Archive for the International art failure Category

While I haven’t been the most active poster over the past three weeks, I have been following one story carefully (and collecting multiple links on it)–i.e., The Meltdown of the Current Art Market. For your enjoyment, then, I’ve put together a Cavalcade of Links tracking the falling fortunes of the art market over the last month:

  • Tapped Out? (Big New York Auction Houses Brace for a Slower Dance at the Fall Sales), New York Times, October 26
  • Our False Oracles Have Failed, We Need a New Vision to Live By (Huge financial success has hidden the moral bankruptcy in our civilisation, we must rediscover our lost values or perish), London Times, October 30

And, my very favorite link of all:

The Art Newspaper this past week has proclaimed that “speculation in young artists” is ending in the wake of economic worldwide meltdown.

The effect? I suspect that it will hurt the smaller galleries that sell emerging or non-blue-chip art the most. I suspect, but don’t follow it closely enough to say for sure, that it will also happen sooner or later with Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern art markets as well… It’s been kind of like buying internet stocks—and we know how that ended. With the high prices for younger art “established” by a speculative market where can they go, relative to demand, but down? But galleries never lower their primary prices, so these works will sit in gallery storage racks—with zero revenue-flow for non-brand name dealers. I call this the death spiral for art: sinking prices and sinking demand.

Is there a silver lining in the midst of this gloomy forecast?

Perhaps a return to the importance of museums, critics and alternative spaces for validation and the introduction of new art.

Hm. A return to the importance of critics? That doesn’t sound so bad… (Except where are these critics going to publish their writing?)

Meanwhile…

On a completely different note, please come to the Art Happy Hour this Sunday, October 19, at 9 pm at the Red Stag Supper Club. (Art Happy Hour is the only true antidote to America’s ongoing Artistic Failure!)

I’ve been reading and writing about Canada’s ongoing national back-turning on its artists of late, which apparently is a huge subject up there because it keeps coming up of late. This most recent story, from the Oct. 11 Globe and Mail, is interesting because it discusses an arts event that was highly praised in Canada—the recent triumphant visit of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to a sold-out Carnegie Hall—and describes how impossible it is, in our modern business-oriented economy, for an arts org to be deemed a success. “…the tour was an artistic and critical success,” writes Simon Houpt, “[but] those viewing it simply through a prism of profit and loss would call it a failure: The performance fee paid by Carnegie Hall didn’t come close to covering even half of the orchestra’s $466,000-plus costs.”

The author then looks closely at the upcoming budget for Volcano, a Toronto-based theatre company, which took the unusual step of opening its books to The Globe and Mail, and examines point-by-point how what people are willing to pay for art is vastly outstripped by the expenses incurred in mounting arts programming. The problem with art has long been noted by economists: The cost for the products of our economy become ever more based on the efficiencies associated with mechanization and mass production, so that a product like art that is impossible to make more efficiently (a painting will always take so long to make, a symphony always will involve so many producers) are regarded as too expensive to support in relation to cheaply reproduced good and entertainment (crappy cable TV, for instance). The arguments that people make against arts funding fail to take into account the simple human costs for art.

It’s interesting too to have read this story from the past weekend, from my own formerly artistically “enlightened” northern home state of Minnesota, just south of Canada’s southern border, about the impending doom facing pretty much all of our former artistic treasures. Art funders here, according to the story’s author Mary Abbe, are “bracing for rocky times.” Major arts orgs like the “Minnesota Orchestra, Guthrie Theater, Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Arts,” who are seeing their endowments rapidly shrink, are “braced for the worst.” At the end she quotes Jacques Brunswick, chief administrative officer of the Guthrie Theater, as he makes an (unconvincing) appeal: “It’s a rough time. I think the arts need people’s money now more than ever.”

And in response (in the Strib’s comments)?

