Protest Art and the Art Market

This post is part of a blog series celebrating the College Art Association annual conference taking place in New York City from February 15–18. Please visit us at Booth 605 if you are attending, and otherwise stay tuned for more content related to our new and forthcoming Art books.


by Titia Hulst, author of A History of the Western Art Market: A Sourcebook of Writings on Artists, Dealers, and Markets

Recent protests of two major contemporary artists in reaction to the election of President Trump made headline news. The decision by Christo, the artist known for his spectacular large-scale interventions in urban and rural settings, to cancel his latest project was hailed as the “Art World’s Biggest Protest Yet” by Randy Kennedy in the New York Times on January 25, 2017. Christo’s gesture of cancellation came on the heels of Richard Prince’s decision to disavow his portrait of Ivanka Trump, which was reported in the same paper on January 12. Kennedy’s presumption that Christo’s cancellation of his project was the more meaningful of the two appeared to be informed by the value that the artists had assigned to the works that were withdrawn ($15,000,000 vs. $36,000).

A History of the Western Art Market (Available September 2017)

Prince had used Trump’s favorite communication tool—Twitter—to announce that his work, a large-scale canvas of a selfie Ivanka Trump had posted on Instagram, was no longer an authentic work by Richard Prince. “This is not my work. I did not make it. I deny. I denounce. This fake art,” he tweeted. The following day Prince clarified that his gesture was “Not a prank. It was sold to IvankaTrump & I was paid 36k on 11/14/2014. The money has been returned. SheNowOwnsAfake.”  In an interview with the Times he added “I decided that the Trumps are not art.” Benjamin Sutton, writing for Hyperallergic, was quick to point out that Prince’s gesture could ultimately backfire, noting that “it’s unclear whether his public disowning of the work will negatively affect its worth and status as an authentic Richard Prince, or, on the contrary, it will add to its resale value.”

Prince’s gesture goes to the heart of the question of what makes a work a work of art. The legendary dealer Leo Castelli, who had been instrumental in the transformation of the market for American art post-World War II, would have argued that an artist’s work does not exist as a work of art unless it has entered the market. He believed, in other words, that the market decides what constitutes a work of art and endows it with value – not the artist.

The problem Prince faced—the continuing existence of the Ivanka portrait—at first glance appeared to have been avoided by Christo. Implicit in the artist’s understated announcement “I no longer wish to wait on the outcome” of his Colorado project is the notion that his work would never be realized because Trump was elected. But the market has the power to compromise this gesture as well. Christo and his long-time partner Jeanne-Claude were financing the project partly through the sale of series of small works depicting the visual effects that they anticipated for the landscape intervention. One of these works, the collage Over the River. Project for the Payette River, Idaho from 1994, is currently for sale on the secondary market. Whether this and other related works will accrue additional value as a result of Christo’s gesture remains to be seen. I would not rule it out.


Titia Hulst is a modern and contemporary art historian. She holds a PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts and an MBA from New York University. In addition, she teaches art history at Purchase College in New York.


What is the future of media art?

This post is part of a blog series celebrating the College Art Association annual conference taking place in New York City from February 15–18. Please visit us at Booth 605 if you are attending, and otherwise stay tuned for more content related to our new and forthcoming Art books.


by Hanna Hölling, author of Paik’s Virtual Archive: Time, Change, and Materiality in Media Art

“In the future, the only artwork that will survive will have no gravity at all” maintained Nam June Paik, the acclaimed father of video art, in1980. He speculated that the art of the future, once liberated from the gravity of its material, will lack a “preservable” aspect. Paik’s prophetic statement seems to reflect the reality confronted by the many institutions collecting, displaying and preserving media. But how to grapple with well-rooted paradigms of material authenticity that for centuries embodied the artwork’s value? Or, in other words, what is the future of media art?

Media artworks based on film, video and computer code that incorporate playback and display technology confront us with the vulnerability and instability of their physical carriers and visual contents. Being in the process of continuous reinterpretation, rescription, and remediation, these artworks move between formats and platforms, seemingly unconcerned with the gravity of their physical carriers—the vehicles, as it were, of the artistic concept, a floating synthesis of the artist’s mind and the minds of all actors engaged in the work’s genesis. Media artworks—hybrid combinations of display and playback technologies— differ from traditional media such as painting and sculpture by not conforming to the traditional collecting, archiving and musealization processes. Changeable by nature, these works question the established views considering what an artwork is, or might be, what is being exhibited and preserved, and what enters the realm of cultural memory.

