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LEFT: Abu Dhabi performing arts centre now, and RIGHT: in 2013 Photo: Zaha Hadid Architects
Just off the coast of Abu Dhabi is a small, sandy atoll. Surrounded by clear turquoise water, turtles and porpoises, this flat, barren little island was once home to nothing more than weekend campers, boat parties and water-skiers. But Saadiyat – which means “island of happiness” – is adjacent to the world’s richest city, and is being given a $27billion makeover in a bid to recast Abu Dhabi as a cultural mecca.
By 2013, the capital of the United Arab Emirates will boast an offshoot of the Louvre, a new Guggenheim museum, a National Museum inspired by the British Museum, a performing arts centre designed by the British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, several art schools, and various pavilions and other cultural franchises that will be able to host temporary exhibitions from around the world. A 10-lane bridge will bring millions of visitors to this meticulously planned development. More than 40 million people travel through the UAE each year; there is a market to be seized.
Hedge Fund, by Gianni Monteleone (Photo: Courtesy of KiptonART)
Before global finance crashed, Robert Jain, the head of Credit Suisse global proprietary trading, commissioned twelve artists through the private curator Kipton Cronkite to create works inspired by Wall Street terminology. Now the collection, called “The Color of Money: the Collision of Art and Finance,” is finished, and Jain didn’t get exactly what he was expecting. There’s a painting of gathering clouds inspired by “hedge fund” called Ominous; there’s a stock-ticker painting featuring the phrase “We will allocate your payments and credits in a way that is most favorable to us”; there’s a light-box of snarling red bulls. The most disturbing might be Gianni Monteleone’s depiction of a Wall Streeter floating underwater, money spilling out of his briefcase. But Monteleone insists that it’s about finance’s potential for transformation, not its death. (“Water replenishes itself, and it’s cleansing,” he explains.) “If that’s the image, then that’s the image” artists have of finance, Jain says. Still, “twenty years from now, maybe the financial industry will be seen as a constructive part of society, and then that piece of art is really dating itself, in a sense, to that nine-month period when the financial industry was really getting beat up.”
New York Magazine
London’s National Portrait Gallery reported a heist last month, accusing Derrick Coetzee of making off with over 3,000 works in the museum’s collection. A volunteer contributor to the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, Mr. Coetzee downloaded images of venerable paintings from the Portrait Gallery’s Web site and put copies in a Wikipedia collection of art. The museum’s lawyers fired off a letter accusing Wikipedia of violating copyright and contracts; Mr. Coetzee’s lawyer responded there can be no prohibition on copying works that are in the public domain.
It’s not hard to understand the museum’s frustration. It goes to all the trouble and expense of making accurate photographic copies—getting the lighting just so, ensuring the magentas are distinguishable from the scarlets and crimsons—and then someone comes along with a few clicks of a mouse and appropriates thousands of images. One rightly chafes at the techie assumption that anything you can get your digital mitts on is free game. But no better is the opposite extreme, the effort to seize public property and put it under monopoly control.
Copyright law tries to balance two social goods, providing private ownership of intellectual property to reward creativity while eventually making creative works as widely accessible as possible by letting the copyright lapse decades after the work’s author is dead. If new copyrights can be attached to old works of art, the whole copyright system is thrown out of whack.
Any litigation over the Portrait Gallery’s complaint could turn on a simple jurisdictional question. Mr. Coetzee did his downloading in the U.S. The museum’s claims are based on its interpretation of U.K. law, which allows more restrictive enforcement of copyrights.
Wall Street Journal
“Still Life with Apples 1893-94” is carried by installers to the wall for hanging. It is part of the “Cezanne and Beyond” show. (Clem Murray)
Part of the fun of “Cezanne and Beyond” – the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition demonstrating how the 19th-century master Paul Cezanne directly inspired a century’s worth of artists – is that a visitor can see art history happen. The links between the generations of artists and their work are so clear that you don’t need an audio guide or wall text to get it. All you have to do is look from picture to picture to picture.
