documented by date and issue, and by prophesy we mean seeing in real time what will eventually become common thought. The rise of a new populism and its effect on community and individual awareness means the demise of art as signifier of exclusion and wealth, and in its stead the emergence of an art of accessibility and personal relevance. The squelch won’t come along as a punch line, however, since owning art’s stridency and confrontational advocacy become less radical by the day, finally to be not news.   

Eventually art’s charitable bureaucracy with its styrofoam cup conferences, its funding intrigues, those ethically challenged and totally unrelated distillery sponsored mixers and social events will have to find other grass to mow. Single day painting events like the one scheduled for here this coming saturday, will move more people to an active consideration of art than a year of the more elevated and important 'contemporary' art events the charities present with public money -- ‘art for everyone' they lie.

There’s also an outfit around here, ‘art connects,’ putting up local art in area businesses, just to be seen, maybe to be sold, quiet testimony to the notion that art made around here can be admired, bought, and taken home. Once art becomes a self-sustaining contributor to the area economy, when local artists are recognized by their work, and as artwork goes up in people’s houses and businesses own the art they display, the city council will probably find other worthy causes for our money. The wave is on its way to be.  

Friday, June 10, 2016

down by the river -- dead success

I was asked by some folks with an interest in the Kentucky River to comment on Paul Sawyier, local artist doing well in demise, who lived in a houseboat on the river by Frankfort for four or five years about a hundred years back. Fact is I’ve never been too interested in his work, mostly river scenes and autumn creek beds, the warm brown colors of fall, year by year more impressionistic and browner as his fugitive medium inevitably fades. Paul, himself, is remarkably illusive, glossed over by fawning biographers, a bit rougher in spoken memory, his life seemed complicated. 

While young his family fell from social prominence to receiving charity, living in a vacant parsonage behind the church for free. He was either a local celebrity, ‘everyone loved Paul, always so polite and friendly,’ or the town drunk, groveling and ingratiating, some of the time living on a houseboat and paying no rent still. He was ambivalent toward his work and openly disliked doing portraits, seemed to have rocky relations with dealers and agents, a gentle commentary leaving much room between lines. He found himself living out his father’s ambitions, forbidden to study art by his father before him, an oft told tale, and he never had any money. 

So what’s it like to be an artist in a small southern town a hundred years back? Ninety percent of the population were agricultural back then, and folks lived with animals, carried water into the house, and conveniences weren’t very. Perhaps they found respect for the painter and reverence for his efforts just as the biographers have claimed, but having lived it I’m not so sure. Artists always need money, but he must have had it special, growing up with linen sheets and currently sleeping on straw, and if he had a serious intimacy with alcohol as local lore recalls, he was bound to be broke all the time.

Polite and friendly may have been his reputation, but he went alone to live on the river in all sorts of weather, with only paints and a bottle, subsisting on food brought to him by the children of concerned ladies of the neighborhood. Was he expressing his reverence for nature or were landscapes all he could sell, and was his painting leisurely and joyous or driven by hard-bitten necessity? Depends on who you listen to and what you see. For myself, any alcoholic who still manages to be productive is partially a hero just for saving just enough integrity to work at all, but chances are they won’t be happy.

The artist is the grasshopper of the children’s fable, destined to starve while the industrious ant dines, a featured acorn in early education for generations, embedding a notion that hangs around after the lesson is forgotten. There are places and times when artists are respected and their work valued, could be here, and wherever it’s a land of happy artists where everyone else is happy too.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

the art of stealing -- making fake

Sixty minutes, mentioned in the previous post, aired a story last night about an art forger who solely supported one of the oldest, most established galleries in NY, the now defunct and discredited Knoedler Gallery. One guy in his garage forged the work just about everybody -- Kline, Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko, Krasner, Motherwell, only the best, and the gallery stayed in business selling ringers. The entire caper raises interesting questions.

Remember once hearing ‘Lightning’ Hopkins in concert. He began by saying softly, ‘ain’t nobody allowed to play the blues like this but me,’ and then he played some. It was his polite challenge to anyone anywhere because no one could like that, but him. So here comes a bum working in a garage, replicating all the modern ‘masters,’ and I’m sorry to be disparaging but they said he only made sixty five thousand dollars for producing fakes which sold for eighty million -- field hands get a bigger slice. How hard could it be?

The first question would be is he the only one doing it, and the stakes being high the probabilities are low that he is. It would also prove helpful to note that the financial incentives are all on the side of authenticity -- fat commissions all around if it’s, ah, real, vs nothing. There’s room for larceny here, it’s in the air, and there’s a reason. It’s because none of this is ‘real’ in any real sense. It’s all based on wizard of oz logic.

The way they decide what’s authentic gives off fumes in the first place. Don’t bother with the front, no one looks at the front, the secret, says the man with knowing authority, is to look at the back. See those smears of gesso on the stretcher, the way it’s been tacked. Rothko would never do that, it’s a clue. Then there’s forensics. Spectrographic analysis reveals a certain red dye which wasn’t included in the formulation by the company in question until, stop the presses, ten years after this thing, whatever it is, was supposedly made. Is this the pertinent fact millions of dollars turn on, and why would any serious person have gotten this far you ask, and I’m sure I don’t know. Not worth nothing, all just a kid’s game of artificial preciousness, plastic cups and pretend tea.

What about actual art you might ask, and we can guess it’s out there somewhere. Art supplies have at least a little space in drugstores and hardwares right out to the edge of habitation, and paintings are made by housewives and ex-presidents, so it seems logical that somebody out there might have gotten pretty good, so good the average sign-painter couldn’t keep up. Once the audience turns art around to embrace what’s on the front, much of this bogus fetish worship dies, and if some forger is actually talented enough to paint like Rembrandt, he won’t have to work in a garage or pretend to be somebody else.

also see -- ‘forging greatness -- getting even’ from 3 15 13