Time to get back to the basics

When many are faced with homelessness, hunger and a lack of health care, it is time to get back to the basics. We have to pay off massive governmental and consumer debt that is strangling the country before we can make much progress. Also, we need to ensure our kids and even adults are getting adequate scientific and technical training so we can compete again in the global market. Given all this, the upcoming decides need to focus on basics rather than arts.

posted by rebeccalhoover on Oct 11, 08 at 7:29 pm |

CTV’s website recently the following story, which provoked some interesting and telling comments (below):

Some Calgary artists played dead on Monday to try to raise awareness about cuts to national funding for the arts.

Protestors gathered at City Hall to say that Canada’s arts and cultural scene is on its deathbed.

The federal government recently cut 45 million dollars of funding and the artists say they already struggle to make a living and they worry it’ll get even worse if the Conservatives win a majority government.

The protesters want people to save the arts and vote for any party but the Tories.

Local theatre director Jamie Dunsdon says the conservatives have undermined the value of the arts in the community.

“I think it’s because we have politicians like Mr. Harper telling us that we don’t value arts which isn’t true, every day citizens do value arts. It’s on the walls of our dentists’ office, it’s on the radio. We do value arts, we just need the funding and we need politicians to recognize that we need the funding and the support,” said Dunsdon.

The Conservatives say they’ve boosted arts funding since coming into office.

They also say they’ve simply shifted some of that money into other programs, including sports and recreation.

SAMPLE COMMENTS:

Claudia.
When people are loosing their houses etc. it would be irresponsible for the Feds to put more money into the ‘arts’. Get real! Who else should the government bail out?


Glenda Bowser
I think the arts have survived very well on the backs of taxes payer. If they are starving I suggest they get a job like the rest of us,


Liz
Totally agree with the cuts - an elite group with attitude - what about extra funding for the underemployed,the wait staff, the retail clerks - everyone cud benefit from a hand-out. What makes the arts group so special!!! - talent - if they had any, they would not have to beg.


Pete
Lets see, a cut of less than 2% to the total arts funding. If thats catastrophic then these people have much more to worry about in the current financial climate when other people are trying to keep their real jobs that pay taxes and support these “artists”. Gravy train is over folks


Angelo
I always figured being an artist was a side job, since when am I, as a taxpayer paying for “art” that I wouldn’t pay to see anyway? Put down the paint set and pick up a hammer!


Michelle
I would rather my tax dollars go to HEALTH CARE, than some starving artist. While listening to them cry on the news about how they can barely survive now, I could not help but think…”Get a real job then!!!”


Davey boy
If that’s the best artists can come up with. Then please take there funding away


Sue - Calgary
I think people in the arts community should wake up and get a real job instead of perfoming meaningless plays that no one understands. I think our tax dollars can be better spent elsewhere.


Jane - A Calgary Taxpayer who is struggling
Well, if the artists were any good at what they do, they would make a good living at it in the free market. If they cannot support themselves, perhaps they could get real jobs like the rest of us! Welcome to the real world! If I like art, I will buy it or see it, otherwise, I am not going to pay for it. I am a good gardener, but the government does not support my hobby. Why would I, who am struggling to make ends meet, have to pay tax dollars to the arts? Funny how the artists have time to play dead, on a work day. I am at work. Making a living. Maybe they could try it instead of complaining and protesting.

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.

An article in the National Post of Canada, titled “The working man’s case for arts funding,” reveals some exciting news from that quiet country to the North: Canada has, politically speaking, finally reached the 1990s. Canada has at long last discovered the great golden age of the American “Culture Wars.”

According to the story’s author, John Moore:

(Prime Minister) Stephen Harper’s campaign has been all about easy points. Teens with guns; lock ‘em up. Average families (we all think we’re average); give ‘em a tax cut. Arts funding; let the sushi-eating, bow-tie-wearing snobs pay for their own meat dresses and urine-soaked crucifixes. Earlier this week, the PM took a gratuitous swipe at the arts, cleverly widening the perceived divide between “ordinary working people” and the “elites” who make their living in creative endeavours.

