Debate Society Squares the Business of Art vs. the Business of Money: Artists and financiers discuss ethics in their respective markets
The following is an excerpt from the debate entitled “ The Art Market is Less Ethical Than the Stock Market,” sponsored by Intelligence Squared U.S. and held at the Rosenkranz Foundation in New York City. Courtesy Media Transcripts.
Moderator: John Donvan
THE MOTION: THE ART MARKET IS LESS ETHICAL...
FOR THE MOTION: Richard Feigen, Michael Hue-Williams, Adam Lindemann
…THAN THE STOCK MARKET
AGAINST THE MOTION: Amy Cappellazzo, Chuck Close, Jerry Saltz
The language of tonight’s resolution, I think I might have done it a little differently had I known about the Bernie Madoff scandal. But the art world does have its share of forgeries and its share of dealers who fake provenances and its instances where things are stolen from consignors. So there are bad apples in every basket. But that’s not really the thing that interests us and why we picked the language of this debate.
It’s really the ethical issues revolving around two ideas. And one idea is secrecy and the other idea is manipulation. When you buy a work of art at auction it seems like a very open process. But there are a lot of secrets. You don’t know what the reserve is. You don’t necessarily know the source or the meaning of the estimates that are attached. There’s no real disclosure about guarantees. If the auction house has made a deal with favored third parties, you don’t know about that. What’s described as a buyer’s premi is sometimes rebated to the seller or used for other purposes. Again, pretty obscure, a lot of secrets in that process. And the second element, I’d say, is market manipulation. As an example, the graphic symbol we used for tonight’s debate was Damien Hirst’s skull encrusted in diamonds.
That was widely publicized to have sold for a hundred million dollars, which I believe is the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist. Well, it turned out subsequently that the purchaser was none other than Damien Hirst and his dealer to the tune of at least fifty per cent of the syndicate that was buying it – and who knows how much in reality. In the recent auction of Damien Hirst’s work he or his dealer was a buyer of a lot of key lots. And another example is the Warhol market, which is dominated by a family called Mugrabi – textile merchants from Colbia, who own eight hundred Warhols and are prominent buyers of all of the prime examples that they bid up at auction. So it’s also very common practice for dealers to bid up the auction prices of works of art by artists in their stables. But dealers get very angry at clients who sell at auctions – often blacklisting those clients.
So I’d like now to turn back to the stock market. In the 1920s there were syndicates of sophisticated investors who would quietly acculate stock and would then sell the stock back and forth to each other at ever increasing prices in order to give the unsuspecting public the sense that there was an ebullient and lively market. When the public came in the insiders would quietly sell. Well, that conduct became illegal and it’s been illegal for the last sixty or seventy years. And in a way, when the art market is advertising prices at auction that are not real, that are intended really to deceive people about the true state of the market, that’s a very similar kind of manipulation. The questions for tonight are, How endemic is that? How common is it? Should those kind of practices be illegal? And finally, does the art market operate in a generalized sense with high ethical standards or not?
The motion before us tonight is this: The Art Market is Less Ethical Than the Stock Market. We have six panelists, all from the New York and London art world. We know that we have many members of the New York and London art world in the audience tonight as well, which makes for an even more interesting evening because this debate actually is a contest.
Our topic is: The Art Market is Less Ethical Than the Stock Market. Arguing first for the motion is Richard Feigen, President and Founder of Richard L. Feigen and Company, art dealers. He opened his first gallery in New York City in 1963, which in a sense gives him more experience in the art world than perhaps anyone else in this room – time enough to know what he likes and also to decide what he does not like, particularly before us tonight in the category of ethical behavior in the art market. Ladies and gentlemen, Richard Feigen.
The first premise that I want to propose is that the art market is a financial market now. It has become this and it is a totally unregulated financial market. I will also try to define ethical. I define ethical as a protection for the investor or art collector and unethical as efforts to deceive. I will narrowly define the stock market as publicly traded equities. Otherwise I risk sailing off into Bernie Madoff-land and uncharted waters. The art market really is divided into two parts – the private art market, meaning the galleries, and the public market, the auction houses.