The future of ever-expanding digital memory comes upon us, an immortalization gesture of sorts, directed against forgetting and oblivion. The digital cloud, multi-nodal, networked internet, and the web-based platforms have already commenced generating—and forced us to get accustomed to—a multiplicity of artworks’ versions, variations, and clones. They lack reference to any of the familiar object-based (or objectified) strategies that for decades formed theories of traditional museum and conservation. In this new world, how can we ensure these works’ existence without fixing them in time and forcing them into the straightjacket of physical preservation? How can we avoid arresting them in time and simultaneously ensure their survival?

Nam June Paik’s legacy in the history of twentieth-century art rests on his introduction of the television and video as artistic media in the 1960s. His oeuvre encompasses global communication systems and combines elements of obsolescence and chance with the most sophisticated technical solutions of his time. At the time of this writing, only a few works by Paik remained in their original form and condition, and almost none of Paik’s works that still function are displayed with their original playback equipment.

It is, therefore, surprising that there was no major examination of the issues of the continuity of his media to date. Paik’s Virtual Archive strives to fill this gap. But rather than being a contestation with what is left there to be preserved, it encourages the reader to reflect on the preservation’s alternative futures and on the nature of the artworks (following the premise that to conserve an artwork signifies first and foremost to understand what it is). Paik’s Virtual Archive explores the way in which materiality can be conceived on the basis of the archive as inherently social and temporal construct: social because created in a network of people who collaborated with Paik on the creation, presentation, archiving and perpetuation of his artworks; temporal, because the kind of change his artworks experience is always bound with time—with its index manifest in the processes of decay and obsolescence and with the time of the artwork, its duration.


Hanna B. Hölling is Lecturer in the History of Art and Material Studies at the Department of History of Art, University College London. She was Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor, Cultures of Conservation, at the Bard Graduate Center in New York and Visiting Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. She teaches material culture, cultures of conservation, and postwar art history. Among her many publications is Revisions—Zen for Film.

Read reviews for Paik’s Virtual Archive, which released this week.


The Global Art Market and the Limits of Visibility

This post is part of a blog series celebrating the College Art Association annual conference taking place in New York City from February 15–18. Please visit us at Booth 605 if you are attending, and otherwise stay tuned for more content related to our new and forthcoming Art books.


by John Zarobell, author of Art and the Global Economy

In a recent Artelligence podcast, Nicholas Maclean, a former Head of Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Department and currently a private dealer, suggested that the percentage of the art market that is created through private transactions could be as high as 70–75%. This goes against conventional wisdom and the most detailed economic assessments of the current art market produced annually by Clare McAndrew, who estimates the portion of private sales to be roughly equivalent of what is transacted in the public art auction market. If Maclean is right, and he ought to know since he has spent his career in auction houses and for the past eleven years in private sales, the value of art sold globally would not be $63.8 billion, as McAndrew estimated for 2015, but more like $120–130 billion. There is a huge gap between these two estimates that underlines the fundamental problem with estimates of the art market: much of what they are calculating is hidden from public view and is therefore difficult to estimate by researchers who focus upon cultural economics.

These kinds of debates are grist for the academic mill, but they also expose a gap between the economic perspective on the art market and the views of those who make it their business. For private dealmakers like Maclean and his partner Christopher Eykyn, also a former auction house specialist, the amount of high-value art moving through private channels is not something that they could disclose because the entire business model is based on discretion. For their survival, they need to keep their sellers and buyers secret and to prevent the public from finding out the value of art that they are moving. So we will never know. McAndrew’s method for discovering this information is to send out surveys to dealers around the world but, even in a confidential survey, it seems possible that businessmen would not reveal the scope of their private transactions. Further, with art exhibitions and exchanges happening globally more than ever before, is it possible to capture all the transactions outside of traditional art world centers?