If I were a child, this show might get me hooked on art for life. And if I had children, I’d consider it a perfect way to show my kids how exciting art can be.
Except I wouldn’t be able to afford to, and neither will many other families. The museum is charging as much as $88 for a family of four to see the show, effectively pricing out all but the relatively wealthy. This is an enormous, embarrassing mistake, and the museum should be sure not to make it again.
By setting the entrance fees so high, the museum has effectively chosen to segregate itself into two museums. The area of the museum that features “Cezanne and Beyond” is available only to those affluent enough to afford the exhibition charge, while the rest of the museum is more accessible to the lower and middle classes.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a nonprofit housed in city-owned buildings. It gets about $2.4 million a year from the city and has received millions more in capital funding, with more on the way. So its willingness to effectively redline certain residents out of its programming is improper.
This kind of exhibition pricing is not the norm. The most analogous nearby museum is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a comparable relationship with New York City. The Met asks that visitors pay what they can, with a suggested donation of $20 ($10 for students; children under 12 are admitted free of charge). A visitor can pay $5 and see every exhibition.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s charge is part of an unfortunate trend that has museums seeing themselves as competing with for-profit entertainment businesses such as the local cineplex or professional baseball team. This is wrongheaded. The museum is a nonprofit that, according to its mission statement, exists to share its art, scholarship, and exhibitions with “an increasingly diverse audience as a source of delight, illumination, and lifelong learning.”
When the museum effectively blocks so many from its headline programming, it is overtly excluding an “increasingly diverse audience” from its halls. It’s OK if a business creates entertainment that is too expensive for some people. But it is not acceptable when a city-supported nonprofit limits access to its best offerings.
If the only way to accomplish an exhibition is to price out most of the audience, the museum should either raise more money from foundations and other sponsors, or it should not do the show. There is no imperative that a museum put on splashy, expensive shows. Nor must an exhibition be expensive to be great.
Dough, wonga, greenbacks, cash. Just words, you might say, but they carry an eerie psychological force. Chew them over for a few moments, and you will become a different person. Simply thinking about words associated with money seems to makes us more self-reliant and less inclined to help others. And it gets weirder: just handling cash can take the sting out of social rejection and even diminish physical pain.
This is all the stranger when you consider what money is supposed to be. For economists, it is nothing more than a tool of exchange that makes economic life more efficient. Just as an axe allows us to chop down trees, money allows us to have markets that, traditional economists tell us, dispassionately set the price of anything from a loaf of bread to a painting by Picasso. Yet money stirs up more passion, stress and envy than any axe or hammer ever could. We just can’t seem to deal with it rationally… but why?
Our relationship with money has many facets. Some people seem addicted to accumulating it, while others can’t help maxing out their credit cards and find it impossible to save for a rainy day. As we come to understand more about money’s effect on us, it is emerging that some people’s brains can react to it as they would to a drug, while to others it is like a friend. Some studies even suggest that the desire for money gets cross-wired with our appetite for food. And, of course, because having a pile of money means that you can buy more things, it is virtually synonymous with status – so much so that losing it can lead to depression and even suicide. In these cash-strapped times, perhaps an insight into the psychology of money can improve the way we deal with it.
Even as a simple medium of exchange, money can take a bewildering variety of forms, from the strips of bark and feathers of old, through gold coins, pound notes and dollar bills to data in a bank’s computer – mostly cold, unemotional stuff. The value of £100 is supposed to lie in how much beer or fuel it can purchase and nothing else. You should care no more about being short-changed £5 at the supermarket checkout than losing the same amount when borrowing money to buy a £300,000 house. Similarly, you should value £10 in loose change the same as £10 in your bank account that you’ve mentally set aside for your niece’s birthday.
In reality we are not that rational. Instead of treating cash simply as a tool to be wielded with objective precision, we allow money to reach inside our heads and tap into the ancient emotional parts of our brain, often with unpredictable results. To understand how this affects our behaviour, some economists are starting to think more like evolutionary anthropologists.
