Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Picasso & Giacometti - art is dead, again...

So. If you want to buy a Picasso and a Giacometti, it'll set you back over £200,000,000. £200 million pounds!! Really?!  REALLY???

Women of Algiers. Pablo Picasso, 1954
At the height of these new found extremes, it is very tempting to declare art dead, once and for all. But why?  People have been saying that for decades, centuries even. But this time, it's not the art that's the problem, it's what it's been turned into. By paying such huge sums, the value of the art has, conversely, been reduced to almost nothing.  Sure, people can study them, from pictures in a book, from postcards and posters, even in exhibtions if they ever see the public light of day again, where you will have the chance to jostle with those other poor bastards who have paid their weekly wage to enter an exhibition cramned so full of others that to see the painting itself becomes impossible, and of course, the exhibition will be hailed a great success because of the money brought in by the hype created around the quantity of cash paid for them. But the reality is more likely to be that they are hidden away, in some palace somewhere, maybe somewhere in the UAE, or perhaps an oligarchs fiefdom in esatern Europe - no one knows, or is ever likely to; its happened before, and will happen again.

These works of art have now been transformed into nothing more than commodities.  The value of their art is forgotten, is irrelevent, is beside the point; their monetary worth is now all that counts. What was once nothing more than a couple of hundred pounds worth of oil paint, canvas and wood, has been supersized; what was once a few hundred pounds woth of cast bronze, someone on an average wage in the UK would have to work for 342 years to buy.

These works come from a golden age of western art, a golden age far superior to that of the renaissance. They came out of a time where the notion of art being a literal description of the world had been pushed aside, favouring instead an interpretive idea that it is the artist's perception of the world that was important. This saw so many wonderful things happen, new ideas, new formats, new ways to see, but its very birth engendered its death, exemplified by Marcel Duchamp.

Man Pointing. Alberto Giacometti, 1947
Forget, for a moment, all the hyperbole you have been taught to know about Duchamp. Look at him. He was a man who painted, and became disatisfied with his work as his intellect took over his heart. Soon after fine art took that magnificent break away from depicting a literal reality, Duchamp came to the conclusion (and he was not the first to do so), that art had been subjugated by its value - ie it's monetary value came to supercede its artistic value. This is nothing new. But being who he was, something of a nihilist (an attitude I have some sympathy for), he used his intellectual prowess to destroy the notion of art once and for all with his work Fountain: a urinal, placed on its back, and signed with the made up name R. Mutt. Art meant nothing any more, only the perception of art mattered. But this had in fact always been the case. Most people don't care very much about art, what it can do for you, how it can help you discover more about the world, about your own perceptions of it, and more importantly, how others percieve it, in order to broaden your outlook of the world and people around you, to understand and build better relationships, better societies, better lives for all of us. But that notion has long since been buried beneath the self, the me me me: the value is only what is valuable to me and fuck anyone else. We live in a very selfish world where everything is reduce to monetary value, and nothing is maintained that cannot prove its worth on the economists balance sheet.

Art has gone through many stages: used to gratify your chosen deity, seen as no more that something you 'like', similarly decalred to be only worthy of its title if it 'challenges' you - being something you positively don't like, and now it is simply that which can command the greatest quantity of cash. There is no such thing as art anymore, or perhaps there never was. Maybe art was always a fools paradise, where those with feelings they were only able to express through the creation of objects could justify their painful existence through their physical accomplishments, and those around them accepted their efforts in order to rationalise their continued presence in the society they all lived in together as it gave them some succour to know that perhaps there was something 'other' in the world of humans that was not monopolised by the faith merchants. It was something real, concrete, created by a person they could identify, for real. But regardles of those romantic ideals the goal is now money. The living excamplar of this, Damien Hurst, has done exactly that. Turning his pseudo art into cash as if Midas touching gold, except when he actually tried to paint something and came up with appalling teenage 'i want to be Francis Bacon' painitngs which no one would miss if they were never seen again.

So where are we now? Of course, the Picasso and Gacometti are not 'worth' over £200 million pounds. Their monetary value is an aberation. But since they are unlikely ever to be seen again, their artistic value is as if a negative of the price paid. You will gain nothing from them any more since you will never see them. And even if you did, the security and hype surrounding their presence will destroy any notion of the art they contain, as you are herded, like cattle to the slaughter, to worship the price paid for canvas, paint, and a lump of metal.

There are still people that believe in art, but i have no faith in my societies perception of what art is, and these sales only strengthen my disbelief. Art should be seen, or else it is worthless. So perhaps I should thank my lucky stars that my art, my paintings, do not, and never will sell for nearly a milleniums worth of paid work.

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