Ah, such warm and gentle memories this evokes in my hardened art-loving heart. Jesse Helms. The NEA Five. Piss-Christ. Pat Buchanan. Rudy Giuliani. Oh, it’s so fun to demonize the arts and terrorize artists! So much fun!

The author continues with some good points (that puts some of the blame on the artists themselves):

It’s not easy to make a case for the arts, which is precisely why they are such a ripe target. And artists don’t make it any easier. Most Canadians don’t really have a warm and fuzzy impression of Wendy Crewson or Margaret Atwood. Outside of their books, sets and performance venues, artists have a frustrating inability to connect with anyone but each other.

No, it is not easy to clarify why the arts are important to protect, nurture, and support. I’ve tried to do this for years, and I sometimes feel I’m no closer to any answers than I’ve ever been. Moore, for his part, gives the examples of Cirque du Soleil, SCTV, and a full host of Canadian art stars — all of whom received small token amounts of important governmental support when they were struggling to get established. Without such support, he suggests, these institutions that have entertained and thrilled so many people would simply not have been able to survive and thrive.  Because of this, he argues, small amounts of leg-up money from the government ultimately benefits all of us, not just some untouchable elite.

It’s a tough sell, no doubt. Good luck with your wars, Canada. Having been there-done that, I don’t envy you. At the very least, however, I can say in all sincerity: “Welcome to the 90s!”

In the Montreal Gazette, a recent editorial called “Let Canadian artists be free” describes the hit that film and TV artists are likely to take because of a new tax bill called Bill C-10. According to the piece, the bill provides “arbitrary powers to the minister of heritage to deny tax credits retroactively to film or television productions the minister deems contrary to public policy, threatens freedom of expression as well as the financial foundation of our film and television industry.”

The article further explains that the bill will have “chilling financial implications. The ministerial powers to deny tax credits after the fact will create such uncertainty that banks will be reluctant to provide financing to cover tax credits. Industry group FilmOntario presented senators with the opinion of the Royal Bank of Canada: ‘Should the assumption of eligibility currently underlying all bank loans to this industry be compromised or diminished by Bill C-10, this will indeed limit the ability of the bank to continue funding Canadian content production.’”

Translation: Restricting freedom in this way—by keeping a close watch on how art affects the public good—will knock off Canada’s already hamstrung and suffering artistic community. Or as the story concludes:

The creative community in this country is fragile. We fight to have our voices heard over the roar of American pop culture. Our funding and protection slips away yearly. The artists of Canada - our writers, directors, actors, dancers, musicians, painters and poets - are not the rich and famous. The artists of Canada are among the working poor. But we know what we do is important. We do it with passion and conviction, empowered by our freedom of expression… To preserve artistic freedom and to avoid financial uncertainty for a significant sector of the Canadian economy, our film and television community asks the Senate committee to please fix Bill C-10.

Why is art failing in this country, in this world?

According to author and Harvard psycology professor Steve Pinker in his essay A Biological Understanding of Human Nature, the art world, as it has developed in the modern and post-modern era, is not fulfilling a societal obligation, and that is at the roots of its failure.

In the twentieth century, modernism and postmodernism took over, and their practitioners disdained beauty as bourgeois, saccharine, lightweight. Art was deliberately made incomprehensible or ugly or shocking—again, on the assumption that our predilections for attractive faces, landscapes, colors, and so on were reversible social constructions. This also led to an exaggeration of the dynamic of social status that has always been part of the arts. The elite arts used to be aligned with the economic and political aristocracy. They involved displays of sumptuosity and the flaunting of rare and precious skills that only the idle rich could cultivate. But now that any schmo could afford a Mozart CD or go to a free museum, artists had to figure out new ways to differentiate themselves from the rabble. So art became baffling and uninterpretable—unless you had some acquaintance with arcane theory.

