The world of art -- and what makes it run
The art world, as a whole, is not so much impressed by art as by money, power , and prestige. Paintings, sculptures, prints, fine photographs, etc., may serve as its common currency, but these other factors are what really count.Skip to next paragraph
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Now thaths a depressing fact for those who see art as one of man's noblest efforts. Yet it must be taken into account if the art we believe in is to survive the harsh realities of the commercial and professional art world.
Because of that, I can think of no more appropriate subject for this introductory column -- the first of a series on art which will appear here every other week -- than the art world itself: what it is, how it runs, and how to cope with it.
"Art world" is defined here as the institutions and people responsible for what is exhibited, analyzed, taught, published, given status, and marketed in the various art centers of the United States, Canada, and Europe -- but most especially in New York.
New York has been the major art capital of the world for over 30 years -- and still maintains that supremacy. It is home for several of the great museums of the world -- most particularly the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art -- and maintains a good dozen or so other extraordinary museums of a more national, regional, and ethnic identity.
It has hundreds of galleries scattered about the city -- most of them exhibiting a steady round of shows devoted to new, about-to-become established, or famous names. In Sotheby's and Christie's, New York boasts branches of two of the great auction houses of the world. New York's art schools, private collections, cultural and historical societies featuring art, and print and art-book publishers are generally first-rate. And its thousands of artists include a significant number of the world's best.
While the New York art would may be bursting with art, its major focus is on what art can do in the way of creating wealth, prestige, or power. My own strongest memories of the art world (and they go back 30 years) have less to do with the art I saw -- that is always a private experience -- than with the power and influence of certain dealers, museum directors and curators, critics, teachers, and writers on art. (Has American art, for instance, ever seen a more powerful critical influence than Clement Greenberg, or a more enthusiastic and inspiring teacher than Hans Hofmann?)
And then there were the recordmaking sales. Who can forget the Rembrandt painting bought at auction in 1961 for the Metropolitan Museum? Its $2.3 million price was a record at the time -- but not for long! Or the way Jackson Pollock paintings jumped in price from the low thousands to the low millions in not much more than a decade? The boom in art sales to the Japanese a few years ago? Or the recent purchase of a Jasper Johns painting of the American flag by the Whitney Museum for $1 million?