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The Lies of Artists
September 17, 2013 12:47 PM   Subscribe

"She mentioned the East Coast dealer by name and said, 'He's—is he my dealer?'" In The Lies of the Artists, art writer Jen Graves explores the lies artists tell to sell their work.
posted by chrchr (28 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I knew an activist avant-garde artist with a postdoc position at an elite US university once (I think he's a tenured prof somewhere now). He did a video art installation with purportedly real documentary interviews of immigrants and refugees/asylum seekers who told "true stories" about themselves being given harsh treatment by US authorities. I know for sure that at least some of the videoed stories/"characters" were totally made up by the artist.
posted by Bwithh at 1:13 PM on September 17, 2013


Every time I read an article about the Serious Art World, it seems like the art itself is just an elaborate MacGuffin to drive an elaborate popularity contest. The artists, critics, and collectors often don't even seem to like art.
posted by echo target at 1:14 PM on September 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


There are plenty of artists out there who don't lie to get publicity, and plenty who would sell better if they were better con artists. That's nothing new, nothing interesting, and nothing worth getting a spotlight for.

One Queens Painter Created Forgeries That Sold for Millions
For 15 years, some of the art world’s most established dealers and experts rhapsodized about dozens of newly discovered masterworks by titans of Modernism. Elite buyers paid up to $17 million to own just one of these canvases, said to have been created by the hands of artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell. But federal prosecutors say that most, if not all, of the 63 ballyhooed works — which fetched more than $80 million in sales — were painted in a home and garage in Queens by one unusually talented but unknown artist who was paid only a few thousand dollars apiece for his handiworks.
The former street painter is not being charged, as he only netted thousands per painting, compared to the tens of millions made by Glafira Rosales, the dealer who sold the fakes through a reputable gallery.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:23 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


This really seems to highlight how increasingly we're all about marketing these days, and coming up with a perfect image for presentation. But maybe the difference is less that people are expected to do this, and more that the cracks in he façade are so much easier to see now, in a world where our names cover so much ground and can be so easily searched and referenced. As she indicates in the article, rather obvious inaccuracies have been written about artists in the past, and there's no reason to assume the tendency to present a smooth persona is limited to them.

Looking at the various forms of social media, of what people talk about in public and what we keep to ourselves - there's a lot of room for thought around that. We're in an age where people have been fired for tweets, and I think that raises the stakes a lot, too.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:25 PM on September 17, 2013


I pretty much hate narratives around artists, which is one of the reasons I stopped wanting to be a music journalist. I loved the music, but musicians are often pretty inarticulate about it, and I couldn't stand all the fucking articles that list what a musician is wearing before mentioning a single song (see: Everything written about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs).
posted by klangklangston at 1:27 PM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


(I'll also mention that this is a bigger problem for people who want to buy art to be part of the art world — if you're just looking for good art, there's probably even too much these days, especially photography. You can find great pieces for sale through Tumblr, fer chrissakes.)
posted by klangklangston at 1:28 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I defy anyone to write three sentences about the YYYs that I would feel fuller rather than emptier after reading.
posted by Teakettle at 1:28 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's really so very simple. Buy or enjoy the art that speaks to you. That's it. Nothing more. If part of the enjoyment - or worse, all of it - comes from who the artist is, that's where trouble begins.

Art is one thing, but the selling of it, the marketing, critical acclaim and so forth, it's all a game. The idea people have is that it's a bunch of rich art-agnostic collectors who are being fleeced by gimlet-eyed gallery sharks. "How shallow of collectors who demand to know the fame of the artist and use that for validation and know nothing about the art itself, and how cynical are the dealers, the critics and the art world". But it's often not like that at all. The collectors know exactly what's going on. It's a rational play - up to a point. You may know 100% that that tulip bulb is in practical terms worth less than an onion you can eat, and you don't give two fucks about flowers or know a thing about them, and know how insane it is to bid seven bazillions for one bulb, but you are doing it because you believe you'll sell it for nine bazillion, or because you know that having that bulb displayed in your living room will bring you success in your work "look, he's a successful doctor, lawyers, accountant, banker, trader, industrialist - I'll hire him!". They know. Everybody knows. Everybody. That's how the whole phenomenon works in a case like Damien Hirst. Nobody gives a shit about a shark or a diamond or some rubbish from a breakfast table - it may as well be rubbish, and, you guessed it, it sometimes literally is, just to prove a point, Duchamp-style.

