I had been waiting for the end of Wall Street. The outrageous bonuses, the slender returns to shareholders, the never-ending scandals, the bursting of the internet bubble, the crisis following the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management: Over and over again, the big Wall Street investment banks would be, in some narrow way, discredited. Yet they just kept on growing, along with the sums of money that they doled out to 26-year-olds to perform tasks of no obvious social utility. The rebellion by American youth against the money culture never happened. Why bother to overturn your parents’ world when you can buy it, slice it up into tranches, and sell off the pieces? At some point, I gave up waiting for the end. There was no scandal or reversal, I assumed, that could sink the system. Michael Lewis “The End”
This exact quote could almost describe the state of the Postmodern Art World. Why? There has been no rebellion, no reconsideration, no thinking about the recent past in any form – Just unequivocal acceptance and slavish following of POMO’s theoretical stance. But things have changed exponentially in the last few months. The stock market has, for all intents and purposes, crashed. Not all at once, but over the last year we have watched it fall six thousand points or more. The market’s highs last year were in the mid 14000s, today, we are in the mid 8 thousands, and we are threatened with it falling further to nearly half of its former value. If you think this has no bearing on the value of art AND artists – you are sorely mistaken.
Economically we’ve experienced one bubble after another and in this year alone we saw the deflation and depreciation of real estate, financial institutions and commodities (like the hedge fund run on oil and food staples over the summer.) We’ve seen it in our own art world with the recent deflation and depreciation of the auction houses, art fairs, and the reputations of many currently hot artists. The last amazingly OTT moment for inflated money in the art world was the Damien Hirst auction in September. If ever there was a manufactured bubble in the culture markets surely this “straight to auction” moment was it. The press surrounding this fire sale of warehoused product was immaculate, and the hype went off without a hitch. The principals walked away with millions – I’m not sure I believe the inflated figures – but they certainly cleaned up.
The “art” that was sold had little to offer aesthetically – there were no new ideas from Damien – it was basically the spinning out of tried and true art product under a brand name. But the artistic victory, the critical victory, was in the fact that “art” in the hands of a truly branded and successful artist, could in fact, be sold as nothing more than a desirable prestige commodity, like a gulf stream or a house in Palm Beach. Additionally, the amazing and radical part of the hype surrounding the pre-sale were the comments by the artist himself. He stated that he would not be creating any more of these types of works – this was it. The perception he created was one of a determined and enforced scarcity. It was a conceptual tour-de-force of the soft sell at work, and it put to rest the idea, forever, that art was an elite, avant garde activity. With one press release Hirst managed to bring to an end the old idea of High Culture by integrating its historical machinations into our everyday existences. Unlike the intellectuals of the 50s who dreamed of an “artless” culture where art would be lived everyday by the populace, Hirst and the Postmoderns dream of a business culture where the business would be lived and practiced by the artists. Up is the new down!
Perceived scarcity creates hype and bubbles. And it is the perception of those bubbles that is the calling card of the elite classes of all stripe in the 21st century. Perceptions are the life blood of the media, they are the focus of society, and they are the endgame of Postmodern theoretics. Perception is, for all intents and purposes, the power guiding the new electronic media. How we perceive or how we are perceived is the ultimate game, and it’s being played out before our eyes, through the screens and lenses that proliferate our myopic world. It is this manipulation of the endgame that leaves us breathless and desirous as we chase after the feigned scarcities of fame, fortune and history. Bubble culture is about these perceptions and manipulations. And it sings to our ego centered souls. However, we are not tethered to the mast nor are we deaf to the the siren song that drives us mad with desire. We artists have crashed on the rocks, done in by our outsized “business” ambitions.
In the new year we will continue the Popular Culture series examining the machinations behind the scenes as we have been. Our first in depth series will begin in January with a discussion by artists relating to the difference between Style and Brand and how fame or recognition can drive those two very different approaches to making art. Stay Tuned! Exciting Times Lie Ahead!