Daniel Ariely of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of them. He suggests that modern society presents us with two distinct sets of behavioural rules. There are the social norms, which are “warm and fuzzy” and designed to foster long-term relationships, trust and cooperation. Then there is a set of market norms, which revolve around money and competition, and encourage individuals to put their own interests first.
Economic exchange has been going on throughout human history, so it is possible that our ancestors evolved an instinctive capacity for recognising the difference between situations suited to social or market norms, and that this could have developed well before the invention of money. Alternatively, we may learn the distinction.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Not many people would argue that fewer jobs for dancers are a boon to ballet, or shrinking advances are good for literature, or newspapers in bankruptcy are good for journalism. But it’s become commonplace to declare, as the Times did recently, that “a financial scouring can only be good for American art, which during the present decade has become a diminished thing.” Newsweek took it further, comparing the art boom to an imaginary world where jazz—once appreciated only by “an audience who really dug what they were hearing” in a “cozy club”—started packing Wembley. The unseemly result, per Newsweek? “A grotesque imitation of heavy metal for the masses.”
Certainly, the excesses of the art world were alienating. But there’s Schadenfreude in the argument that bad times are good for the naughty, naughty art world. It is, and was, a place where you could fly to Miami to see Dita Von Teese strip on a giant pink sequined lipstick and call it “work.” And there’s something both marvelous and ridiculous in that.
The evidence of such profligacy was often on view at the annual art fairs—the massive Armory, plus Volta, Pulse, and Scope—which return this week, considerably constricted by the financial collapse. The art fairs are all still promising breakthrough art, cutting-edge performances, and, now, more “inclusive” or “accessible” events. (Translation: There’s more photography, decorative art, and small works, and the parties will be easier to crash.)
But as for the art, will it be any better? Is the recession good for art?
It’s doubtful. As curator Renée Riccardo, whose group show “The Garden at 4 AM” just opened at Gana Art Gallery, notes, recessions mostly just yank young artists’ work off the walls. “If traditional art isn’t selling, galleries aren’t going to show emerging art.” The recession isn’t breeding creativity so much as demand for familiar, less-threatening work. Ellen Donahue is closing her Chelsea gallery, the Proposition, after seven years and another eighteen running other downtown galleries. “People come in, they look, but they don’t even talk about buying,” she says. “All over Chelsea, artists are being told to pick up their work.” A half-dozen spaces have closed this year, and dealers like Zach Feuer have culled their stables.
The art world’s “brand names” have it easier—they can experiment in a recession, try new media, ride it out—but they aren’t immune. Photographer David LaChapelle says he worries about having to cut back. “I worry about the people who rely on me”—his staff and studio assistants.
The thing the bust fans are missing is that art in good times can capture those good times (even when artists sometimes become overly intoxicated by them). Andy Warhol’s soup cans came out of the postwar era, when cupboards opened to bounties of food. “There’s no correlation” between the economy and the quality of art being produced, says John Good, a director of the Gagosian Gallery. “The great artists transcend.” The art world’s romantic Van Gogh myth holds that starving artists toil anonymously until they’re eventually (or posthumously) discovered. But he was the exception: For centuries, many great artists were patronized in their lifetimes, generously, by popes and kings. (King François I paid for the Mona Lisa.)
Certainly, with things like shows in empty buildings, and a good deal of scrappiness and human suffering, art will adapt, survive. Perhaps it had gotten too easy, too publicized, self-involved. But not any more than anything else during the boom. Maybe it wasn’t such a terrible place to spend some of those now-fanciful-seeming billions. And the level of excitement that a boom brings to art—the sheer number of people paying attention, trying to learn the new names and debating who matters—is itself an engine of creativity. In a boom, it’s cool to love art, see art, buy art. Art is taken seriously. A bust dismisses it as a luxury.
New York Magazine
One of the featured speakers at Friday’s BISG meeting was Anita Elberse, associate professor at Harvard Business School, who challenged some conclusions of Chris Anderson’s long tail theory. Elberse said that while the growth of online retailing has resulted in the expansion of products that are available for sale in the long tail, there is little evidence to show that sales of niche products have significantly increased. “The tail is getting longer, but it isn’t getting fatter,” Elberse asserted, referring to Anderson’s contention that with more items in the tail, sales will increase.