This is but one manifestation of the many aspects of the art market that are shrouded from view in our global economy and private sales will likely remain in the category of things we know that we do not now. So what is the point of trying to estimate the size of the art market and whom does it serve? The reality is that, according a report from Deloitte and ArtTactic, 76% of collectors of contemporary art are “collecting with an eye to investment” and therefore, while these collectors may be champions of global contemporary art, they are also investors looking for something that will increase in value. Therefore they need to know 1) whether the art market is increasing in value overall, 2) what sectors of the market are increasing the most and 3) which artists are enjoying price booms. These are the kinds of questions economists estimate for a living and it is expected that they understand them better than, say, art historians or curators.

Conversations on the economics of the art market presume that what they address is knowable and measurable but I argue the opposite is true. Further, the entire field of research is geared towards marginalizing the most essential players in the art market, namely the artists themselves. In order to calculate the size of a market, it must be circumscribed and this is the greatest challenge to understanding the art market. What is part of the “art market” and what gets left out? Surely, the constant drumbeat of “record-breaking” sales at the big auction houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, are included, but what about the high-value merchandise moved by dealers like Maclean and Eykyn and so many others like them? Further, which galleries that sell fine art are included in McAndrew’s survey and which are not? With something like 1000 galleries in Chelsea alone, how could one ever come to understand the scale of the private trade in art? And this accounting only addresses the artists that show in galleries. Most active artists do not have gallery representation and sell works out of their studios, or at small art fairs, or through online portals. These exchanges are not being counted in calculations of the art market.

The truth is that the “art market” is not a coherent, or accurate, assessment of how much art gets sold internationally. In fact, as an estimate it is no more than a shot in the dark that serves the self-implicating victors of the art world, the auction houses and galleries who specialize in a certain strain of fine art, i.e. the most valuable and visible. More importantly, the art market is a device that allows all sorts of participants in the art world to transform the countless efforts of artists around the world into a global industry. The art market does not exist except as an economic abstraction and, as many writers on the topic have clarified, it represents interlinked circuits of commercial activity around the world. But it does provide a device to imagine that all of those activities are somehow linked through a global economic system. The term manufactures a collective fantasy and allows art world types to feel that they are participating in this much larger phenomenon whose overall upward trend means that everyone (artists, collectors, dealers) will be better off in the future.

But even the dealmakers in the art world know that we imagine the art market to be is nothing more than a passing glance at the exchanges in the art world. Markets sound real, their details seem crucial to everyone participating, and much can be learned about the development of the art world in the last generation from studying how the market has changed. But let us not forget that when we accept the fiction of the art market as a fact, we may be exchanging our love of art for an esteem for the market.


 

John Zarobell is Assistant Professor of International Studies at University of San Francisco. He has held curatorial positions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A regular contributor to San Francisco Art Quarterly and the web-based journal Art Practical, he has written for numerous exhibition catalogues and has curated exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. He is the author of Empire of Landscape: Space and Ideology in French Colonial Algeria.


Medardo Rosso’s Moment

This post is part of a blog series celebrating the College Art Association annual conference taking place in New York City from February 15–18. Please visit us at Booth 605 if you are attending, and otherwise stay tuned for more content related to our new and forthcoming Art books.


by Sharon Hecker, author of A Moment’s Monument: Medardo Rosso and the International Origins of Modern Sculpture

The sculptor Medardo Rosso (1858–1928) liked to tell people he was born on a train, for he did not feel attached to any single country or national heritage either in his life or his art. Rosso’ sculpture was extraordinary in its anti-monumental and anti-heroic approach, presenting a modern, alienated yet deep feeling for interactions between self and other. His art was also transnational: he refused allegiance to a single culture or artistic heritage, declaring himself a citizen of the world and maker of art without national limits.

Born and raised in Italy, Rosso spent three decades in Paris, where he made highly advanced, experimental sculptures, but struggled as a foreign artist trying to make a name for himself in a city dominated by the overwhelming artistic and personal presence of Rodin. In his time, he was hailed as both the founder of Impressionist sculpture and the forefather of Futurism. Auguste Rodin, Umberto Boccioni, Constantin Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti, and Henry Moore admired his revolutionary ideas. Rosso continues to inspire contemporary artists such as Tony Cragg and movements like Arte Povera, and his sculptures are held in more than one hundred museums and collections around the world. He remains today one of the most original figures in the history of modern art.

