Once upon a time an artist’s colours came in tubes. Now, for those who know how to use them, there are the new possibilities created by hundreds of different materials and colours that come in sheets. In the house of the future, reduced as it will be to minimum size but equipped with the most practical gadgets, we will be able to keep a thousand ‘pictures’ in a box as big as a dictionary and project them on our white wall with an ordinary projector just as often as we please. And I do not mean colour photographs, but original works of art.
With these techniques visual art will survive even if the old techniques disappear. Art is not technique, as everyone knows, and an artist can create with anything that comes to hand.
One day a man with nothing but a hammer in his hand presented himself to one of the great personages of the day and said: ‘With this hammer I intend to make works of art, great works that the whole world will come flocking to see.’ They ushered him, kindly but firmly, out of the palace. It was Michelangelo.
Since the doldrums of the early nineties, the market for contemporary art, which has various definitions (work created after the Second World War, or during “our” lifetime, or post-1960, or post-1970), has rocketed up, year after year, flattening out briefly amid the financial crisis and global recession of 2008-09, before resuming its climb. Big annual returns have attracted more people to buying art, which has raised prices further. It is no coincidence that this steep rise, in recent decades, coincides with the increasing financialization of the world economy. The accumulation of greater wealth in the hands of a smaller percentage of the world’s population has created immense fortunes with a limitless capacity to pursue a limited supply of art work. The globalization of the art market—the interest in contemporary art among newly wealthy Asians, Latin Americans, Arabs, and Russians—has furnished it with scores of new buyers, and perhaps fresh supplies of greater fools. Once you have hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s hard to know where to put it all. Art is transportable, unregulated, glamorous, arcane, beautiful, difficult. It is easier to store than oil, more esoteric than diamonds, more durable than political influence. Its elusive valuation makes it conducive to extremely creative tax accounting.
We used to have a map of a frontier that could be anything. The web isn’t young anymore, though. It’s settled. It’s been prospected and picked through. Increasingly, it feels like we decided to pave the wilderness, turn it into a suburb, and build a mall. And I hate this map of the web, because it only describes a fraction of what it is and what’s possible. We’ve taken an opportunity for connection and distorted it to commodify attention. That’s one of the sleaziest things you can do.
This one is the kind of morning that you can listen to. The grey gloom, the light rain, the splash of the car wheels as they skate through puddles. It’s the kind of morning that begs for hot oatmeal, and so on my way to the office I stopped inside a tiny coffee shop and ordered one, along with a heaping warm cortado.
The pony-tailed barista, who I’ve never seen wearing a belt, but who tends to tuck his denim button-down shirt into his ladies jeans, gives me a wink. I suppose since his hands were busy pulling a shot of espresso, this was his only available non-verbal gesture of greeting.
The reason I’m telling you this is that two strange things happened next. I sat next to two people engaged in a rather serious conversation. The man, sitting to my left, tall, wearing a bowler and plaid button down, as is customary, appeared to be the object of sympathy, while the woman sitting his opposite, glasses, pony tail, seemed to be the vehicle for its delivery.
Someone close to the man had passed away. He was old, he was angry, he had an obsession with sex, as “a child of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s New York City… I’d imagine that he was the kind of guy who prowled for girls, back in the day.”
Whoever he was, they spoke of him as some kind of New York icon —an artist maybe, or a writer — and the woman lived in his building, and talked about her interactions with him, and her own coping process with his recent departure. He was a bit of a force in their lives, sometimes scary, sometimes brilliant. The man had known him since he was a boy. His mother introduced them. He initially rebelled, and then grew fond of the old man. The recently deceased was the kind of New York City that we newcomers only read about and romanticize, and sometimes imitate, but rarely ever know.
I wasn’t exactly eaves dropping, but it was hard to ignore it. It was such a personal conversation, in such a public place, although in a sense it felt like they were performing.
I looked up from my computer and noticed that my friend Kai had appeared at the counter, and that he was ordering coffee with someone who could only have been his girlfriend. I shouted his name across the coffee shop, and he came over to say hello after finishing his order.
I asked him why he was so dressed up (he was wearing a tie and let it be noted that, unlike the barista, a belt). “I’m getting married today,” he laughed.
He and his fiance were on their way to the courthouse to make things official, and were stopping in for a coffee on the way. ”Do you really want to get married to me before I’ve had my morning coffee?” she smiled as Kai introduced her, while she explained their quick stop-off on the way to the courthouse.
New York City is still romantic. And beyond our tendency for nostalgia and on a morning that is otherwise forgettable, I’m reminded of it.
More than ever, the glittery auction-house/blue-chip gallery sphere is spinning out of control far above the regular workaday sphere where artists, dealers and everyone else struggle to get by. It is a kind of fiction that has almost nothing to do with anything real — not new art, museums or historical importance. It is becoming almost as irrelevant as the work, reputation and market of the kitsch painter Thomas Kinkade.
…the city was bustling 100 ago. On the streets were horse-drawn carriages and automobiles. The Woolworth Building had just been completed, making it the tallest building in town. Electric trains pulled out of Grand Central Station for the first time and new residents arrived in hordes.
"Thousands of immigrants are flooding into the city, so you have a cacophony of many, many different languages," Kushner says. "This was when Europe sort of sat up and said, ‘Oh, New York, it’s not that backwater. New York is the place of the new and the fresh and the modern.’
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