Her studies of music and DVD sales found that hits still account for the vast majority of sales and that sales of niche products have fallen in some cases, and there are lots of products that simply do not sell. Contrary to assumptions that consumers who are “light” users of a particular form of media will be attracted by some niche offering, Elberse said these consumers most often buy a popular item. Someone who only reads a few books a year is most likely going to buy a bestseller rather than an obscure author few people have heard of. Lack of consumer awareness about different products is one reason products are in the tail, as is quality. “Some products belong in the tail not the head,” Elberse said.
Her advice for publishers is to not radically alter the resources they devote to developing products for the tail and to continue to concentrate on publishing books aimed at a wide audience. While the Internet has changed how people buy products, it hasn’t changed the laws of consumer behavior in which most people want to read or watch what is popular. She acknowledged, however, the retailers, particularly online retailers, need to carry niche products to help separate themselves from their competitors. But she noted that the niche items are likely to be bought by “heavy users” who are looking for new books (or other products) since they have likely bought many of the most popular items.
We’re frequently told, by news-you-can-use segments and bank ads hawking savings accounts, that Americans are not saving enough for their retirements. Yet just as often we’re reminded that, given the fleeting nature of human existence, we should eat, drink, and be merry while we still can. Thriftiness is making a comeback in the wake of our latest speculative bubble, but some new evidence may help to tip the scales back in favor of the carpe diem approach to life. It turns out that money can buy you happiness—but young people get a lot more happiness out of their dollars than old people do.
Recent research by economists Amy Finkelstein, Erzo Luttmer, and Matthew Notowidigdo suggests that you’ll get a bigger bang for your consumer buck by spending while you’re healthy, before old age starts to take the fun out of life’s indulgences. Their research is part of a larger academic enterprise attempting to understand what makes us happy. Economics is a field more associated with rational calculation than emotion, but there’s an ever-growing subculture of “happiness economists.” Just as mainstream economists spend their time figuring out things like gross national product—how much a country produces in dollar terms—these happiness scholars churn out numbers like gross national happiness (how much happiness a country produces).
It’s relatively easy to measure things like corporate profits and trade flows. Measuring a person’s psychic well-being is trickier, though happiness economists take a relatively straightforward approach: For the most part, they just ask people if they’re happy. They then try to figure out what makes people say yes or no. Perhaps not surprisingly, money-obsessed economists have been fixated on whether higher incomes make us happier. And after much debate, their conclusion is that money does indeed buy happiness. Or, as an economist would put it, there’s a positive marginal utility of consumption. People in rich countries say they’re happier than people in poor countries, and in just about every nation, the well-to-do report being happier than their impoverished counterparts.
By now, with the enormous hype that has been spun around it, there probably isn’t an earthworm between John O’Groats and Land’s End that hasn’t heard about the auction of Damien Hirst’s work at Sotheby’s on Monday and Tuesday – the special character of the event being that the artist is offering the work directly for sale, not through a dealer. This, of course, is persiflage. Christie’s and Sotheby’s are now scarcely distinguishable from private dealers anyway: they in effect manage and represent living artists, and the Hirst auction is merely another step in cutting gallery dealers out of the loop.
If there is anything special about this event, it lies in the extreme disproportion between Hirst’s expected prices and his actual talent. Hirst is basically a pirate, and his skill is shown by the way in which he has managed to bluff so many art-related people, from museum personnel such as Tate’s Nicholas Serota to billionaires in the New York real-estate trade, into giving credence to his originality and the importance of his “ideas”. This skill at manipulation is his real success as an artist. He has manoeuvred himself into the sweet spot where wannabe collectors, no matter how dumb (indeed, the dumber the better), feel somehow ignorable without a Hirst or two.