In the private market there are protections of the purchaser in the form of the uniform commercial code in New York and the self-policing bodies like the Art Dealers Association of America. These are not totally protective but they serve a purpose. I’m going to focus then on the auction market. The press usually defines the art market as the auction market for contemporary art, which gets all the press – where prices have ballooned in recent years. And therefore it has become press-worthy, because big prices make for press. In the past few years there has been rampant speculation. Until the middle- Nineties a work that appeared at auction, if it reappeared within five years it would be virtually unsellable. And now works appear almost immediately after being purchased or at least they did until the recent unpleasantness in the contemporary market, starting in November.
And because there’s a new wave of speculators at each auction. This all really began in the middle-Eighties, when art became monetized by the press and the financial institutions into a financial market, Sotheby’s launched a financial services arm, Citibank an art advisory department and so on. Banks lent money on art and auction houses lent money to buy art. Sotheby’s Chairman went to jail for colluding with Christie’s on auction commissions. Now art had become a serious financial asset. Whereas before the Eighties the market was tiny, it now became global. Thousands of people became involved. Billions of dollars changed hands. But except for foreign governments claiming repatriation of antiquities and Holocaust restitutions and despite the ss of money involved and vast nbers of participants, government seems to treat art as frivolous, as a luxury market with no regulation or oversight.
As just one example: in the Bush Administration tax code, when the capital gains tax was reduced from twenty-eight per cent to fifteen per cent art remained at twenty-eight per cent – apparently because it was treated by the government as a luxury, not an asset class. The stock markets are highly regulated by law. There are also protections for individuals who trade in the market through fiduciary, mutual funds and so on. Regulation came about as a protection for individual investors. The art market, on the other hand, is totally unregulated. Things occur, particularly in the auction market, that are deliberately contrived to deceive the unsophisticated individual and that would be subject to criminal penalties in the stock market. The most universally encountered is chandelier bidding, which means fake bids to entice bidders into competition. Whereas regulations exist in the stock market to provide transparency, chandelier bidding is specifically designed to deceive, to imply that there is competition when there isn’t any. Novice buyers usually enter the market through auctions because they have no other way to establish values. And unlike securities, there are no two works of art that are identical or are in the same condition or have the same credentials. The only source of price comparison is auction data bases. But, again, comparisons are flawed. The novice auction bidder believes his only exposure is his incremental bid. He asses that the under-bid represents a willing and able competitor. But if there wasn’t any under-bidder? What if the bid was a phantom, a chandelier bid?
When some years ago the issue of chandelier bidding was raised in New York’s Conser Affairs Department, the auctioneers cried that to eliminate it would take the drama out of auctions and they threatened to quit New York City. When I was quoted as saying that when I want drama I go to Broadway I was called a horse’s butt. The only – I changed that word because my wife wouldn’t let me, or somebody in my office wouldn’t let me use it. The only result of this city inquiry was that the auctioneers were forced to identify items in which they have a financial interest or that are guaranteed or most recently in which there are irrevocable bids identified by miniscule symbols virtually invisible or incomprehensible to all but professionals. Otherwise, the auctioneers prevailed with their deceptive practices. In addition, the auction catalog disclaimers make it basically caveat emptor, as far as authenticity and condition are concerned.
In the private gallery market the invoice establishes the guarantee, by law. The real reason for the auctioneer’s ethical ambivalence is the dramatic shift in role over the last forty years from agent for the buyer. Then as demand started exceeding supply, first as agent for both buyers and sellers and then primarily for the sellers, the buyer paying almost all of the commission guarantees and irrevocable bids followed swiftly as further enticements to sellers. But the auctioneer’s role remained ambiguous. The auctioneer was now wearing at least two invisible hats and when he had an equity in the object, three.
Our next debater has arguably already earned his place in art history. Chuck Close’s paintings are in the collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Tate in London, the Muse of Modern Art here in New York. And while he has been known to spend months, even more than a year, on a single painting, we are giving him minutes to argue against the motion.
Well, it doesn’t seem like we have to do much, given what’s happened recently. But, my argument is a little different. I don’t think that the value of art is determined by money at all. I don’t think that the value of art is measured in that way. If you look at the turn of the century, Bugaro [PH] sold for far more than any other artist, in what would be in today’s terms, millions of dollars. And the artists that we now know and love, the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, couldn’t sell their work at all.