By their own admission, the humanities programs in universities, and institutions that promote new works of elite art, are in crisis. People are staying away in droves. I don’t think it takes an Einstein to figure out why. …many artists and scholars have pointed out that ultimately art depends on human nature. The aesthetic and emotional reactions we have to works of art depend on how our brain is put together. Art works because it appeals to certain faculties of the mind. Music depends on details of the auditory system, painting and sculpture on the visual system. Poetry and literature depend on language. And the insights we hope to take away from great works of art depend on their ability to explore the eternal conflicts in the human condition, like those between men and women, self and society, parent and child, sibling and sibling, friend and friend.

Some theoreticians of literature have suggested that we appreciate tragedy and great works of fiction because they explore the permutations and combinations of human conflict—and these are the very themes that fields like evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics and social psychology try to illuminate. The sciences of the mind can reinforce the idea that there is an enduring human nature that great art can appeal to.

CAFA occasionally receives a particular and peculiar response to the strange and distressing features of contemporary artistic failure that we point out week after week. It is this: “Well, yeah, things are fucked up in the arts. But that’s always been true. Things are no different now than they’ve ever been.”

Well, actually, I would argue things are much worse now for artists and the arts than they’ve ever been. In fact, it is a key part of the mission of CAFA to document exactly how they are worse.

As a case in point, consider these two stories, which reveal how human attitudes about art and cultural treasures have worsened over the past two hundred-odd years.

First, in 2004, just a bit more than four years ago, on the first anniversary of the war in Iraq, I wrote an essay about why, despite having every reason to be gloomy, I still loved art. I had been to Paris a year earlier, soaking up the arts ambiance of the place just as our national brain trust was making its ill-fated decision to open up the bomb works on Iraq. Here was the crux of my argument (for still loving art despite the dispicableness of humanity):

Toward the end of the trip I took a train out to Chartres to see the famous cathedral. Once there, I latched onto a tour with local British historian Malcolm Miller. He pointed out the stories in the cathedral’s stained glass, which windows had been restored at what cost, and so on. He… took us outside to look at the Gothic sculpture that adorned the exterior of the building. We examined the flying buttresses, learned how many steps were in each tower (and when each tower was built), and came to a part of the cathedral accessible to a small town square. Here, he pointed out sculptural figures that were armless, occasionally headless, chipped in leg and foot, and asked us if we knew what had happened. One person guessed that was the ravages of time, but Miller shook his head.

“In 1793,” he said, “revolutionaries converged on the cathedral to remove the sculpture and rededicate the building as a palace of enlightenment, or some such.” Such fanatics had knocked many of Paris’s cathedrals to the ground in the early 1790s, and some wanted to do the same in Chartres. They began hacking at its statuary, Miller explained, only to be stopped by a local official. “They had already done some damage, as you can see, knocking off heads and other elements that they could reach. The official stopped them by simply saying in one hundred years people will want to come see the cathedral.”

Here I was, more than two hundred years later, thankful to the nameless official for his insight. The simple answer to why I love art, why I continue to seek it out despite all the distressing and depressing things of the world, is that it is in art then that we rise above it all… In the long run, art outlasts all the tiresome and anxiety-inducing aspects of living; it outlasts the arguments, the blood feuds, and the sectarian squabbles. Art is the way we reveal ourselves as somehow more than ordinary.

Now, compare Story 1 with Story 2, which recently appeared in the L.A. Times, about all the priceless and irreplaceable antiquities and ancient artistic treasures that were taken, damaged, or destroyed from Iraq’s National Museum at the onset of the Iraq war. “Five years ago this week,” the story by Johanna Neuman begins,

looters ransacked the Iraqi National Museum, stealing centuries-old artifacts that celebrated Iraq’s role as the cradle of civilization… Today, investigators say that about 15,000 pieces were either stolen in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 or went unaccounted for in the months and years before the conflict began. About half have been recovered. But the impact of the thefts — amulets, Assyrian ivories, sculpture heads, ritual vessels and cylinder seals — is still being felt in art circles and black markets throughout the world.

“The numbers can’t tell the whole story,” said U.S. Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos, a New York assistant district attorney who has made the hunt for antiquities his specialty. “These things remind us of our common beginnings.”

Plus ça change, plus d’art échoue…