Publication: And Now a Word from Our Sponsors
CCS Bard, New York (US)
A publication published by CCS Bard concurrently with the exhibitions “Deviance Credits” and “And Now a Word from Our Sponsors” at the Hessel Museum of Art in New York.
The year 2014 started with an article in my email inbox: a commentary from the Village Voice forwarded by a friend of mine on January 1st. The piece was wrapping-up the year just passed, which, according to the journalist Christian Viveros-Fauné, had ended very much as it had begun – with money at the center of an increasingly rotten art world. Interestingly, the article also featured the text of an email sent by a prominent public relations company to the Voice, kindly suggesting a “profile piece” on Peter Hort, son of Susan and Michael Hort, who hosted the annual Welcoming Brunch of the Armory Show in 2014, one of the leading contemporary and modern art fair in New York City. The email ends like this: In regular finance, if you have insider information about a stock, it is illegal to invest in that stock. In the art world, it is not only legal – it is done regularly. Peter Hort, along with his wife and family, are the people who create the insider information.
There are certainly far more scandalous examples of the shadiness of the art world. Still, this email is important proof – that, in New York City especially, “art is no longer just art, but crooked finance,” the kind of crooked finance that today is not merely accepted among otherwise reputable folk, but encouraged. The Village Voice goes on: A year-end wrap-up of art in New York City would be meaningless without mentioning the single greatest transformation to have struck the visual arts globally: namely, that the art market has turned into one big corrupt casino, a place where price fixing, market manipulation, bribery, forgery, theft, and money laundering have become as popular as risky mortgages were in 2007. The evidence of this transformation is everywhere, if one cares to look. There are scandals, court cases, indictments, and suspiciously skyrocketing auction records.
The situation is clear, but often the reaction of those in the field is simply a shrug. If it’s true that there’s a growing number of scholars looking more closely at the weight and influence of money in contemporary art – most notably, Olav Velthius and Noah Horowitz – it is also true that most art professionals insist there is no need to further scrutinize a market that prompts few consumer complaints. This strange exceptionalism that the art world has carefully managed to cultivate produces the application of gentlemanly sporting rules rather than laws. Still, the situation has changed over the course of the last 20 years. The complexity of dealing with the financial strings attached to support of the arts is growing exponentially alongside the number of individuals of great means who have been recently involved in the art world. This new crowd of patrons can’t understand why there’s a genuine resistance to the way private funding shapes the production of art, and its meaning. The lack of any form of regulation creates a favorable climate for these individuals, as it distorts what is accepted as common practice by having few official policies in place. All of this casts a reasonable doubt, and raises the issues I plan to address in this brief text: has self-monitoring kept pace with the increasing treatment of art as a commodity?