Larry Gagosian Is Killing Art
This past Friday I read “The Gagosian Effect” in the Wall St Journal and was so bothered by its content that I was compelled to write these comments. The article illustrates some of the most troubling aspects of what these people call “art collecting.” And since COMPANY exists to guide and inform collectors, I hope the following thoughts prove useful. I am still not sure whether the author, Kelly Crow, was presenting a flattering image, an unflattering one, or just being objective and letting the chips fall where they may. Despite the fact that Ms. Crow writes for the Murdoch Journal, I will give her the benefit of the doubt and consider her POV as objective.
So why relabel the Larry Gagosian Effect an "Art Bubble”? Ms. Crow says of Gagosian, “With an unrelenting focus on selling [he] has become the most powerful art dealer in the world.” As Ms. Crow describes, it seems that all of Gagosian’s (and plenty others like him i.e. Mugrabis) energy is devoted to convincing those less knowledgeable, more insecure, or just plain intellectually lazy about art, to associate their own self worth with the ridiculously inflated value Gagosian arbitrarily has given an object titled “art.” Most economists and financiers would call this the basic underpinnings of a bubble.
As Ms. Crow points out, Gagosian doesn’t discover anyone; he poaches the artists after their worth has been independently established by a museum show or an auction. Where’s the passion? The scholarship? Art, whether collecting it, making it, or representing it, should always be about a passionate vision. Love for an artist’s work and the idea that gave birth to it should drive collectors and art dealers alike to support that artist’s vision and to see the extent of their talents realized. Now before you call me hopelessly naive, I'm only recounting the methods of the most successful art dealers & curators of the past who historically were the most ardent lovers of the work such as Leo Castelli, Pat Hearn and Henry Geldzahler who supported their artists from anonymity to stardom and sometimes back to invisibility. Do you think the first question they thought of when considering artists was, “How much can we increase their next price?” Definitely not.
It’s not just the idea of price über alles that is so disconcerting. It is how Gagosian corrupts even the most established artists with greed, changing their work to suit his money-first machine. For example, Ms. Crow insightfully details a recent story about the sculptor John Chamberlain. Now Mr. Chamberlain, whom I previously admired, is extremely close to being considered a blue-chip artist. His new works routinely sell for between $1 million - $4.5 million and have done so for decades through the establishment Pace Gallery. But funny thing, even Pace declined to buy Chamberlain’s new pieces. Why? They weren’t created by Chamberlain but instead by a Belgian fabricator on his instructions. I realize Chamberlain is 83, but if he cannot sculpt the metal works he is famous for then maybe its time to channel his formidable creative powers into something less strenuous like watercolors. To make assembly line art and then call them original sculptures for sale is disingenuous at best. Kudos to Pace for recognizing the falsehood.
Here’s where the Chamberlain story gets interesting: Gagosian gets wind and swoops in and buys the entire lot of Chamberlain-esque widgets. He then ratchets the value (in his mind at least) to $20 million! Guess who represents Chamberlain now? Unfortunately, there are enough saps in Gagosian’s database primed from years of ego stroking that these Belgian Chamberlains will sell.
Another well-known example of Gagosian’s corrosive influence on current work is the way he encourages his artists to create BIG works. What if a painter in his stable, like Richard Phillips, wanted to paint a tight little trompe l’oeil? Nope, sorry. We’re sellin’ em by the square foot so it gots to be BIG. This reminds me of a shudder moment I once had at an art fair when I heard a gallery owner on her cell phone with an artist saying, “The pink’s not selling. No more pink!” as if the artist was making sweaters.
A few words to appeal to those left hemisphere, finance types. If you can’t afford the prices Gagosian inflates for his artists I say, don’t worry. Soon you’ll be able to because the man is 65 and soon he’ll stop propping up most of his artists’ prices with scads of $$ spent on hype, PR, celebnotizing (hypnotizing celebrities into paying absurd prices to make them think they are art world mavens), and plain-old shill bidding at major auctions to maintain a price floor. As soon as all this music stops, many, many conned collectors will be scrambling for an empty chair trying to sell previously purchased pieces at bubble prices. So just wait.
Last but not least, a few words about Jeff Koons….are you serious? C’mon, a giant anodized Balloon Dog made by welders somewhere in Sacramento? When the hell does giant, mass-produced (and by that I mean more than one) spectacle become beautiful art, by real artists? Never that’s when. But if art achieves its purpose by reflecting the times in which the artist lived, then Koons’ freaking Balloon Dog is perfect because the last few years have been one giant con perpetrated by greedy, tasteless men on stupid people desperate to be included in anything.
Enjoy the following link to free us from assembly line art:
Blast a Hole Through a Balloon Dog in Artist Hunter Jonakin’s 'Jeff Koons Must Die'