Posts Tagged ‘art’


Watch this magnificent performance by Rebirth, a poetry ensemble of high-school-age Chicago teens, featuring Simone Allen, Semira Allen, Maya Dru, Adam Ross, Onam Lansana, and Nile Lansana. They are affiliated with the community arts program at the Logan Center.

“Money Has No Heart” was performed on 8 March 2014, during the 2014 Louder Than A Bomb teen poetry festival, organized by Young Chicago Authors. The Olympics-style poetry competition started with 120 teams from the city of Chicago and the suburbs.


[ht: cwc]


Special mention

tumblr_mwhjcsrF8E1r55d2io1_500 2013-11_cartoon


In the end, about $1.1 billion of contemporary art were purchased during the two-day sale at Christie’s and Sotheby’s.*

I argued at the time that the auctions were a perfect “illustration of conspicuous consumption and the rise of inequality in the New Gilded Age.” Well, Georgina Adam seems to agree:

Driving their prices higher and higher are a group of ultra-wealthy buyers, who are indulging in a form of gladiatorial combat to win the most glittering trophies. Owning a major Bacon, Freud, Basquiat or Koons immediately sets them apart from other billionaires, giving bragging power as no other possession can. Displaying such a prize in their penthouses, luxury yachts or private museums is the equivalent of hanging a cheque on the wall, asserting that they can afford these multi-million-dollar baubles.

The pool of these mega-wealthy buyers is growing; they come from Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and India, and have entered the fray alongside the more established American and European collector base. The market is now so global that taste has become homogenised: billionaires across the world know who are the top artists and want the same recognisable things – pushing up prices even further. Two Asian bidders, for example, went after the Bacon at Christie’s, one pushing it right up to its final price. . .

But that’s not all:

There is no doubt that investment – and speculation – is also driving this market. With stock exchanges unpredictable and interest rates pathetic, the blue-chip artists are seen as a safe place to park money. As the prices rise, so does the incentive to buy more – and bidding up works by a name already in your collection increases their value even more, which might be really useful if you want to use it as collateral for a loan one day.

Is there financial manipulation going on as well? A small group of dealers and collectors are certainly encouraging this inflation, by giving so-called guarantees on works sent for sale. Under this system, they promise to buy a work of art at a secret price, so ensuring it will sell. If it goes over their bid, then they share in the extra money generated. So the work is sold even before it hits the auction block. The system has become a fearsome weapon in the auction houses’ armoury when they are fighting for consignments: many blame it also for inflating prices. Christie’s sale this month was underpinned by no less than 22 guarantees, some given by outside investors, others by the firm itself.

So at the upper reaches of the market, buying the top names is also a pretty safe bet. Today, the world’s richest people are worth multiple billions, so putting even a sliver of their fortune into art will hardly dent their bank balances – and buying art is a sure-fire entry ticket to what has become a very exclusive, billionaires’ playground.

*Dan Colen’s “Holy Shit” was auctioned at Sotheby’s for $341,000.


It just so happens, in class this week we’re finishing up our discussion of Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class and beginning Joe Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality.

Is there a better illustration of conspicuous consumption and the rise of inequality in the New Gilded Age than what transpired at yesterday’s auction of contemporary art at Christie’s New York? Not only the record prices but also the sale room itself:

It did not seem especially hard to sell work last night, only a matter of diverting large amounts of cash. Kelly Crow of The Wall Street Journal called attention on Twitter to a new structure in the sale room for all the “discreet $$ coming in,” a sort of ground-level sky box with “one-way glass [that] looks like a duck blind.”

As for the rest of us, who are not members of the leisure class, the best we were able to do is view the Christopher Wool retrospective at the Guggenheim (which I did a couple of weeks ago) and take some “‘selfies’ and ‘Instagram images’ during the brief period in which [Jeff Koons's] Balloon Dog was installed at Christie’s before the sale” (which I didn’t).