So I question whether sales really is a barometer of value and whether ethics has anything to do with how that work is marketed. We have examples of the work being marketed extremely well, with great ethics. And we have examples of it being done in a somewhat sleazier fashion. I would say that art is not a business. Certainly the making of art is not a business. My good friend Joe Zucker, who is a great painter, his father was a junk dealer, a scrap metal dealer in Chicago. When he looked at Joe’s studio and saw the racks full of unsold paintings, he said, You can’t afford to make any more paintings until you get rid of some of your inventory. If any of us made work for that kind of reason, you know, you wonder where we would be. I remember Lee Marvin in The Ship of Fools was a washed-up baseball player.
And he’s standing at a bar, talking to an artist. And, because he isn’t being paid, he doesn’t play baseball anymore. And the artist is trying to explain to him why he has to have an occupation to support his profession. And that’s really where the art world is at. Most people, most artists make this work whether anybody wants it all, makes it year in and year out with little visibility, no critical attention and little financial support. Most artists, by nature, are mediocre. There are no undiscovered geniuses. Take my word. There are no undiscovered geniuses. There are many undiscovered competent artists, just as competent as the artists who are famous and we all know. There are no charlatans. If somebody wanted to be a charlatan the last thing they would do is go into art. There are many other ways. And I think the financial market is obviously a much better place to be a charlatan than being an artist.
If you’re lucky enough to find a dealer, the artist and the dealer relationship is the heart and soul of the art world. It is a marriage. Like many marriages, some don’t last forever and there may even be some cheating from time to time. But it is a marriage because this is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to art and how it is offered to the public. There are ups and downs. Things are in fashion or out, hot or not. And if you don’t understand the cyclical nature of the art world you’re in for a lot of pain. Dave Hickey said in a really wonderful article in, in Art in America this month: At one time a consensus of professional respect would carry an artist through times of no money better than money would carry an artist through times of no professional respect.
A few muse shows and a nice catalog essay during a lull meant that your prices would still be there when fashion changed and the money came back. He went on to say that works of art have no intrinsic value. All their value is extrinsic. It is invested from without and over a period of time. Damien Hirst’s jewel encrusted skull has hundreds of thousands of dollars – or it might be millions, I don’t know – of diamonds in it. It did not make that piece any more valuable than any other work of his, just because it had inherent value. I’ve got two minutes. Jesus Christ. So who are the deciders? Some are forces for good. I’m borrowing a phrase from Bush on purpose. Who are the deciders? Some of those deciders are forces for good and some are forces for evil.
The most important thing is the value that art–art is a meritocracy. It is a meritocracy because the final arbiters of what is important are other artists. All the hype, all the spin, all the effort to construct a career out of thin air, all the efforts to manipulate the market notwithstanding, over the long haul if you don’t have the respect of other artists it will disappear and it will not stand the test of time. So if we’re looking at short-term investment, perhaps it can be manipulated and perhaps it’s not always the most perfectly run organiza-opportunity. But over the long haul it’s left up to other artists. And I think that’s what finally determines the value in art.
Our next debater, Michael Hue-Williams, is founder of the Albion Gallery, located in London and New York. And as we are debating here, London is snowed in. Both runways at Heathrow are shut down and somehow Michael managed to get what might have been the last plane out. He stepped off of it about three hours ago. So he obviously wanted to argue tonight.
I’m going to make some points to support what Richard’s already begun on our behalf. And these will be made more in the way that a drunk might use a lamppost — in support rather than illination. However, an early statement from 1932, pre-regulation of the stock market, which FDR managed, importantly, to begin over here, began with the remarks that it was needed because of shocking disclosures of low standards in high places. This possibly is something that could be applied to the art market, I fear. The stock market in London has a dict. The dict is: Me dict pact. This means, My word is my bond. And it is one of the important maxims in the art world, but unfortunately, it is not one that necessarily is worth banking upon. I’m going to illustrate three reasons why the motion: The Art Market is Less Ethical Than the Stock Market, for me, holds water. The first is that there is no real regulation. The second, that there is no transparency in the market, and the third, that there are absolutely no barriers to entry. The first, no real regulation – let me explain by telling you a story against myself. In 1989 and 1990 – it’s a long time ago – I was in short trousers. I had a gallery in London already.
