"The original shark, it turns out, rotted."
January 7, 2013 11:46 PM   Subscribe

Gold, Golden, Gilded, Glittering - The Unexpected Double History Of Banking And The Art World
In fact, we have long entrusted the task of representing our ideas of value to members of two professions that might seem to have little in common: banking and art. And, in the last seven hundred years or so, it has happened more than once that visual and financial inventors have come up with strikingly similar representations. There is more than a shadow of resemblance between the purchase of the Hirst skull in 2007 and the mortgage-backed-securities debacle that made of Lehman Brothers in the following year one of the great public pictures of vanitas we’ve had. And, when you look further into these intersections, you often find that what is really at stake is a change in the way we feel and understand time.

Steven Cohen, owner of Damien Hirst's (previously) famous The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living, is under investigation for insider trading.

How Larry Gagosian Is Like Goldman Sachs: short answer, by representing both buyer and seller.

Slate: Why The Art World Is So Loathsome
posted by the man of twists and turns (20 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Saying the art world is this or that seems kind of bizarre when there's bound to be someone doing something that you like somewhere and posting about it on the internet. The art world isn't limited to things like galleries or fairs or anything with a gatekeeper, and hasn't been for a long time. That article is weirdly childish and naive, like a wide eyed hipster had an epiphany that hipsters are a bunch of hipsters and turned to denounce his scene in its own coded language because it's the only way he knows how.
posted by stavrogin at 12:22 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

The festering rot of the financial world invaded all areas of human activity which lent themselves to manipulation of value. The value of art being eminently subjective, it has been particularly hit by the shenanigans of the moneymen.
posted by Skeptic at 1:11 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

The value of art being eminently subjective, it has been particularly hit by the shenanigans of the moneymen.

And don't forget that speculating on art also provides far greater rewards than money. Buy the right art and enough of it and you can magically shed your reputation as a sleazy derivatives trader to become a great patron of culture. Instead of being a guy in the right place at the right time to make a metric boatload of money manipulating meaningless numbers, you can be the savvy collector with an eye for genius who graciously preserved entire eponymously named museum wings full of masterpieces for future generations to gawk at.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 2:16 AM on January 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

And don't forget that speculating on art also provides far greater rewards than money. Buy the right art and enough of it and you can magically shed your reputation as a sleazy derivatives trader to become a great patron of culture.
Absolutely. Art collecting is a way of laundering not only financial capital but also cultural capital. This is something Frick, Morgan, Getty, and the rest of the first gilded-age collectors knew very well.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:29 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's obvious that they are talking about the higher echelons of the art world, the sort of thing that gets traded in big-name galleries. They're not talking about the zines-and-illustration world, or the infoviz artists, or any of the other subcultures like performance that exist as high-end art.

And that's fine, really. Because we do have to talk about capitalist-controlled art markets as a different thing from for-the-love-of-it art. Sometimes they cross over, and sometimes they merge, and sometimes people get really lucky and make art that they love and get paid huge amounts of money for it. But mostly, these days, high art is made in a really weird way that doesn't relate to skill.

In the UK, I'm often told (by artsworld people) that a lot of this is due to the teaching techniques espoused by Phyllida Barlow. I think that the reduction of actual technicians in schools, along with the removal of trade classes that teach drawing skills, is probably more to do with it. It's expensive to have a trained ceramics technician, let alone the equipment that they would be responsible for.

So, at the training end of the high art process, we have schools without access to classical art techniques making art graduates. At the other end we have galleries making a profit by selling investment in the cultural capital of the artists work - something done on an industrial scale by Saatchi.
posted by The River Ivel at 2:39 AM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

I sometimes forget not everyone knows how awesome art is for hiding money and the really shady, opaque nature of the art industry in general. High gallery art business is totes besties with high finance.
posted by The Whelk at 2:56 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Buy the right art and enough of it and you can magically shed your reputation as a sleazy derivatives trader to become a great patron of culture.

Hardly a new tactic.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:20 AM on January 8, 2013

The River Ivel, I have no expertise in the high art world, but when I was at university in the UK I lived with six art students and snuck into most of their classes.

I was really stunned by the complete lack of material and technique training - some of their time was spent doing pieces, and the all of rest of it was lectures about Roland Barthes, essays about Duchamp, and so on. A certain amount of theory is healthy, but their artwork began to take a backseat to their artists' statements (that had to accompany every project).

Not surprisingly, the art department wasn't great at teaching philosophy, and since it seemed that they'd stopped teaching art, the students weren't learning much of anything except how to cover that up. The ones who had a longstanding knowledge of their favourite medium stuck to that, and the rest just faffed around with conceptual pieces and prose that'd make Socal blush. (The latter seemed to get better marks.)
posted by forgetful snow at 4:25 AM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

> Buy the right art and enough of it and you can magically shed your reputation as a sleazy derivatives trader to become a great patron of culture.

Hardly a new tactic.

You betcha.
posted by Skeptic at 4:35 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hirst, Koons and their ilk are talented showmen surrounded by workshops of craftspeople who actually know what they're doing* in the day to day creation of the work.

Problem: Hirst and Koons get to call all the shots, get all the attention, and make all the money.

Humph. It really IS like high finance, isn't it?

* I recommend Still Life, a book about Emily Mayer, Hirst's very talented taxidermist. There's also an article floating around somewhere about the metalworkers who actually made some of Koons' big floaty metal sculptures that is fascinating.

