The art of selling (out?)

Turner Prize–winning artist Keith Tyson decided to cut the crap, apparently, in a new sculpture on view at PaceWildenstein: openly and uncritically embracing commerce, he confirms any lingering suspicions with "a four-foot-high box covered in advertisements. Not irony-laden, clipped-from-a-newspaper collages like those made famous a century ago by Picasso and Braque, but real, bought-and-paid-for ads." He worked a deal with ad mogul Richard Kirshenbaum of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners to sell ad space (to his agency's existing clients) on the sculpture. The fee, writes The New York Times, "is a secret, part of the mystery of the art."

"My job is to make sure they're front and center with popular culture and having your brand show up in a museum or an art gallery is not exactly a bad thing," says Kirshenbaum.

So the cat's out of the bag, eh? Contemporary art—at least part of it—is a tool of commerce. Duh. For many, that's old news. As Artforum's editor-in-chief Tim Griffin told me in August, art is "ever more enmeshed in commerce":
That means commerce has moved toward art and art has moved toward commerce, or they're overlapping in a fashion that perhaps is still not so familiar to us. Certainly this is one of the reasons why branding becomes a subject of art: that is, one more way the commercial sphere in inscripted in art, which is a trope of the historic avant-garde. But whereas at one point you could have, as an avant-garde position, an outsider status, now the question that is so often hitting artists and writers is: what happens when there is no longer an outside? How do you end up creating some meaningful antagonisms or distances or modes of self-consciousness within this sphere where it no longer makes sense to say that there's an exterior alternative?
Contributors to Frieze's October issue had some of the same questions. Conceptual artist Seth Siegelaub's diagnosis on "How Has Art Changed?":
The Economic Sphere: The art world has grown from a small specialized 'ghetto' to become an important economic-industrial sector with more of everything: artists, art school, art museums, art foundations, art galleries, art curators, art fairs, art auctions, art magazines, art gallery buildings, art advisers, art supply stores, artists' studios, art restaurants, art collectors, etc. It has become an important factor in urban planning and tourism.

The Social-Cultural Sphere: The contemporary art world ahs shifted from the periphery of capitalistic society to become a fully-fledged part of its growing entertainment sector, along with pop music, fashion and film, wiht the same models of 'stardom' and 'celebrity'.

The Artist: The artist has evolved from a 'bohemian' 'outsider' to become an almost 'respectable' 'liberal arts' profession and 'career.'

The Art: Art-making has metamorphosed from a primarioly 'critical' or aesthetic activity into a more or less acceptable form of mass entertainment as it has become a more marketable commodity and 'investment.'

The Museum: The museum has transformed itself from a private club to become a new type of mass-market cultural enterprise: blockbusters, bookshops, gift shops, restaurants, catering and party services, sponsorship, branding and property development ('speculation').
Back to Tyson's cubic billboard: sure, maybe it's an ironic critique of the encroachment of commercial influences in art (the title, Chameleon, could be read that way). But if it is, it doesn't strike me as very interesting art, and its subtle critique, amidst all that overtness, will be lost on the entertainment-minded art consumer. But that critique seems unlikely to me: to call on a friend who's also an art collector to broker sculptural product placement for his clients doesn't seem like the gesture of a critic. In the end, the piece feels like an inside joke, packaged for the nudge-nudge-wink-winkers of contemporary art. But anyone else will likely see it for what its appearances would suggest—a complete sellout.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope Keith Tyson dies in a fire.