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One of the notions that Abbing explores is the idea of “gift” or “gifting”. I think he’s spot on when he suggests that the art economy is a mixed economy.
By that, I mean that a certain amount of “normal” market transaction goes on (I pay for this work, you sell it to me) but in a very veiled way. the dirty business of money is seen as just that – dirty. A necessary evil. Art doesn’t sully itself with Mammon, because it’s aims, subject matter and reason for existing is supposed to be loftier than that. It is supposed to reside in the “gift-giving” sphere.
Consider this excerpt from Abbing:
“…when artists and art lovers resist money, this seldom means money in a literal sense. After all, the arts welcome large sums of money received in the forms of subsidies and donations. Therefore, money (or the world of money) represents a type of measurement in the market, and is not directly associated with donations and subsidies.
It is obvious that art is bought and sold and thus measured in monetary terms. But because art is considered sacred and because the sacred doesn’t rhyme with commerce, one would expect commerce in art – like other “evils ” in art – to be relatively unimportant.”
So to be clear, free market trade does go on in the arts, but in a veiled way, out of sight, and with the dealer’s assistant – long after the dealer has left the studio. It’s worth noting that in the big name galleries, you never see a “red dot” sticker to denote a sold work. It’s considered amatuerish and un-professional.
Gift giving is supposed to promote “…other virtues like sharing, generosity, selflessness, social justice, personal contact and respect for monetary values.” (Abbing). It extends to collectors, dealers and benefactors donating cash and works through the back-channels of the art world.
“The value system in the arts is two-faced and asymmetrical. Although in general the market is oriented towards money and profit, the arts cannot openly reveal this kind of orientation when they operate in the market. This approach would certainly harm artistic careers and therefore, long-term incomes as well. It specifically harms the profitable affiliation of the arts with the gift sphere, and is therefore punished by the art world. Thus, profit motives are not absent, they are merely veiled, and publicly the economic aspect of the arts is denied…. (the gift sphere)…emphasises selfless devotion to art and condemns the pursuit of monetary gain.
….In this respect, it is noteworthy that it is often commercial to be a-commercial. Expressing anti-market values can add to one’s success in the market. Artists, dealers, or editors who exhibits a lack of concern for money may well enhance their market value. This implies that the economic sphere and the gift sphere are related.”
I’ve simplified his argument for brevity somewhat, but having worked for a fine art removals firm (a big one – not MoMart, but the main rival), I met pretty much every big player that you could think of. Coupled with my own experience of trying to get gallerists interested in my own work, I can tell you that his assessment is pretty much spot on. In practice what actually happens is that the notion of gift-giving props up the most disfunctional set of relationships I’ve ever seen, from gallery owners playing the benevolent parent to the artists they represent, to all sorts of dubious tax-evading shenanigans, all passed over in the name of donations or gifts to the arts. Eric Berne would have had a field day. And don’t get me started on the 50% commission that a gallery dealer takes on every work sold (and no, that is not a typo, 50% is standard).
I appreciate that every industry has it’s fair share of disfunctional politics and people management, but I don’t think this is enshrined and legitimised as an internalised value to the extent that it is in the art world.
This gives the lie to the idea that the arts are somehow “liberated” – art is not an exciting alternative career that is somehow better than the drudgery of a “normal” (sic) rat-race job, it’s just different. Of course, many artists have no idea that this nonsense goes on, and the British art system singularly fails to educate its students that the gift economy exists, let alone that it’s a much abused notion. It’s mostly dismissed as irrelevant, or at least “something you can worry about when you get into the big wide world.”
However, it doesn’t end there. It kind of goes hand-in-hand with the idea that the artists is a “gifted” individual, and I’ll talk about this in the next part of the series.
in the meantime, I’d be interested to know whether anyone else has a take on this and whether it’s something that rings true, either from art professionals, or outside observers.
Designed and built one Saturday,
when I was very bored,
I made a brand new instrument
It was The Turpsichord.
Church organ-like, and very tall,
with keys and stops and throttles,
it made a sound by blowing air
through different turps-filled bottles.
It made a lovely warbling sound
that drew the sharpest breath
rendered all more poignant by
the player’s possible death.
I gathered friends to hear me play.
They coughed and choked and gagged.
I castigated one of them
who nearly lit a fag.*
And soon recitals were performed
to many gathered throngs
to hear selected medleys of
White Spiritual songs.
Performing indoor concert halls
became a thrill again
until The Turpsichord was banned
by Health & Safety men.
I suffered much for all this art.
I played when I was bladdered.
The drinking took my mind off it
this massive fire hazard.
