Seeking Approval from the Lifestyle Press
“… it would be simplistic to portray art’s frequently invoked self-will as no more than an economic function. The autonomy of art may expose it to economic exploitation, but – and this point merits emphasis – it is also an historical achievement that artists have fought for and that potentially empowers them to deflect the market pressures that mitigate their influence. Such ambivalence regarding autonomy is at the root of the art’s fraught relationship to the market: works are permeated by the demands of the market, but by the same token can insist on their autonomy from it, refusing to submit to economic considerations. Consider Marcel Duchamp, who worked and reworked on the “Large Glass” for decades, defying the fast-paced rhythm of production driven by the art market. Duchamp availed himself of the autonomy of art while continuing to be involved in the market, as he was also active as a dealer, selling works by Brancusi and others, and functioning as an advisor to the collector Katherine Dreier. Like many other artists, he adopted what we might call a two-pronged strategy, refusing to comply with the market’s demands on one level while catering to them on another.”
“…One consequence of the structural transformation sketched above is that contemporary art has long come to be regarded as a luxury consumer product. For evidence, see websites such as www.therealreal.com, which offer a mixture of vintage designer objects and “art.” Tellingly, works by “top artists” are sold by size, all the way up to “oversized,” taking the structural affinity between the work of art and the luxury good to its logical conclusion. As the latter emulates the former, flaunting its brand as a token of sham singularity, the former resembles the latter in its excess over any practical application. No one buys a Rolex just because he needs a new watch, and similarly, the decision to purchase a work of art is not usually motivated by the need to cover a section of wall above the sofa. Instead, in both cases, the social prestige conferred by the commodity is decisive, in conjunction with aesthetic preferences. But unlike luxury products, works of art have been associated since the eighteenth century with higher values such as truth or epistemological gain, and so they command an intellectual prestige that no consumer product could hope to attain. In other words, differences between the work of art and the luxury good persist despite the structural affinity that links them.” [Isabelle Graw on False Polarities and Economic Subtexts]
“The so-called “celebrity” artists — artists who primarily appear in fashion magazines — were not taken seriously up until the ’80s, but the dividing line between the serious art world and celebrity culture blurred at the end of the ’90s. At the beginning of the millennium gallerists, for instance, were seeking approval from the lifestyle press. It was no longer considered an endangerment to one’s reputation if one posed in Vogue or Amica. And if a true celebrity was present at an opening, this was immediately noticed — even in a serious review. There was a general shift that took place, and it mattered more than ever how you performed.
Artists have a choice. They don’t have to embrace the celebrity principle. The artists you see on the Artforum website are the artists who constantly show up at the big openings and who want to be photographed. There are other artists you’ll never see there. I’d say that they’re smart enough to know that selling their person in this way is not necessarily the most interesting route. Warhol paid a high price for it. He had no personal life, only a professional life, and no friends, other than those who turned into collaborators. When one uses every occasion for networking and making contacts, one attracts a lot of negative projections. It’s a very lonely and highly instrumentalized existence. Today it might be wiser to negotiate the relationship between your person and your product slightly differently. While nobody can afford to hide or disappear, one could, at times, at least, hide behind one’s product.
… it’s trying to think about what you could do instead of grinning into every camera, which is what Jeff Koons does — something I find very depressing. I think it’s really uninteresting to embrace every opportunity for public exposure, because we live in a bio-political scenario, where we’re asked to sell our lives. The question is, how do you deal with it? Times have changed, and circumstances are very different than they were in the ’60s, when it was necessary to challenge the notion of the underground artist.” [Isabelle Graw in conversation with Alex Gartenfeld]
The art market and the arbitrary character of its appraisals were particular targets of Picabia and Duchamp both during and after the Dada years. This did not, however, preclude their direct engagement with the market itself. In March 1926, Duchamp staged undoubtedly with his friend’s complicity, a major sale of Picabia’s works
purportedly from his own (Duchamp’s) collection. The result amounted to a mid-career retrospective that provided the Paris press with the opportunity to analyze the entirety of Picabia’s oeuvre for the first time. The catalogue lists eighty works ranging in date from Picabia’s early Impressionist canvases to his most recent “Rjpolin” Monster paintings and Collages.” The words of critic Stéphane Manier capture the way Picabia’s work troubled, and would continue to trouble, commonly accepted definitions of beauty, quality, and taste: “He paints outside every conception of Beauty and Ugly, ignoring Good and Bad.” Picabia was interviewed on the occasion of the Duchamp sale and used the opportunity to express his profound ambivalence toward painting: “What would give me the greatest pleasure,” the artist said, “would be to invent without painting. The facture of a picture hardly amuses me, and painting bores me.” Despite this, Picabia continued to paint-indeed, for the rest of his life. This decisively split his trajectory from that of Duchamp, who made his last painting, Tu m’, in 1918. Picabia’s identity, by contrast, is more complicated and conflicted: he is the great anti-painter who kept on painting, unwilling or perhaps unable, even, to give it up. [Anne Umland on Francis Picabia]