Last Sunday I read Dave Hickey’s cutting essay, Quality, in the February issue of Art in America and I’ve been thinking about it for a few days now. In three days my mind has been churning and I have at least a half dozen different essay topics that I’ll never get to writing, though maybe I can milk it for a few posts. Anyway, in the essay, Hickey tackles the issue of art as luxury product, i.e. art as laundry detergent for ponzied money or perfume to cover the smell of a stinky assholes, and the resulting inability of critics, galleryists, collectors, and artists to recognize/articulate quality in art and the result this has on the market valuation of pieces of art. Opening with a few slaps in the face, he has this to say,
During art’s tenure as a luxury product, some small problems arose, however. First, there was the vestigial infrastructure of art enthusiasts who believed that some works of art are better than others–who imagined that art has cultural and intellectual value that transcends its luxury status. These ex-arbiters of quality haven’t arbitrated for a very long time, of course, but we are only now facing the cold consequences of their acquiescence. This infrastructure once compensated for art’s single deficit as a luxury product: the fact that, unlike precious stones and rare metals, works of art have no intrinsic value. All their value is extrinsic. It is invested from without and over a period of time. The noisy, ongoing quarrel about “quality” that raged between collectors, critics, journalists, activists, publishers, dealers, curators and scholars once generated a fairly stable consensus of relative value among players on the field. The economic function of this defunct colloquy was to sustain objects in public notice during moments of short money or falls from fashion.
An interesting observation, though I would point out that the problem of intrinsic value vs. extrinsic value as framed here in terms of economics is not unique to art. With the exception of coins whose intrinsic value is based on the precious metals used to fashion the coins, all products, luxury or otherwise, have no intrinsic value. Their value is determined by the buyer’s perception and the price they are willing to pay. Blah blah blah.
It seems what we have here is a classic bubble or scam, not in the sense of anything illegal, though I’m sure there was lots of that going on too, but that a bunch of people were convinced to overpay for something. Yeah artists! If they were lucky enough to get a nice piece. Boo greedy gallerists if you didn’t give the artists a fair cut! Now the bubble has burst and we have a crisis of confidence where people realized that they overpaid and nobody knows what to do about it. But hey this is just another piece of W’s legacy!
But this is old news and not so interesting to me. I’m more interested in what he has to say about QUALITY, because if you spend any time around artists, especially in NYC, there is one thing you’re bound to here and that is Chelsea is full of BAD art, with the exception of theirs and their friends of course. And this is what he has to say on this front, which I’m sure could spark a good discussion, or a few more posts at least,
…apply this formula: quality is quantity. The quality of an art object is directly proportional to the quantity of something tat it gives to someone who belongs to some constituency of interest. Critics, scholars, collectors, dealers, curators and decorators expect different things in different measures. The works of art that deliver the most stuff to the most people and serve the most complex constituencies for the longest time are the very best ones. Period.
Now THAT’S a good provokative statement and worth some argument, especially among artists, unless of course we’re all commited post-structuralists!Tags: post-structuralism, dave hickey, art in america, art market, quality
February 11, 2009 No Comments