I planned a last performance then,
a swan-song, if you will.
The weight of suffering for my art
had made me very ill.
It had to be an outdoor gig
with careful preparation
to find a way to get around
the government legislation.
And so I played it one last time
the people came from far.
I poured my soul into the songs
then lit a big cigar.
That’s how you end an arty life –
you go out with a bang.
I left the earth for worms to eat
but with a turps-ish tang.
*For the benefit of our American cousins – “fag” is English slang for cigarette. I do NOT set fire to homosexuals.
I went with some trepidation. I’d read a pre-amble in the TATE magazine, and I have to say that I find the movement back to modernism is one that I find alarming to say the least. However, there’s a big difference between an idea and a show, which in this case turned out to be just as well.
I went into the main hall at TATE Britain and was distinctly disappointed by what I saw. The work was OK, but not great. Subodh Gupta’s saucepan tower in the shape of a mushroom cloud was quite spectacular, and I always have a soft spot for Mike Nelson, but the rest of it left me pretty cold.
However, I’d missed that there was another, main part to it that you have to pay to get into. It’s not very well signposted, and there’s no little hand-held leaflet guide to tell you where you are, but with a wave of my TATE members card, I swished in for free.
I was straight away confronted by Franz Ackerman’s profusion of colour that was strangely calming despite it’s luridity. Piles of disused flags and an empty cage signaling the escape from shackles of nationhood into a bright new global modernism. Yes, I get it.
However, before long I came to see the idea of Altermodernism as a conceit of the curator – an idea to hang a show on. He’s coined a term, but will it catch on? I hope not, but in any case I found that once I’d manage to detach and forget about the idea of altermodernity from the actual works I was looking, at the show became much more enjoyable.
The first few works perversely helped me do this. Olivia Plender & Joachim Koester’s works felt more like plundering the past than a trajectory for the future. Firstly in “The Hashish Club” the hemp-heads unite to remember halcyon opium-filled days, and then the work on the Kibbo Kift Kindred completes the appropriations.
Thank goodness for some humour in the form of Charles Avery’s work (especially “Untitled (Head of an Aleph)” ” I really enjoyed his new world, almost inventing a past and describing a present that never actually happened but should have. I thought the drawings were perfectly executed, and the stellar maps drew me in too.
For the chillout enthusiasts, my old mucker Darren Almond exhibited his moonscapes, and I was quite happy to collapse on the scatter cushions in Gustav Metzger’s LCD projections – Liquid Crystals projected and altered by the heat, a bit like lava lamps. More than a nod and a wink to the abstract expressionists who, of course, we tend to associate with modernism. Very good works all.
Walead Beshty Fed-Exed a load of glass boxes around the world packed with little protection. The resulting damaged cubes are shown. Raised a smile and some thoughts about travel and handling. Very engaging – like little people with their own story to tell.
Shortly thereafter, I found myself standing in what only can be described as a room full of vibrators. Shaking the floor and humming inside my head. The possibilities for innuendo are endless, but you will not think about that at all when you stand in that room. Spine tingling – literally.
Those are the works that stood out with some brilliance for me. Like all good shows (and it IS a good show) its one that I will need to return to many times, and I may like completely different works for completely different reasons.
But I guess the biggest obstacle of the altermodern idea for me is that if you’re saying that you’ve learned from the postmodernist critique, then why would you exhibit the majority of artists from OECD countries? It’s not exactly a record of the marginalised and at worst smacks of imperialism. And I suspect the “creolisation” that Bourriaud talks of as a part of altermodernism leaves no room for the poor or marginalised.
But then, I never like feeling that I’ve been “steamrolled”.
This is a good way of transferring a photographic image onto canvas. It gives the image a strange quality as you’ll see..
I came across a good poem by e e cummings today.
I’m reading a compilation of his selected poems, and to be honest it’s been heavy going. I like the idea of reading something that is mutilayered, but in his case, it’s possible to have too many options.
As you may have surmised, I wasn’t looking forward to whiling away my journey in his company, but earlier today I read a poem that was so good, it made me feel bad for cussing him on Twitter this morning. I thought I’d share it with you:
hate blows a bubble of despair into
hugeness world system universe and bang
-fear buries a tomorrow under woe
and up comes yesterday most green and young
pleasure and pain are merely surfaces
(one itself showing,itself hiding one)
life’s only true value neither is
love makes the little thickness of the coin
comes here a man would have from madame death
neverless now and without winter spring?
she’ll spin that spirit her own fingers with
and give him nothing(if he should not sing)
how much more than enough for both of us
darling. And if i sing you are my voice,