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June 03, 2004


The Patriot Act is crap and needs to be tossed. The spotlight after 9/11 should have been on government agencies and how to make them work more efficiently to protect the public rather than rights they could take away to make their job easier.


It speaks to the lack of Liberal Arts in Law Enforcement curriculum. Off topic, Crooked Timber points to a Robert Hughes speech you might find interesting, Edward.

I normally detest Hughes, Fabius, but he's certainly right about this

When you have the super-rich paying $104m for an immature Rose Period Picasso - close to the GNP of some Caribbean or African states - something is very rotten. Such gestures do no honour to art: they debase it by making the desire for it pathological. As Picasso's biographer John Richardson said to a reporter on that night of embarrassment at Sotheby's, no painting is worth a hundred million dollars.

At this point it's certainly not about the artists and only so barely about the art. It's about commerce, status, covetousness, and ego.

However, I disagree that the fact such misguided emphasis exists is a good argument for the re-preeminence of the Academy, which, if you skip to his last paragraph, you'll see he's advocating more due to his sense of longing for a return to an emphasis on well-crafted art (one presumes over a continuing attention to well-concieved art) than due to any convincing evidence that British art has suffered because of the Academy's deteriorating status and/or influence (statistics of British artists exhibiting in galleries and museums worldwide, not to mention their auction prices, suggest Brit Art has never been more influential). I'd suggest British art has simply evolved, and, being a traditionalist, Hughes resents that.

I like a well-rendered drawing as much as the next guy. I've just seen artists without a wit of sense in their head whip one out enough times to understand art has evolved past that skill, in and of itself, equalling quality. Hughes doesn't argue, per se, that it does, but he does reveal his bias when he notes that "no spiritually authentic art can beat mass media at their own game." He might want to reacquaint himself with a lad named Warhol and then try rephrasing that idea.

So you didn't like Hughes' Shock of the New?.

Warhol had a leg up having been a commercial artist at the beginning of his career.

"At this point it's certainly not about the artists and only so barely about the art. It's about commerce, status, covetousness, and ego."

Hm. . without these things could you argue that the Medicis would have done what they'd done? Could you argue that without the Medicis we wouldn't be incredibly impoverished?

My only problem is that they wait until after the artist is dead to pay hundreds of millions for their work. Sort of a late investment.

My only problem is that they wait until after the artist is dead to pay hundreds of millions for their work.

The auction system is rigged such that they don't even have to wait until an artist is dead to screw them. Countries in Europe are trying to correct that (introducing legislation whereby living artists will get a percentage of secondary sales...but I can't remember now which ones have accomplished that and which ones are pending). I know in the US there's a strong lobby against it.

Then there's the famous story (myth?) about Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg had something of the same thing happen to him with the Sculls [big collectors]-- They paid him $900 for "Thaw" and sold it [at auction] for $85,000. Rauschenberg purportedly punched or shoved Bob Scull after the sale; they never spoke again.

Whether he actually assaulted Bob Scull or not, the point is it's very difficult for an artist to see someone else make so much profit off their work.

Regarding the role the Medicis or modern-day Medicis play in the art world, it's a love-hate relationship. And there are, as in all things, degrees and considerations that go a long way toward making the process less offensive.

The Sculls, for example, could have used part of their profits to commission a new piece by Rauschenberg, making everyone happy. At a certain point, a super-collector is a stake-holder in the artist's career, much the same as the owners of the goose who laid the golden egg. If they take good care of the goose, they win and the goose wins. It's the ones who kill the goose who piss everyone off.

Well, as one who was there, I would certainly second John Richardson's judgement on the $104MM Picasso: but then, the art market IS one of those rarities of modern economics: a nearly-unregulated "free market" (in the economic sense: most art-market regulations are legal, and relate to ensuring a [mostly] fair and open market process - the market itself is virtually a textbook case of supply-and-demand). So one can safely say that a painting IS "worth" $104MM, because someone has actually paid that sum for it.
But typically, the buyer was/is anonymous: at those sort of price levels, art is really a type of investment, like a bond or real estate: at least the Medicis let eveyone know when they supported art or artists: the masterpieces created for patrons past were usually public.
However, I would take issue with your characterization of (I am assuming) the sort of collector/investors who buy multi-million-dollar blue-chip art as "Medicis or modern-day Medicis".
Renaissance patrons were, well, just that: patrons. They typically directed commissions to the noted living artists of their day. Nowadays (o tempora, o mores!) the only major "patron" in the classic sense I can think of is Charles Saatchi, with his support (albeit, IMO, for commercial, rather than aesthetic reasons) of the "YBA" ("Young British Artists") contemporary school.
Of course, the art itself is scarcely of Michelangelesque stature: but then, what else is?

Jay C,

the best collectors I know do commission work by artists and the Medicis didn't have the convenience of the modern gallery system or auction system to help them.

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