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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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12 February 2010

The world-wide visual culture industry


from Calvin Tomkins Lives of the Artists:

And what are my thoughts exactly? Read more »

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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21 May 2008

Damien Hirst, Tom Waits, the Beatles, and the birth of the ubiquitous contemporary persona. PLUS, some cool shit I saw while I was in London and some thoughts on the Amerindie aesthetic vs. the Anglophile aesthetic.

Last week I was in London — sighting Bjork at a crowded Battles/Dirty Projectors/Fuck Buttons gig at the Astoria

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…getting my first introduction to Union Chapel in the Islington section of town, one of the loveliest venues I ever have seen…

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…and, finally, checking out Explosions in the Sky’s ATP in Minehead, on England’s West Coast. There, Animal Collective were my overwhelming favorite with their loud as fuck, beat-heavy, ecstatic set. I heard a rumor while over there that their upcoming record — slated for January 2009 — was done in collaboration with a notable hip-hop producer. If the ATP concert’s take on the Animal Collective sound indicates what direction they’re going in, well, start getting excited now.

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(All above images via Flickr.)

Anyway, it was a fun fucking weekend, and — despite the fact that I saw mostly American bands — a kind of topper to my increasing fascination with all things having to do with British music, a fascination that’s been very evident in my contributions to this here blog — be it in pieces about the iconic crusty punk band Crass, top-dog graphic designer Peter Saville, or a possibly-destined-for-obscurity new group such as These New Puritans.

This UK kick that I’m on is a huge about face for me. When I was growing up I was a complete anti-Anglophile, obsessed with the Amerindie scene as defined by labels such as SST, Dischord, K, and Touch & Go. The music I loved was amateurish, working class, and unsophisticated. That’s what I liked about it. Those aforementioned record labels offered a portrait of Americans trying our best to make art in a country quite inhospitable to expression. By comparison, British music always sounded like it was made by people that had gone to art colleges, grew up posh, and were overly cognizant of the history of English literature. To sum up the difference, I think British music seemed like it was overly beholden to the past, to history, to the bank of past knowledge; American music sounded free, and like it had its eyes on the future. When I was younger, I loved the ahistorical qualities of Amerindie; now that I’m older, I’ve begun to understand the merits of music that has an awareness of a larger cultural sphere…

080521_teenagekicks_hirstonwaits.jpgAnyway, even my digressions are starting to digress. What I’d like to present to you right here is a quote that shows not all British people are beholden to the past. I especially like how it wraps up in a bow my increasingly UK-friendly orientation (Damien Hirst) with a quotation from a prototypical American original, one who is currently experiencing a burst of activity (Tom Waits). I like it even more because it then pulls in references to an evergreen UK pop group (The Beatles) and concludes with some vast overarching statements about the nature of life today (which appeals to pretentious assholes like yours truly).

The quote is from On the Way to Work, a 2002 book which presents Hirst’s artistic autobiography by way of a series of interviews with novelist Gordon Burn.

Here we go:

Gordon Burn: When I read this quote from Tom Waits I thought of you: “Most of us expect artists to do irresponsible things, to be out of control. Somehow we believe that if you’re way down there, you’re going to bring something back up for us, and we won’t have to make the trip. This is part of the tradition with artists; the problem with that is that you will have people who will write you a ticket to go to hell. Go to hell with gasoline drawers on and bring me back some chicken chow mein while you’re at it.”

Damien Hirst: Love it.

Gordon Burn: Then he says this: “The fact is that everybody who starts doing this to a certain extent develops some kind of a persona or image in order to survive. Otherwise it’s very dangerous to go out there. It’s much safer to approach this with some kid of persona or image in order to survive. Because if it’s not a ventriloquist act, if it’s just you, then it’s really scary.”

Damien Hirst: I was born with a persona. Tom Waits can say that because he’s older. I’m of a generation where a persona goes without saying. It’s just in your toolbag when you’re born. It’s just part of my make-up. I’ve never questioned it. It’s like everybody I know. You get it in your kitbag.

I’m a chameleon. That’s my joy. I lie and change my mind and make things up. I’m a snake; I’m an eel; I’m a chameleon. And that’s not slippery. It’s truthful, to change like that.

In that area, the best thing that’s ever come out of Britain, or anywhere, is the Beatles. It’s a massive lesson for everyone. It’s the most inspiring thing. To watch them publicly grow up in a very real arena of publicity and fame and success and everything… To see them publicly, before everybody, go through that… I was born in those years. That’s what I do.

Gordon Burn: You were too young to witness it in real time. You were only born in 1965.

Damien Hirst: Fuck real time. This is even better. It’s not like being there, ’cause you can’t see it when you’re there. I was right at the perfect point, in between that and punk, to be able to look at it from the distance you need. If you say to me, “What kind of music do you like?, I go, “The Beatles.” Full stop. But if you ask the people who were there, they go, “Well, the Beatles just did ballads, and they did country ‘n’ western, and they took rock ‘n’ roll and they took black music and r&b…”

They took every fucking kind of music. They took everything they wanted. They took the lot. They just took the lot. To me, that’s the Beatles. They’re not country ‘n’ western. They’re not r&b. They’re the Beatles. They just went and got everything they wanted and they’re pure to themselves and they did it.

After the jump, Damien Hirst starts to digress in a way awesomer fashion than I ever do.

While you were there, you were going, “Do I like the Stones? Do I like the Beatles?” There’s no contest for me. The Stones are just nowhere. They’re absolutely fucking nowhere. [Crosses to the window.] Oh, look at that little black bunny. Little cute black fucking bunny. Can you see it? There’s a baby one an’ all…

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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