I came to New York on the day of one of the big auctions. And I made a deal with an art dealer here in New York – somebody who is extremely prominent to this day – to buy eight paintings by the German painter, George Baselitz – an artist who I still greatly admire. And I agreed to buy these for 2.4 million dollars, which at the time seemed an extraordinary amount of money to me. I think I was twenty-four years old at the time. And I left the gallery of this man I’d made the deal with. And I waited because there was one similar painting that night in auction in New York. And the painting made eight hundred thousand dollars. I went to bed that night feeling very clever. The next morning I got a telephone call from the dealer, who told me that the deal did not stand and that he was going to walk away from it.
And of course I was outraged. But under the UCC regulations, anything that is not written on paper and is a transaction above five hundred dollars is not enforceable. Clearly here, ethics and the law were not working hand in hand. Ethically, I felt he was doing something that was appalling. Legally, he was absolutely right, he could do it. That illustrates my first point, that there is no real regulation. The second point that there is no transparency in the market has been touched upon by Richard, in his remarks about the auction houses and the creation of rings. Rings are… relatively simple to create, it needs a group of people who stand outside the framework of the auction houses, and they decide to promote an artist, it’s very easily done with a young artist, and I can think of one at the moment in the Middle East who is an interesting young painter whose work has rocketed in price, from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, in the space of less than two years. A group of people bought a lot of pictures, they each owned individually, group of pictures, and they started to put these pictures into auction, they then go to the auctions, they get groups of people bid them up, and thereby they feather their own nests.
And…this draws attention of the press, the press attention to the artist, and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that this artist starts to go up in value, and by a process of osmosis, the ring benefit from the auction house activity that they’ve begun. This is not transparent to the outside viewer, but to art world professionals, it is quite obvious when this is happening. The last point, and possibly the most important point, is that, unlike the stock market…there are no barriers to entry. To become an art dealer, you need to have a pulse. You need to be able to count… and probably you need two eyes in your head. But beyond that anybody can be and call themselves an art dealer. There was an extraordinary scenario that took place here, predominantly here in New York, with an art dealer, so-called, called Michael Cohen, some of you may know about this but I’m going to use him as an example of an extraordinary situation, where he began to trade in commodities, and in the stock market, and ran into a lot of financial trouble.
This was not his business, this was what he was making money doing on the side. But he realized that he could solve his problems, where there was an absolute call on his money at 30 days, and he had to deliver, by using other people’s paintings as collateral. Some of them, he parked even in the auction houses, his level of chutzpah has to be seen to be believed, he actually managed to sell a Titian that was on the wall of the Met. In any case, this gentleman eventually did become unseated. And he has disappeared, last sighted in Brazil. And if anybody can help us out with his whereabouts, Jerry Saltz, our resident investigative journalist would love to write a story all about it.
I use him as an example, there are very clear demands placed upon people, who go into the stock market, the stock market is regulated, these individuals are fingerprinted, they are members of a licensed body of people who are allowed to trade. Their backgrounds are heavily investigated before they begin. This is not the case with the art world. And for these three reasons, there is no regulation, no transparency, and no barriers to entry. These are the reasons that I believe absolutely, that the motion, the art market is less ethical than the stock market, cannot be disputed.
Amy Cappellazzo is deputy chairman and international co-head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s, and she became famous for a quote, something she said a year or two back when describing a rather frothy art market. She said, “After you have a fourth home and a Gulfstream jet, what is there.” It has been picked up and repeated, and repeated and repeated and our next debater is Amy Cappellazzo.
Well, this is such a juicy topic, I really don’t even know where to begin, my notes feel, you know, my head is flooding with all sorts of other ideas besides these, that I’ve put before myself on these pieces of paper today. Certainly I’d like to just say that when you’re on a panel it’s much more interesting to sit on one than sit through one, so I will, you know, work very hard to play to type and make it lively and interesting and there’ve been many swipes against auction house people tonight and as I am the auction house person on this panel, I will get to sort of support and defend the position and place of the auction house as sort an ethical player, but… In reading the proposition over and over again, “The art market is less ethical than the stock market,” of course I had to read this multiple times and I had to analyze every word.
Certainly colonizing the word “ethical” will help make you the winner tonight. And, something ethical is described as “proper conduct and good living.” An essential aspect of ethics is the concept of the life worth living, that each of us aspires to this quality of life and aspires to have the kind of life that allows us to sleep at night and lead an ethical, good life that makes it all worth living. A few things basically need to be established here. Art is not a pure commodity, it’s not an ordinary commodity. While it certainly is bought and sold and traded, the motivations for the place of art in our society, the motivations for its existence and everyone who plays within the game of the art world, are incredibly conflicting in fact.
