Archive for the Death of art Category

Hope, that all too scarce commodity of late, made a brief, mild resurgence earlier this month, only to suffer setbacks to late-November fear and panic. (November is just that way, or so I surmise in my latest piece on the Thousandth Word.)

But hope, as we all know, even if it often gets beaten down and left for dead never goes away. (I remarked on this tendency too, in two recent pieces on the local arts, again for the Thousandth Word.)

But you don’t have to take my word about hope. One of my favorite recent arts commentaries—a piece from the Art Newspaper earlier this month called “Tough Times Will Provide Opportunities“—suggests too that hope springs eternal, even in a collapsed economy, even in a bottomed-out market, even in the dismal contemporary art world. “So what’s next? Is the future of the art market that bleak?” the article asks.

No, this will be a market for new opportunities. Major collectors are waiting for prices to come down 30% to 40% from their peak, a correction that was already evident in the latest round of auctions in London in October… Further pressure on prices is expected, and it will take some time before the market has reached equilibrium… Now the question is: which artists will survive the adjustment? We all know what the last crash in 1991 did to hotshot artists such as David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Eric Fischl, Francisco Clemente and Sandro Chia. Their markets took 15 years to recover, and in real terms (adjusted for inflation) are still considerably below their peak, but at least their markets survived… The primary market is also likely to regain the balance of power compared with the auctions. The auction houses have dented their credibility as money-making machines, and would-be sellers are realising that the liquidity is quickly evaporating. In a falling market, the focus will again be directed towards the galleries that have proved their commitment to their artists… In the end, a correction is healthy for the sustainability of the future art market. The interest in art will not disappear, art and artists will not disappear—if anything, a tougher environment will be more conducive to artistic creativity, and hopefully the market will go back to focusing on what constitutes the real value of art, as art history is rarely made in the auction rooms.

A new story out in Time magazine discuss the inevitable news: As the rest of the world tanks culturally and economically, so apparently goes China.

At a Sotheby’s sale of 20th century Chinese artwork on Oct. 5, two-thirds of the 110 lots failed to sell, and many of the pieces that did find buyers went for below their estimated prices. By the close of the biannual sales of the world’s largest publicly traded art auction house, Sotheby’s took in about half what it had expected, at just over $140.7 million….

Many say the unimpressive results were a combination of already overinflated price estimates and the dismal economy. “Particularly with the fund managers, if they are concerned with things happening in the world, they may be inclined to hold on to their funds,” said Mark Joyce, owner of Koru Contemporary Art in Hong Kong.

That’s not good news for Sotheby’s. Following the poor sales, the auction house’s shares fell 14% on Oct. 6, hitting a three-year low. (Sotheby’s was not available for comment.) Nor does it bode well for the regional art market: the Hong Kong auction was its first gauge after the worldwide financial crisis hit last month. “Due to uncertainty in the markets, investors are making selective choices as to where to spend their money,” said Shirley Ben Bashat, director of the Opera Gallery Hong Kong….

Beijing-based artist Zhao Gang isn’t surprised. “Three years ago the prices started going higher and higher,” said Zhao. “Last year the price was pushed way too high, and it’s got to come down.” …

Still, the local art world isnt’ getting too depressed — yet. Says Bashat, the director of the Opera Gallery Hong Kong, “Many buyers see art as a safer investment in the mid to long term compared to other investments in the market.” Buyers may be turning away from contemporary Chinese art today, but at least they are keeping an eye on Asia.

As the deflated rich in this country wring their hands about how rapidly China is buying up U.S. bonds, securities, businesses, and land, I found it curious to find this story about attempts by Chinese artists who own the international fake art market.

Sept. 24 (Bloomberg) — In a village in southern China, Wu Ruiqiu is worried about the effect of an economic slump on the art market. He should be. Wu represents artists who make 60 percent of the world’s oil paintings. Wu is chairman of Dafen’s art association, which groups 8,000 artists in a suburb of Shenzhen, China’s biggest manufacturing hub. While employees in the city make cheap DVD players, computers and T-shirts, workers here produce Rembrandts, Monets and Warhols — by the millions.

Exports have fallen by a third this year, he said… About 85 percent of sales are exports, with the U.S. the biggest customer. A decline in demand has forced the smaller of Dafen’s 800 galleries to close. Others have slashed prices to compete…

Of the nearly 5 million paintings produced at Dafen each year, almost 75 percent are knockoffs (the locals prefer the term replicas). The rest are original artworks, said Fan Yuxin, vice director of the government’s Dafen Village management office.

Lan Xin, who runs a 100-square-foot gallery with Yue copies propped against the walls and hung on pillars, accepts custom orders. He clicked on an icon on his computer screen that expanded to show miniature images of paintings such as Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe portraits. Lan said he commissions freelance artists to paint pictures customers order….

“The paintings here are cheap, they are good, what’s there not to like?” said Houston, Texas-based Judy Berckman, browsing the stalls of galleries for “abstract art.”Foreign companies think the same. The village’s products line the walls of casinos in Las Vegas and Macau…

Dafen’s prolific fakery roused complaints from original artists and their estates, prompting the government to introduce intellectual property rules that bar galleries from selling copies of works by living artists and those dead for less than 50 years.

Fan said an anti-piracy squad inspects galleries “once a month or once a week” and confiscates works that violate the rules. Still, he said the onus is on buyers and people who commission paintings to clear copyright issues.

“Painters just do as they are told,” Fan said. “Their obligation stops when they deliver the goods to customer satisfaction.”