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A Moment’s Monument is the first historically substantiated, critical account of this innovative sculptor, who also made highly experimental photographs and drawings. I show that as a cosmopolitan, Rosso felt at ease circulating among several communities. He became a key figure in the transition from the traditional forms of sculpture that persisted throughout the nineteenth century to the experimental forms that developed in the twentieth. The radical ways in which he promoted his work by creatively using the newest advances in photography and unorthodox exhibition strategies foreshadowed countless practices that became part of the vocabulary of modern art.

My book reshapes the Franco-centered view of the origin and development of modern sculpture to include the contributions of artists from other nationalities such as Rosso.

I develop an alternative narrative to the one regularly told, in which Rodin plays the role of lone heroic innovator. I offer an original way to comprehend Rosso, negotiating the competing cultural imperatives of nationalism and internationalism that shaped the European art world at the fin de siècle.


bio_pic_10-16Sharon Hecker is an art historian specializing in Italian modern and contemporary art. Based in Los Angeles and Milan, she has published extensively on Medardo Rosso, Lucio Fontana, and Luciano Fabro. Her publications include Medardo Rosso: Second Impressions.

Hecker co-curated an exhibition of Medardo Rosso’s work which is currently on view through May 13, 2017 at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, MO. Watch a video about the show to learn more. It is also reviewed in the Wall Street Journal and The New Criterion


Slowing Down for Art

This post is part of a blog series celebrating the College Art Association annual conference taking place in New York City from February 15–18. Please visit us at Booth 605 if you are attending, and otherwise stay tuned for more content related to our new and forthcoming Art books.


by Arden Reed, author of Slow Art: The Experience of Looking, Sacred Images to James Turrell

Surprise: more Americans visit art museums every year than attend professional sporting events and amusement parks combined. Way more, in fact. But many visitors feel clueless about how to navigate: where to head first? what to look at in, say, Gallery Nine? how to connect with that thing? Such befuddlement needn’t be the case. Everybody, I believe, is not only entitled but already equipped to have meaningful museum encounters. Whether or not visitors have any particular talent, art education, or technical vocabulary, they have all they need to find pleasure in looking—namely their life experience and their eyes. But everything depends on how we use those eyes. Generally speaking, art worth its salt only reveals itself gradually, as we dwell with it. If you speed past most works, you simply cannot know what you’re missing. But slow down and magic happens. Paintings, for instance, start to behave like moving pictures—that’s how much they can change under your gaze.

Accustomed to instant gratification and addicted to speed, how can we stretch out the 6–10 seconds that, on average, people spend looking at any given artwork? Slow Art tries to think through that challenge and develops strategies to enhance our artful encounters. A wide range of contemporary genres—including photography, film, video, digital art, painting, sculpture, fiction, installation and performance art, even tableaux vivants (“living pictures”)—shapes this new aesthetic field. But rather than a collection of aesthetic objects, as you might suppose, “slow art” names the dynamic relationship that transpires between objects and observers. Slow Art is also about changing our practices of looking. Together beholder and beheld create the experience.

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More than describe, I advocate an aesthetics of slowness: decelerating benefits works we contemplate but us as well. Over roughly the past 200 years the pace of everyday life has quickened exponentially, leading people to seek time-outs—the kind of quiet spaces that religion used to offer. But even as our need for breathers has intensified, our opportunities have diminished. The option of worship—think of contemplating icons—shrinks in secular societies. The result: speeding along the Autobahn of modernity we seek off-ramps—only to find the old rest stops closed. Might experiencing art reclaim the social spaces evacuated by religious gazing? Can slow art be a modern, secular displacement of old sacred practices? For museumgoers seasoned or raw, Slow Art models ways to enhance our acts of looking.


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Arden Reed is Arthur and Fanny Dole Professor of English at Pomona College. He writes on the visual arts and literature, and his publications include Manet, Flaubert, and the Emergence of Modernism and Romantic Weather: The Climates of Coleridge and Baudelaire.


Reimagining the Borderwall

This post is part of a blog series celebrating the College Art Association annual conference taking place in New York City from February 15–18. Please visit us at Booth 605 if you are attending, and otherwise stay tuned for more content related to our new and forthcoming Art books.


