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4 May 2012

“strictly necessary for their own consumption”: some deep thoughts on art & money

So this happened. In a spiritual sense it was a very unimportant thing. From the point of view of things with meaning, it had little. But often such things are what makes the world go round.

So, also: There’s a big art fair in New York this weekend. Here are some coherent thoughts about it. Sadly, for those of you who are into clarity, by way of contrast I’m just gonna quote some young Marxist who quotes the original Marxist, all of which is framed within the younger Marxist’s 2010 Artforum review of a book (in translation) by a lady of Germanic origin who I had not previously heard of, but who was apparently photographed once by Thomas Ruff once.

I like Thomas Ruff.

*deep breath*

Anyway, if you haven’t given up on this BLOG already you may enjoy the rest of the post but, yeah, it’s pretty meta.

Brand Identity: On Isabelle Graw’s High Price: Art Between the Market and Celebrity Culture trans. by Nicolas Grindell (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2009)
by Julian Stallabrass
(Artforum, Summer 2010)

…The art market, she argues, has become modernized — meaning rationalized and globalized, franchised and branded. Old loyalties have eroded on both sides, as successful artists defect to more prominent galleries while the economic protection once offered by the gallery has almost vanished., Just as Warhol’s obsession with fashion and celebrity chasing damanged his reputation in days past but now seems standard behavior, Larry Gagosian, whose aggressive business practices were formerly the subject of disdain, is now “universally respected and admired.”

In an extraordinary passage from the Grundrisse, Marx points to a model of work set against the extraction of surplus value:

“The Times of November 1857 contains an utterly delightful cry of outrage on the par tof a West Indian plantation owner. The advocate analyses with great moral indignation — as a plea for the re-introduction of Negro slavery — how the Quashees (the free blacks of Jamaica) content themselves with producing only what is strictly necessary for their own consumption, and, alongside this “use value,” regard loafing (indulgence and idleness) as the real luxury good; how they do not care a damn for the sugar and the fixed capital invested in the plantations, but rather observe the planters’ impending bankruptcy with an ironic grin of malicious pleasure…”

An ironic grin may also greet the realization that what Marx is describing is also an ideal model of the artist’s labor, which should be free, self-fulfilling, and self-determined, a glimpse of the utopia that awaits all mankind after the final synthesis. Graw revealingly describes the demands made on artists by dealers (for example, to more regularly produce new work for art fairs), for which surplus in the Marixst sense may be an apposite term after all.

If you found that boring, well, here’s a picture of Macaulay Culkin.

So what’s the point of all this? Well, art is hard, money is complicated, celebrity is real & sometimes I suspect it’s more useful getting used to it and using all of it rather than putting up a fuss. I mean, get a load of this guy!

I will end with a story: A few years ago I went to a screening of an Alec Soth documentary at the New School. (I like him for reasons besides the obvious.) Right there next to me I saw what looked like Macaulay Culkin sitting next to Natalie Portman. And here’s the thing: it was Macaulay Culkin sitting next to Natalie Portman.

Was that a story or an anecdote. Not sure. But, sorry, that’s all I got.

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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