Käthe Kollwitz, Deutschlands kinder hungern! (Germany’s children are starving!) (1924)

Michael O’Hare is forced to turn to Käthe Kollwitz in order to cope with the Dickensian decisions to cut national food-stamp benefits and, in some states, to refuse the expansion of Medicaid.

May your dreams be haunted with sick, starving children, you swine.


Lou Reed and Arthur Danto couldn’t have been more different. One used music to make us feel the contradictions occasioned by the desperate situations people find themselves in, while the other used philosophical language to make us think about what constitutes a work of art.

But they were also connected, at the very start: The Velvet Underground & Nico was produced by Andy Warhol (in 1967), while Warhol’s Brillo Box was the object that led Danto (in 1967, pdf) to argue that art is whatever the artworld says it is.


I can’t say I was ever fully satisfied by the answers Reed and Danto offered but my encounters with the work of both of them led me to feel and think about life, music, and art in new, unexpected ways. And the world is now a less interesting place without them.

Public art of the day

Posted: 11 October 2013 in Uncategorized
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New York’s Museum of Modern Art has acquired the Occuprint Portfolio, a collection of 31 screenprints (including the 28 prints featured above) curated by the Booklyn Artists Alliance and published in 2012.

A tale of two art markets

Posted: 7 October 2013 in Uncategorized
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enjoy-detroit-graffiti-alanna-pfeffer China Christie's

This month, we’re witnessing a tale of two art markets that are moving in opposite directions.

It is certainly the worst of times in Detroit, which is preparing to sell off the multi-billion-dollar collection of the Detroit Institute of Art to pay that city’s debts. And, of course, we’re being forced to listen not to howls about the bankruptcy of a once-great American city, but to the usual complaints about how “tragic” the sale is of a collection of art that is “literally irreplaceable.”

But it’s the best of times in Shanghai [ht: ja], where the same auction house that was brought in to price the DIA collection has now set up shop.

“China in the 21st Century will be what the US was in the 20th and Europe in the 19th,” Christie’s owner François Pinault told me just before the auction: “It’s terribly important for our future to be here.”

I wonder how many of the pieces from Detroit’s collection will end up being sold in Shanghai. And, when Chinese billionaires start bidding on the Rembrandts, Picassos, Degas, and van Goghs from Detroit, will critics in the West start worrying about how “their” cultural patrimony is being “robbed” and secreted away by the new collectors in the East?


Of course, George Grosz “still resonates today.”

These are jaundiced portrayals, betraying an immense sensitivity to base instinct and social subtext. Grosz’s savage lines and grotesque figuration seek to cut through pretence, exposing bottomless appetites flourishing among decaying morals. His satirical motive was primarily political. He served only briefly in the First World War, but long enough to form the bleak view of militarism seen in Godfather Death of 1916, the  year he affronted German nationalism by Americanising his name (previously Georg Groß). Continued displays of disgust towards the army earned Grosz an assassination attempt in 1920. Hitler too would come for him almost immediately after taking power in 1933. Grosz had left for America just a fortnight earlier.

Grosz’s other targets included the church, the political elite, the old bourgeoisie and the new class of speculative super-rich which sprang from its demise. Unsurprisingly, he was an active member of the German Communist movement. He produced masses of both art and literature for radical publisher Malik Verlag, including his most famous collection of works, Ecce Homo, some of which can be seen at the Nagy exhibition.

Grosz’s art is above all uncompromising, and he was content to keep producing it in the face of continuous prosecutions. Perhaps the absence of an idealised proletariat in his work­–or anything idealised for that matter­­–can be explained by his artistic mode being an attacking rather than a sentimental one. Yet, it is difficult not to feel that there is more to Grosz’s portrayals of capitalist pigs at their various troughs than outright condemnation. His works bristle with colour, mischief and humour. Grosz’s fine reputation as a political satirist can invite the mistake of elevating him above his subject matter to a firm position of judgement. In reality, Grosz was intoxicated by this wreck of morals.

Where is George Grosz today when we need him? Again.