Today in history the Mexican-American War ended in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which added 525,000 square miles to United States territory, including the land that makes up all or parts of present-day Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, as well as Texas. It is still by this agreement that we recognize the geographical boundaries of the two neighboring nations.

Today we are also reconsidering the boundary between the United States and Mexico in all kinds of new ways, and the forthcoming book, Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (coming March 2017) is a highly creative and optimistic re-examination of what the physical barrier that divides the United States of America from the United Mexican States is, and could be.

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“A fascinating book, astonishing and magical: a realm where the absurdity of a wall is transformed from obstructive and negative to an affirmation of shared humanity.”—Judith Torrea, journalist and author based in Ciudad Juárez, México

Author Ronald Rael is Associate Professor in departments of Architecture and Art Practice at UC Berkeley, and one of the founding partners of Rael San Fratello, a creative practice and studio whose work has been recognized by the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, as well as named an emerging voice by the Architectural League of New York.

UC Press staff were lucky to have him come speak in our offices recently. His fascinating presentation on his background, and other influences on his work in and around the borderlands, was both timely and inspiring.

Watch the video below to hear more about some of optimistic re-imaginings of the existing wall (and any potential future extensions of it that are currently being assessed).

Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary will be available in March 2017—preorder now and save 30% by entering code16W6596 at checkout.


A New York Reading List for the 2017 College Art Association Conference

UC Press is exhibiting at the College Art Association Conference February 15–18 in New York, and we can’t wait to see you there! Be sure to stop by booth #605 for discount details on all UC Press art books and follow @educatedarts, @collegeart, and the hashtag #CAA2017 for meeting news—including an upcoming series of author posts.

As we get ready for the conference, we’ve rounded up some suggested advance reading for art and music aficionados, whether you’re going to the conference or just heading to the Big Apple in spirit. To save 30% now, use discount code 16W6596 for the following titles (enter code at checkout).

Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

“The maps themselves are things of beauty.”—New York Times 

Twenty-six gorgeously rendered maps and informative essays chart New York city’s hidden histories in the final volume of Rebecca Solnit’s trilogy of atlases. Bringing together the insights of dozens of experts—from linguists to music historians, ethnographers, urbanists, and environmental journalists—amplified by cartographers, artists, and photographers, the book explores all five boroughs of New York City and parts of nearby New Jersey, celebrating the region’s incubation of the avant-garde and its literary history, while also critiquing its racial and economic inequality, environmental impact, and erasure of its past. Check out our previous blog posts on the atlas and follow @nonstopatlas on Twitter for more peeks inside the book.

Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s by Michael C. Heller

“A vital chapter in downtown history . . . a study long overdue.”—Village Voice

The New York loft jazz scene of the 1970s was a pivotal period for uncompromising, artist-produced work. Faced with a flagging jazz economy, a group of young avant-garde improvisers chose to eschew the commercial sphere and develop alternative venues in the abandoned factories and warehouses of Lower Manhattan. Loft Jazz provides the first book-length study of this period, tracing its history amid a series of overlapping discourses surrounding collectivism, urban renewal, experimentalist aesthetics, underground archives, and the radical politics of self-determination. Learn more about the movement and the book in this Village Voice article.

Drawing the Line: The Early Work of Agnes Martin by Christina Bryan Rosenberger

If your interest was piqued by the recent Agnes Martin exhibition at the Guggenheim, then this revelatory study of the artist’s early works is just what you need. Beginning with Martin’s initiation into artistic language at the University of New Mexico and concluding with the reception of her grid paintings in New York in the early 1960s, author Christina Bryan Rosenberger offers vivid descriptions of the networks of art, artists, and information that moved between New Mexico and the creative centers of New York and California in the postwar period.

Consuming Stories: Kara Walker and the Imagining of American Race by Rebecca Peabody

New York-based artist Kara Walker is well known for her site-specific pieces around the city—”A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” at the former Domino Sugar compound and her mural, “Event Horizon,” at the New School, among others. In this in-depth study, Rebecca Peabody delves deep into Walker’s brilliant and provocative art and her engagement with literary genres such as the romance novel, the neo-slave narrative, and the fairy tale to how Walker uses her tools and strategies to unsettle cultural histories  and examine assumptions about race, gender, power, and desire.