The Confluence of Art and Commerce

I agree with Klaus Ottman who said at SITE Santa Fe on December 12: “This confluence of art and commerce is troubling.”

Ottman admitted to being an idealist and finding the recent “Art Issue” of Vanity Fair “troubling.” Troubling? I found it nearly appalling. The only glimpse of truth came from Ingrid Sischy in her telling article “Money on the Wall.” The art market is out of control and has become what Andy Warhol presciently predicted when he suggested that instead of hanging a $200,000 painting on the wall, one should just hang the money instead.

“Artist’s need to stand outside of the apparatus of celebrity,” Ottman said. “I believe in the autonomy of artists and art.”

Ottman acknowledged that it was Warhol who began this confluence of art and commerce, but that it didn’t become full-fledged until Jeff Koons. And Ottman laments the loss of what was in the 60s and 70s an inspiring crossover between art and science and dance and theatre.

“The crossover now is with fashion, movies and Hollywood,” Ottman said. “Artist’s today are producing merchandise–not art. If you make a handbag that is three foot by five foot, that is art. If you make a handbag and paint some little pictures on it, it is still a handbag.”

Ottman talked about the young artists being plucked from art schools and given solo shows at galleries in New York. Shows selling out and drawings being auctioned for $800,000 before the artist is even 30.

It’s an evolution, Ottman told the crowd at SITE.

“It think its a development that has happened as our society became more and more affluent.”

Ottman blamed auction house, art fairs, and hedge funds (which he added had been a bad influence on many things–like real estate).

“Art has always been a commodity, art has never been innocent or completely autonomous. What has changed is the way art is being marketed and the reasons people buy art has changed. They buy art for investments. For the wrong reasons. You don’t buy art like you buy a car or clothes or furniture, but people do now. They buy it, get sick of it and sell it and buy something else.”

Saatchi comes to mind.

“The rules of the game have changed. The game has always existed, but the rules are different now,” Ottman said.

And there is a rampant case of amnesia in the art world. In art school, young artists learn by copying and mimicking their heroes. Plucked too early from school, few have developed their own style, their own unique vision.

“I’ve been around for thirty years,” Ottman said. “I remember. It’s been done before and not just once.”

Ingvild Goetz, a Munich-based collector echoed Ottman in Sischy’s Vanity Fair article. “Art should move you, it should make you think more than only one minute, and it should remind you again and again. The problem is that there is so much bad art on the market. I would say there’s very little that’s great. I would say 80 percent is not. It has been done, it’s a deja vu, it’s old-fashioned, it is boring, it doesn’t touch you anymore, it doesn’t make you nervous, it doesn’t make you hate it. Let’s say there is a lot of nice art around. I don’t like to collect nice art.”

What about the Biennial’s role in creating art stars someone asked from the audience. Didn’t Ottman perpetuate the art star movement by including Wangechi Mutu in the SITE Biennial?

“I’m not sure biennials create art stars,” Ottman said. “Some artists chosen for the Whitney or Venice biennials have never really lifted off and others do. It certainly helps to have a biennial on your resume, but it doesn’t make you an art star.”

How to be an art star? Sell your work for a record price at an auction house or have a mega-collector buy your work. Critics and curators have little influence on making art careers.

“It’s not really fun to be a curator right now,” Ottman said.

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