So…my premise depends on the concept that the art market does not exist without the art world. That in fact the art world adds hugely to the conscience of the art market. What do I mean by the art world, I mean the entire muse profession, critics, curators, conservators, other sorts of people in the cultural production business, writers, graphic designers who work with artists, etcetera. Art is valuable emotionally, intellectually, historically, in a way that other commodities are not inherently. The motivations for becoming part of the art world are too multiple and varied, the rewards are too varied among the various groups, an artist becomes part of the art world for a completely different set of reasons, than a dealer does, than a critic does. So while there is—in the art world there are too many different rewards, the reward structure is fractured and varied. Whereas in the stock market, presably there is a singular reward which is financial compensation.
Within that, there is not really an ability for ethical behavior to— it’s hard to get into ethical run-ins because everybody has a completely different system of reward and a completely different reason for existing within that. Part of what I put forth here is that art is a bit like physics, it can exist both as wave and as particle, so it is at once something that is bought, sold, traded as a commodity, or as something like a commodity, and it exists in this sort of higher place, of emotional, intellectual, historical, and cultural meaning and cultural relevance. I believe that there’s something that exists in the art world, that exists in the art market, that makes it completely different from the stock market, and that is something that I would call, pressure of a common pool, which is a sort of basic, Economics 101 theory, an idea that things that are precious in the public domain that no one exactly owns, let’s say like aquifers, groundwater, forests, fisheries, things of this kind, are in fact, there’s a kind of rule of conduct about how people engage within them which is essentially… more or less ethical. People who do not behave well within these common public treasures are in fact outliers or criminals and are really quickly rooted out, and that those of us who participate in this pressure of a common pool participate ethically and carefully. I believe works of art are something that give us tremendous pleasure. They really, you know, all the beautiful platitudes about feeding our soul and carrying us through difficult times, all of this is entirely true, particularly now, and that we all treat works of art in the same coveted fashion with care, respect, and preciousness that works of art deserve.
If you break these rules of engagement you are a criminal or an outlier. People who know art, people who collect it, artists who make it, collectors who very much covet it, really know that they are only temporary custodians of works of art, it’s kind of like being a foster parent, you don’t really own these works of art, you just take care of them for a while because they’re supposed to outlive you. And you’re supposed to pass them on to someone else. So as long as that is the ethos that surrounds a work of art, how this object is understood in the world and in the marketplace will always be different than something that trades as pure commodity. So, with the position that the art market is less ethical than the stock market, the art world is by far more ethical than the stock market. It has a conflicting set of—has a very varied and various, nerous reward system among its various participants, as opposed to the singularity of money that comes from the stock market. And the actual object traded is very different than a share of stock in all of its principles, properties, ideas, and values. And that is why I am arguing against this proposition tonight.
Adam Lindemann is one of the world’s leading collectors of contemporary art, he likes to share what he knows, he’s written essentially a buyer’s guide for collectors, and he also likes to buy what he likes. He calls himself a consptaholic.
I want to start off by reminding you all what “ethical” actually means, ‘cause I wasn’t even sure what it meant when I thought about it. “Ethical” means “being in accordance with the rules or standards for right conduct,” ethics means this is correct and right conduct and practice. The standards of a profession, and this is the standards of the profession of the art dealer we’re talking about. An example here is, it was not considered ethical for physicians to advertise. It is not ethical for physicians to advertise, I thought well why can’t physicians advertise if they’re good. And the reason is physicians are there to help people. Physicians are supposed to help you with your health. And therefore it’s not really a business. Just like the art market is not really a business but then how can it be a market and not be a business? We get into this whole…ethical question, about art and the market, these two things are really at loggerheads in a way. And I thought, do art dealers advertise. Because it would not be appropriate for physicians to advertise. Do art dealers advertise, and I thought, every art dealer I know, advertised heavily.
