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Fair Art Thou? In the Mind of the Beholder!

neil
2021.11.10 20:00 35 0 0

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I happened to watch a documentary on Wolfgang Beltracchi, an art forger who made hundreds of millions of euros. He was so good at forging art even many experts, dealers and galleries were fooled. And had it not been for a forensic examiner who identified a more recent chemical compound in a white paint he used (more recent than the forged painting’s date), it is likely that Beltracchi would’ve gotten away with it all.

 
The same documentary also dealt with how the art market is not regulated in any meaningful way, and all sort of questionable things are going on by people with money and making huge sums of money. Given this anything goes market situation, I just don’t see why some rich “art lovers” getting scammed is a problem. I say either all aspects of the market are regulated properly or none at all.

 
I also saw a documentary on art market control and price manipulation. Some control the price for art works (by a particular artist) via monopoly or oligopoly. Some engage in appraisal meddling. Some launder dirty money via the art market. Some use price-inflated-art donation to a public institution as a tax evasion scheme, etc., etc. Never mind all that abuse, but it seems that the authorities only get involved when rich “art lovers” get duped. So, in an unregulated market, one buys what one sees; and I say all sales should be final. Buyer beware!

 
It is true that there is prestige associated with owning a “brand name” art (e.g., a high-priced work of art by a famous artist); perhaps in a reminiscent way of the emperor’s new clothes. And one problem art forgery cases demonstrate is the absurdity of valuing the “brand name” associated with it, over and above valuing the appreciation of the work itself. It is especially problematic when a price of a work of art can be manipulated in all sorts of ways, and prestige can be pumped into it.

 
One example of this I can think of is Jackson Pollock and Clement Greenberg. “Clem” (a former necktie salesman) became an art critic virtually overnight. He endlessly praised and promoted Jackson Pollock’s drip/splash painting works. The CIA (via Congress of Cultural Freedom) and the Rockefellers (via MoMA, etc.) also had their input. All of this questionable influence made Jackson Pollock the most famous artist in the world around the middle of the 20th century, and prices of his work skyrocketed.


With all this in mind, one wonders just what the rich “art lovers” appreciate in a work of art? Given the frequently uncovered art forgery cases: Would it be unreasonable to say that what they recognize the most is the exaggerated/inflated “brand name”; and what they value the most is the prestige and monetary value associated with a particular “brand” name? If a “brand name” can be “made”, inflated and groomed so as to lure the “art lover” in and artificially create a demand for that brand; then just what is the rich “art lover” paying for?

 
Is the point of art appreciation in the eye of the beholder via sensual means; or, is it in the mind of the beholder, in the form of a “brand name” worship? If the point is appreciation of the work via sensual means, then (i) it can be done with little or no money and (ii) a forgery shouldn’t really be a problem. But if the point is the made-to-believe prestige and systemically inflated monetary value associated with a “brand name”; then, is it fair to say that such value is a figment of the imagination in the mind of the big-spender “art lover” – where beauty is now in the mind of the beholder?

 
I like the sound of that: Beauty is in the mind of the beholder! A new-reality emperor’s-new-clothes aesthetic paradigm?
 

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