Actually, the presence of a Hirst in a collection is a sure sign of dullness of taste. What serious person could want those collages of dead butterflies, which are nothing more than replays of Victorian decor? What is there to those empty spin paintings, enlarged versions of the pseudo-art made in funfairs? Who can look for long at his silly sub-Bridget Riley spot paintings, or at the pointless imitations of drug bottles on pharmacy shelves? No wonder so many business big-shots go for Hirst: his work is both simple-minded and sensationalist, just the ticket for newbie collectors who are, to put it mildly, connoisseurship-challenged and resonance-free. Where you see Hirsts you will also see Jeff Koons’s balloons, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s stoned scribbles, Richard Prince’s feeble jokes and pin-ups of nurses and, inevitably, scads of really bad, really late Warhols. Such works of art are bound to hang out together, a uniform message from our fin-de-siècle decadence.
Hirst’s fatuous religious references don’t hurt either. “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever”, the sale is titled. One might as well be in Forest Lawn, contemplating a loved one – which, in effect, Hirst’s embalmed dumb friends are, bisected though they may be. Consider the Golden Calf in this auction, pickled, with a gold disc on its head and its hoofs made of real gold. For these bozos, gold is religion, Volpone-style. “Good morning to the day; and next, my gold! Open the shrine, that I may see my saint!”
His far-famed shark with its pretentious title, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, is “nature” for those who have no conception of nature, in whose life nature plays no real part except as a shallow emblem, a still from Jaws. It might have had a little more point if Hirst had caught it himself. But of course he didn’t and couldn’t; the job was done by a pro fisherman in Australia, and paid for by Charles Saatchi, that untiring patron of the briefly new.
The publicity over the shark created the illusion that danger had somehow been confronted by Hirst, and come swimming into the gallery, gnashing its incisors. Having caught a few large sharks myself off Sydney, Montauk and elsewhere, and seen quite a few more over a lifetime of recreational fishing, I am underwhelmed by the blither and rubbish churned out by critics, publicists and other art-world denizens about Hirst’s fish and the existential risks it allegedly symbolises.
One might as well get excited about seeing a dead halibut on a slab in Harrods food hall. Living sharks are among the most beautiful creatures in the world, but the idea that the American hedge fund broker Steve Cohen, out of a hypnotised form of culture-snobbery, would pay an alleged $12m for a third of a tonne of shark, far gone in decay, is so risible that it beggars the imagination. As for the implied danger, it is worth remembering that the number of people recorded as killed by sharks worldwide in 2007 was exactly one. By comparison, a housefly is a ravening murderous beast. Maybe Hirst should pickle one, and throw in a magnifying glass or two.
Of course, $12m would be nothing to Cohen, but the thought of paying that price for a rotten fish is an outright obscenity. And there are plenty more where it came from. For future customers, Hirst has a number of smaller sharks waiting in large refrigerators, and one of them is currently on show in its tank of formalin in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Inert, wretched and wrinkled, and already leaking the telltale juices of its decay, it is a dismal trophy of – what? Nothing beyond the fatuity of art-world greed. The Met should be ashamed. If this is the way America’s greatest museum brings itself into line with late modernist decadence, then heaven help it, for the god Neptune will not.
The now famous diamond-encrusted skull, lately unveiled to a gawping art world amid deluges of hype, is a letdown unless you believe the unverifiable claims about its cash value, and are mesmerised by mere bling of rather secondary quality; as a spectacle of transformation and terror, the sugar skulls sold on any Mexican street corner on the Day of the Dead are 10 times as vivid and, as a bonus, raise real issues about death and its relation to religious belief in a way that is genuinely democratic, not just a vicarious spectacle for money groupies such as Hirst and his admirers.
It certainly suggests where Hirst’s own cranium is that his latest trick with the skull is to show photos of the thing in London’s White Cube gallery, just ordinary photo reproductions made into 100cm x 75cm silkscreen prints and then sprinkled (yay, Tinkerbell, go for it!) with diamond dust, and to charge an outrageous $10,000 each for them. The edition size is 250. You do the maths. But, given the tastes of the collectoriat, he may well get away with this – in the short run. Even if his auction makes the expected tonne of money, it will bid fair to be one of the less interesting cultural events of 2008.