As a matter of fact, auction houses advertise, everyone advertises, and therefore, it immediately made me feel well perhaps, advertising is a sign that this is a business and not simply about…ethics and proper conduct. Now, in terms of the stock market, the SEC regulates public companies. And the reason for that, is really to protect the public. If it weren’t for protecting the public, in fact the government would let everyone do whatever they wanted to do with public companies, private companies and whatnot. We have many, many rules and regulations for the financial markets and of course more rules to break, is what many people will think, or more rules to skirt. But the reality is that those rules are there. Now on the other hand, we have works of art, which are inherently unique.
Each work of art is quite different. Even if there is a Degas which sold today for $19 million, that Degas is one of I believe 20 that he made and that particular Degas was cast after his death, that’s what we call a posthous cast, so, in my view that Degas is quite different from a cast that Degas made during his lifetime. How could we regulate Degas’s Danseuse, even if two were exactly the same. The skirt is going to be slightly different, the patina was slightly different. One of them got dropped on the floor and restored, the other one didn’t. So therefore, since art is inherently, each work of art is inherently unique, it’s extremely difficult to regulate. So I was trying to imagine how we would regulate the art world in order to make it truly ethical. And I was thinking we would have to create something called the AEC, as opposed to the SEC we would have the AEC which is the Art Exchange Commission.
This would be a counterpart to the SEC, perhaps a subdivision, in which case we could go after Madoff and we could also go after art dealers who have sold things that are not correct. I think that that whole idea of regulating the art world is in and of itself impossible. And so then I thought, well, what are these standards for proper conduct. How can we be proper, how can we be ethical, in the art market. And I quickly thought of six fast reasons which make it difficult to ensure that every trade in the art market will be ethical. The…of course, many of the dealers and many of the people at the auction houses and many of the artists are my dear friends, and I don’t mean to say that any of them are unethical. My point is rather that the art market itself is ripe for unethical behavior.
That doesn’t mean that the participants in it are unethical. My personal feeling is that the people in the art world that I know are the most wonderful and ethical people I know in any environment, in any business. But that being said, the entire market is ripe for anything to happen. For example. Stocks, when stocks trade, you pay a commission. You can pay between one and 15 cents, you like the guy, you pay 15 cents, he’s given you good information, you can pay 50 cents, you can give him a dollar. You can trade with Charles Schwab. You—it’s a penny a share. When you’re buying a work of art, you have no idea what that real commission is. The art market is all fair game, it’s caveat emptor. Unless you’re going in with a dealer that you know, or a work of art that you know or you have a consultant who you trust, you have no idea what the commission is.
You don’t know if it’s 10 percent, 15 percent, yes, common practice is 10 percent. Common practice in the art world, 10 percent commission. My question to you is, 10 percent of what. The next point which I think is pretty much going to blow this up, is the insider trading. Now, you know that insider trading is wrong when you’re trading public securities. Matter of fact insider training is wrong when you’re trading bonds, when you’re trading stocks. Now, you know, it’s illegal on Wall Street and the reality is in the art market, we live on inside information. I mean the whole art market is based on inside information, I mean that’s the whole idea of art. You know, there are the insiders and then there are the outsiders. Yes, there’s the concept that art is for everyone and art will transcend, and we all want that feeling, I mean, certainly we want the art that’s going to speak to everyone.
However, the reality is, when you’re actually buying art, when you’re a collector, when you’re reaching into your pocket and you need to spend money, you want to know everything, at least I do. It’s not only about love, of course I love, but, I can’t buy everything in the world. So I need to choose what I’m going to do with my resources and I wanna have all that information, especially the inside information that I know that dealer has. Another type of inside information would be if a young artist is going to a big gallery. This is a critical thing to know. The other thing is opportunities for currency exchanges. Geographic. A painting in one country is worth less than a painting in another country. Does that make dealers unethical? Absolutely not. But the whole system is ripe for anything to happen, and that’s the beauty of art, and the art market.
Now, Jerry Saltz who in ArtReview’s 2008 “Power 100” list was ranked number 79… And his wife, Roberta Smith of the New York Times , the art critic, was ranked number 71. Jerry has said “New York City is not the center of the art world anymore, but it is the trading floor.”