I was friends with and hung around many painters back in the 80's during the art boom times, and I worked at galleries during the art-bust times of the 90's. Many of the artists were not very good writers, so often we sat together and I have helped write artist "bios" and descriptions of the "meaning" of some piece or another, and we had a lot of laughs. I wouldn't put a plugged nickel's worth of trust in any artist bio young or old. It's marketing, and it's marketing, and of course, in the end, it's marketing. As the article points out, these kinds of marketing shenanigans, inventions from whole cloth, stories, myths and hot air, well, is as old as art itself - probably going back to cave drawings. Someone is always selling, selling, selling. But the art, that's what you live with, and that's all that matters - it does something for you, or it doesn't, never mind anything else.
posted by VikingSword at 1:30 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have had art I really liked kind of ruined by the artist's statement, more than once.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 1:31 PM on September 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


To be fair, Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs can really dress.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 1:34 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I pretty much hate narratives around artists, which is one of the reasons I stopped wanting to be a music journalist.

"Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read." -Frank Zappa, 1978
posted by Rangeboy at 1:35 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have had art I really liked kind of ruined by the artist's statement, more than once.

Never understood the role an artist's statement is supposed to play. If it's more clearly articulated in the statement, then what's the point of the art?
posted by fatbird at 1:53 PM on September 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


Money speaks to me. Intimidating people in my circle speaks to me. Being on trend speaks to me.
posted by Teakettle at 1:59 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder how long it is until the "horse farm artist" who plays a fake guitar in a band is unmasked? Those details seem too specific that people wouldn't know.
posted by cell divide at 2:43 PM on September 17, 2013


I wonder how long it is until the "horse farm artist" who plays a fake guitar in a band is unmasked?

At least one of the article's comments already claims to have recognized her based on the MP3-guitar description at the end, though they don't share the name. It's kind of ironic that not giving the artist's name makes it work exactly like the kind of insider name-recognition test that the whole article's point is to lambast (and so beautifully does it lambast it!), but I guess it can't really be helped and it's certainly a punchy case study for the broader point.
posted by RogerB at 3:15 PM on September 17, 2013


If it's more clearly articulated in the statement, then what's the point of the art?

Because sometimes context adds something. You can look at a sculpture of Claudel by Rodin and appreciate it as a well done piece of art, but might not knowing that they were or had been lovers, mentor and protege, mutual muses and models, and that she eventually went mad add something? Artist statements _can_ add that. They can also provide insight into the process used to create the piece or point out details that might easily escape attention.
posted by Candleman at 3:32 PM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I kind of read this upside down. Jen Graves calls for artists to have more freedom to have an identity separate from their art. It seems like HFA (Horse Farm Artist) has taken to its logical conclusion, where the artist has designed an identity to go with her art, which she will change as needed. It is Graves who insists that HFA must present a consistent identity, and we see HFA bristle at this notion. I think HFA's fake outsider art persona is genius.
posted by chrchr at 4:02 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


If it's more clearly articulated in the statement, then what's the point of the art?

By that token, if the 63 faked pieces by the unknown Queens artist linked above were actually good original work, what does it matter who painted them?
posted by Hoopo at 4:25 PM on September 17, 2013


Because sometimes context adds something

That is absolutely true, but the art world got severely damaged in the late 80's/early 90's when the running theory became that the context was more important than the art. I was coming out of art school then and spent a good three years trying to figure out where I belonged in that. The answer was 'out of it'.