A walk around Dafen’s galleries, full of copies of works by China’s bestselling contemporary artists, shows that the rules aren’t strictly enforced.


He was a giant when I was in school in the 1980s and 1990s. His aesthetic in many ways ruled those decades, and I long marveled as a young art student at his way of making tense magic out of ordinary and ugly objects.

I had no idea I was so close to him this past spring when I visited Captiva Island in Florida (where he is said to have lived his last years). A friend recently pointed that fact out to me, and said he’d long been friends with the artist and had visited his estate down there. I wish I’d known Mr. Rauschenberg was a friend of a friend–I would have asked for an introduction. I would have loved to ask the artist what he thought of the state of the art world today.

R.I.P, Mr. Rauschenberg.

“You have to have the time to feel sorry for yourself in order to be a good abstract expressionist.”

“It is impossible to have progress without conscience.”

–Milton Ernst (Robert) Rauschenberg (1925 - 2008)

And, for good measure, here’s a (bad) poem I once wrote about an important event in the career of Robert Rauschenberg (I hope you will forgive me):

The 1964 Venice Biennale

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
Kenneth Noland’s paintings occupied half the American pavilion
at the Venice Biennale,
and Robert Rauschenberg won
the Gran Premio—
the youngest artist to do so to date.
As a result Europeans raged about America,
about its Pop sensibilities
and its imperialistic designs—
though they didn’t riot like they would in 1968,
when I was two.

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
my parents met on a blind-date trip down to Tiajuana,
in Baja California,
and my mother’s mother,
my grandmother Billie,
celebrated the twentieth anniversary
of her divorce from Kenneth Noland,
whom she had met in Asheville, North Carolina,
during the Second World War
when she was just eighteen-years old
and had run away from her mother.

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
the esteemed Cardinal Urbani proclaimed a Biennale ban,
and the president absented himself.
Critics fumed too,
at Castelli’s campaign for the American.
“An offense to dignity,” said one;
“A general defeat of culture,” another.
But the artists could care less,
Chamberlain hopscotching across piazzas like a bear,
Oldenburg and his melting typewriter,
Cunningham and a safety pin to hold up his pants.

In 2007,
Forty-three years later,
long after half of these men’s deaths,
and after I had reached the age that Noland was at that time,
I would read about the Venice Biennial
and its embarrassment of riches,
about Rauschenberg’s combines
which had everything but Merce Cunningham’s pants.
And I would pause and consider
how things never really change—
unless you are a cobbler or a typewriter repairman—
and that is both a good and bad thing.

According to an April 13 story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that city is facing a looming $119 million budget shortfall. And of course, as any good CAFA reader would expect, the city is poised to make an assault on its cultural institutions.

“When city budgets get tough,” the story begins, “arts and recreation programs are typically among the first to get cut…

“If the City Council approves the across-the-board cuts, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of the city’s current budget shows that the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs department will lose more money than any nonpublic safety department — $8.1 million.”

Said one commentator: “The arts are generally the service to get cut because many people don’t see the value.”


An inevitable result of any widespread economic downturn in America are rumblings and stories of politicians and policy-makers seeking to cut arts funding in their state. Never mind that the arts take up a rather miniscule part of any given state’s budget, and that diversion and distraction (in the form of the arts) are often what we most need in times of economic downturn, the great American impulse is: when the pocketbook constricts, it’s time to kill off the artists.

And so we’re seeing such stories start to roll out over the virtual transom:

  • In New Jersey, which faces $32 billion of accumulated debt (and a $2.9 billion project budget gap this year), Gov. Corzine has announced plans for “deep cuts to higher education, health care and the arts…,” as well as to state employees’ jobs. This despite the fact that New Jersey’s art budget makes up only about $40-$50 million of an annual $33.5 billion state budget.
  • Indianapolis, meanwhile, is facing its own budget woes and so is looking to cut the $1.54 million the city distributes to 75 local arts organizations. This has resulted, understandably, in a lot of nervousness among Indy’s arts community.

CAFA will continue to monitor these budget-cutting developments as more stories are published.

The website Art Obituaries is a very telling sign of the times–i.e., this age of artistic failure. So many artists are cluttering the cultural landscape, and making so much work that inevitably can’t find a home, that a huge percentage of cultural production over the past twenty-thirty years or more is simply ending up in landfills and bonfires.

According to the website:

Art Obituaries commemorates “art that was” by documenting accounts of an artwork’s death. Your intensely personal story provides a rare glimpse into an artwork’s eleventh hour, exploring the nature of an artwork’s life, death, and the process in-between, creating a living discourse where there once was none.

Artists can submit their stories–or artworks lost and put to rest–to Art Obituaries, here

The site also offers this description of the death of art, put into a historical context (that apparently concludes with Art Obituaries):

History is written by the winners, or so they say. Preservation isn’t easy: it’s a series of choices we make, to rescue objects and events from history’s wake. Not everything will survive, we know, so we give life support to those with the best chance. In art history, these lucky few are what we call canon. Other artworks have been doomed to a silent death, until now…


Art never dies, but artworks do. Some by accidents of nature, eaten by the strong or bred too peculiar to survive; some by force, put to pasture because they’ve gone bad, or cannot be understood by mainstream society. Art history’s heartbreak has been, simply, that it could not save them all. But now we have a miracle drug. Like some sci-fi invention: we’ve got a pill that cures death. And its name is Art Obituaries