First I wanna say, art is not optional. It’s always been here, since the beginning, it has never gone away, it’s not going away. Okay? It isn’t just a decorative hedge that grows in front of a market, or in front of industry or philosophy. Art is a necessity, okay? It changes the world, it won’t reduce the incidence of AIDS in sub- Saharan Africa but it does change the world incrementally, and/or by osmosis, okay? So when you keep talking about the market I want to say to my friends on the other side…that almost there’s a self-hating thing to your argent to me. Because, you are representatives of the market. And I have to remind you first of all, 1 percent of 1 percent of 1 percent of 1 percent of artists actually make money. And even they barely do and usually only for a very short time.
So while—and look at, their clothes are pretty good. And I’m not against–Mr. Feigen just sold a painting for $12 million, that’s great, yesterday, and I think you deserve that. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But when we’re standing here talking about secrecy and manipulation instead of sorcery or prestidigitation or you’re talking about, you’re upset because we’re not regulated. I don’t want us ever to be regulated. This is the art world…people. Am I yelling? This— If this were the industry, that side would be right. But this is the art world, and a world is a place that has a vision, that has problems. The market is a place obviously that people exhibit junkie-like behavior. Millionaires try to enter art history by spending a lot of money. Sometimes the market’s like a friendly Labrador that kind of slobbers all over you and it’s very annoying, but you can’t somehow ignore it. I’m not denying, that the market is a combination of hundreds of things, be it greed, luck, research, a great eye, and I do know one great art dealer in Germany, Johann Koenig, with only one eye, and he can only see about 10 percent with that eye, and he is one of the best dealers in the world. Did I just argue against our side? This is the art world. It isn’t the art industry. They are appealing—and I like them, you know, I see them everywhere—to the cynical side of your nature. I’m being honest with you. The part that goes yeah, it’s all a dirty deal. And everybody’s bad, but let me tell you something. Everybody isn’t bad, most people, and certainly… they’re not, but that’s a different— Art dealers, a lot of them are missing the same chromosome. You know? And it’s very annoying, but I—they create worlds… and they pay the bills, they deal with artists, they deal with critics, they deal with collectors. They deal with plbers, they do a lot. And if they don’t sell 10 shows in a row, they will close. There shouldn’t be regulation, there shouldn’t— And you complain because anyone can enter? I’m going to be honest, I have no degrees at all.
I am so lucky to be here, and I think about it all day every day. That I’m—you know how I got in the art world, I went like this. I’m in the art world. And they said, what are you, and I went, …I’ll be a critic. And that’s how I did what I’m doing. We all are making this up out of ourselves, just like you. To be perfectly honest, we’re all learning on the job. Everybody’s learning on the job, all the time, rules, you want to start the AEC, no, no, no. I mean no offense, I love these people but I hate these ideas. Sorry. We’re not talking about ethics, the art world is ethical, it’s not ethical, it’s this, it’s that, it doesn’t compare, it’s not a $15 billion bubble anywhere, for God’s sake, it’s not nuclear, secrets that are being leaked.
Yes, these guys do know how the secrets are done, and I love that they do, and I don’t even hate them for it, I think, fine, that’s part of it, that’s part of their game. But we’re not talking about ethics, we’re talking about—aesthetics. Aesthetics is the type of thinking and judgment that we use in the art world, and yes. Damien Hirst’s skull cost $100 million, it was very publicly, that he was one of the owners of it. Fine. Whatever. But there’s also the lifestyles of the poor and famous. Vito Acconci right now is standing around going, I still have no money. You know. Adrian Piper, I’m naming names you might not know. The point I guess I’m trying to make, is the art world will work the way it works, it’s time to rethink it. This is true. Because, a lot of the ideas they’re talking about, and I don’t say this about them, but seem very, very yesterday. And a time long, long ago, and we were very lucky to have this very temporary bubble, where 1 percent of blahblah- blah made money and that’s great. I want more artists to make more money, so they don’t have to have dark nights of the soul at their jobs for 40 hours. Now they are. And so are you, and so are they, we’re going to have to worry a little bit more. But…I think you just have to let the art world be what it is. The rethinking of it has to be look at the huge white cubes that we now have. Look, that they may not be enhancing the journeys to art, but may have become content in themselves. The same way that the talk about the market, hollows out art. It takes your eyes off the prize, the way Amy and Chuck were talking about, and you’re stuck talking about a red herring, something that to be perfectly honest, not one person this room, not them… got into the art world to do. Each one of them is here because they love art. So, peace and love.
[End, Part One of this Debate. To read the rest of this transcript, please go to www.intelligencesquaredus.org.]