I think it's just slowly starting to recover now. And, of course, no matter the prevailing consensus, there will be fantastic artists making work. And a few of them will be rewarded for it.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:30 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


By that tokent, if the 63 faked pieces by the unknown Queens artist linked above were actually good original work, what does it matter who painted them?

With the exception of "my child could have painted that!" this is the stupidest statement in the art world. And also the subject of a movie I really love, "The Moderns" starring Keith Carradine, Linda Fiorentino, Wallace Shawn, and Genevieve Bujold.

Random metaphorical anecdote: I went to see this movie during its first run in 1988, at the Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills. During the movie, I was distracted by a sharp pain on my lower leg. When I got home, I discovered a huge bloodsucking tick stuck on my leg.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:49 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


By that token, if the 63 faked pieces by the unknown Queens artist...

I don't understand how this relates to what I wrote. My point was that an artist's statement is a bland distillation of what the art is more artistically (and, in theory, more effectively) providing to the viewers. If the 63 faked pieces are good enough to be fraudulently sold as originals by a more prominent artist, then they actually are effective works of art in themselves.
posted by fatbird at 5:19 PM on September 17, 2013


I only really like fake art.
posted by aubilenon at 5:38 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


this is the stupidest statement in the art world.

If the 63 faked pieces are good enough to be fraudulently sold as originals by a more prominent artist, then they actually are effective works of art in themselves.

I feel like I have been taken in 2 completely different ways here.
posted by Hoopo at 5:57 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


See, because some lies are ok to tell and some aren't. Knowing which is which becomes very revealing. The wrong kind of lie will screw the deal
Because its business, selling art, so as long as you don't screw with the business, the making of money, by being a flake - anything goes. But if you don't come across as reliable - "why lie about that?" - then there's problems. Unpredictability is to be minimized as much as possible: you wanna live like it's 1880? Knock yourself out, but have an office with a copy-machine and a telephone and an assistant who went to Barnard/Sarah Lawrence. And make good, consistent art - on schedule and be open to criticism.

Changing 'styles' screws with an artists 'brand' - hence her detour by Picabia. Changing once is likely ok, cf Guston, say, maybe even more often if the work is principally conceptual - but more than that and things get flaky.

Lastly, if you want to get work into the permanent collection of Moma you can send them a work on paper - or is it an artist book? And there's your résumé box checked off.

And after all of these shenanigans, you're left with the thing itself, and if it simply looks dumb, well people will care less about what you make next.

Kind of like life, whatever else you do: don't be a dick.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:14 AM on September 18, 2013


Metafilter: I feel like I have been taken in 2 completely different ways here.
posted by riverlife at 1:17 AM on September 18, 2013


A work of visual art is what you see. If a piece is interesting to you because rumor has it that the model and the artist were lovers, there has been a failure somewhere. Looking should be enough. (Unless what you're after is gossip, not art.)
posted by pracowity at 3:46 AM on September 18, 2013


I get the appeal of it, but I've been coming to see the hardline "it is only about the art not the artist" as kind of an untenable engineering student philosophy.

( Not exclusive to engineering students, or representative of all engineering students, but it's the best term I could think of at the moment. Basically it means, "if we ignore all the nuance of the situation, the answer is obvious." My second choice analogy was libertarianism.)

Like if I'm looking at Guernica can I note that it was painted by a Spaniard living in Paris during the Spanish Civil War?

Art normally comes from an artist, it didn't just wash up on shore somewhere, and people are naturally curious about why the artist did what they did and come up with these narratives about it. And there are certainly cases where it goes too far and the stories about the artist overshadow the art, but I don't think I can really pretend I'm going to go, "Beep boop beep, I am unmoved by all this irrelevant data, I am only evaluating the art itself."
posted by RobotHero at 12:31 PM on September 19, 2013


I am so lost right now. For the record, it was a rhetorical question I asked upthread, which I thought was pretty clear. But no, I don't think it's anything like the "stupidest statement in the art world", and in fact it is a concept no small number of renowned artists have explored and toyed with over the years, at times to great effect.
posted by Hoopo at 9:22 PM on September 20, 2013


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