Also: hell yes, forgetful snow. My studio neighbor teaches oil painting because even in the best regional art school they've all but given up on actually showing their students how to DO the work instead of just talk about it. Shameful.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:52 AM on January 8, 2013

Art can be functional, but I have always defined it mentally as items whose purpose is not primarily functional or where the function is clearly subordinate to the presentation (i.e., a fountain.) My personal hierarchy of art, craft, industry tiers output value to the degree of artist input. (The Mona Lisa is art. A copy is craft. A print is industry. Same image.) The quality of the art is related to the degree it meets the intent of the artist, to some degree the subject selection, and the imprecise vapor of the creator's unique observation/insight. (Other factors apply, of course. Gold is more costly than tin, marble more than wood, but the material component is easy to value objectively.)

Nowhere in that list is financial gain a part. The best art may never be sold. Great, great artists die poor. Really great artists may not have the luxury of eating. Only the lucky see their work rewarded with financial gain during their lives. That luck may take the form of connections, accident, patron obsession, political factors.... but it's arguable that for every Picasso, there is someone equally as good starving to death within 100 miles. maybe better.

Tom Wolfe's 1975 book, The Painted Word talks about the way the 'next big thing' is selected by a small cadre of art folks, worldwide. Might be a little different these days because of the internet, but the concepts seem to ring true.

I number among my friends several world class artists. Not one is rich. Money has little to do with their work, other than being a constant irritant.

Oscar Wilde said: "When bankers gather, they talk about art. When artists gather, they talk about money." Seems this problem has been around a while.
posted by FauxScot at 6:02 AM on January 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

I do wonder what the knock effect of the insider trading arrests will have on the art market. Ganek (who went down as part of the Galleon case) was also a big collector of "famous" contemporary artists.

Eh. I'm not capable of feeling enough schadenfreude to do justice to my feelings on seeing the collapse of the insider trading HF guys or the celebrity artist crowd fading away.
posted by JPD at 6:09 AM on January 8, 2013

A Family’s Billions, Artfully Sheltered
The charitable deductions generated by Mr. Lauder — whose donations have aided causes as varied as hospitals and efforts to rebuild Jewish identity in Eastern Europe — are just one facet of a sophisticated tax strategy used to preserve a fortune that Forbes magazine says makes him the world’s 362nd wealthiest person. From offshore havens to a tax-sheltering stock deal so audacious that Congress later enacted a law forbidding the tactic, Mr. Lauder has for decades aggressively taken advantage of tax breaks that are useful only for the most affluent
Art becomes a serious business for banks

Can’t Afford a Picasso? How About a Piece of One? via Art Meets Law blog.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:28 AM on January 8, 2013

Simon Doonnan, i mean, come on. his criticism of anything to do with money really is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 6:57 AM on January 8, 2013

Thanks for a very rich read; this article yokes together all kinds of interesting tangents. (Classic instance of what's being said elsewhere: I come here to read what I don't yet know I want to read.)
posted by progosk at 9:57 AM on January 8, 2013

I’ve come to think that, even a continent away, and at the distance of seven hundred years, it is possible to see the first slight tremblings of the Lehman Brothers crash in this tiny painting of a mother and her child.
Darn. I hate it when people see things in the art that I don't. Wouldn't it be great to visit an art gallery and viewing a painting suddenly know the precise day GoldmanSachs gets their comeuppance?
posted by surplus at 3:31 PM on January 8, 2013

Excellent article and great scaffolding links. Thanks for a night of good reading!
posted by rmless at 9:50 PM on January 8, 2013

More on Cohen: Edge and the Art Collector
The Art Collector, Steven Cohen, is in the news a lot lately. Prosecutors have accused seven former employees of his firm, SAC Capital, of insider trading. Three have pled guilty. Six others have been accused of insider trading while at other firms. The Times reports that more subpoenas are out. For a lot of people, this is all quite fun. Wall Street’s schadenfreude is as limitless as its greed.

The Art Collector is also in the news because the art world misses him. With $8.8 billion, he is the 106th richest person in the world, according to Forbes. He has to share this distinction with the chairman of Samsung, a guy who has made a surprisingly large amount of money in satellite dishes, and Rupert Murdoch. And while I don’t know about the tastes in consumption of Murdoch or the satellite guy, it is unlikely that 8 percent of their fortune is in art.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:00 PM on January 17, 2013

There was also a good article on him today in Businessweek.

"On the Trail of SAC Capital's Steve Cohen"

I sorta want to do a big post on him, but I'm waiting for an indictment or something.
posted by JPD at 4:41 PM on January 17, 2013

The Trials of Art Superdealer Larry Gagosian
Gagosian and the Mugrabis weren’t so much looking for a bargain as they were intent on protecting the value of the other Warhols they own. The Mugrabis, Colombian Jews by way of Trump Tower—where the family patriarch, Jose, and his wife raised the boys—possess more than 800 Warhol artworks (in addition to at least 100 works each by Damien Hirst and Jean-Michel Basquiat and numerous large pieces by Jeff Koons and Richard Prince). They didn’t want to see anything “bought in” by the auction house—which is what occurs when bidding doesn’t reach the reserve price the auction house had privately set for a piece, the artwork being returned to the seller. If that happens, says Richard Polsky, a private dealer in California and the author of the books I Bought Andy Warhol and I Sold Andy Warhol—Too Soon, the public reads that “three Warhols failed to sell last night,” and it can trigger some kind of panic: “Maybe prices for Warhol begin to slowly drop, maybe there’s a sell-off.” The effect on the Mugrabis’ or Gagosian’s collection would be like what happens to a hedge fund with a composition overweighted to a given commodity when that commodity’s price goes into a sudden free fall.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:16 AM on January 23, 2013

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