Monday, June 23, 2008

the market for dead artists

The New York Times held a disturbing article about the worth of art after the death of the artist, limited supply and all. It's an old story told in perhaps a new way, as increasingly mega-galleries need "fresh" top shelf goods to suppy the hot list demand. And if it is not there, it might be dug out literally from beyond the grave.

An integral part of the story was the artists' inability or refusal to play ball: they avoided studio visits or the "audition." Another subtext, subtly mentioned but not really explored, is the fact that some of us, from time to time, recycle our works in order to make new ones. Because well, they didn't sell. One artist sold only two paintings while languishing (but at least still alive!) in his years in the gallery system.

The 1980s is specifically targeted as the spawning ground for these artists and "a period now considered hot." Most of us made no money back then, but we could watch the escalating view and reportage of rising artstars like Basquiat and Haring and feel a part of that somehow. And making a painting on top of an old painting was really not all that unusual.

What happens after death looms more when you're on the other side of 50, as I am and as are some of my artist friends. We may not have second vacation homes and big stock portfolios. In fact some never bought a home at all. The "stock portfolio" is the pile of paintings and other works built up over of a lifetime. Of course you wonder when it actually becomes that nest egg and not this mass which just takes up room, increasingly becoming a drag every time you have to move. When Jack Goldstein commited suicide in 2003, there still wasn't a hot market for his work (see image above). Now they hover at $250,00. I wonder if some of the paintings have another underneath?

Sharon Butler also made note of this article - Secrets for posthumous success - and provided some related links.


Sheree Rensel said...

Hmmm. I read this same post on "Two Coats". In no way am I equating my stature with the artists mentioned. That would be so presumptuous. Ha! However, I think about this all the time. I can see it now. I really do. I imagine a time after I am dead and buried SOMEONE will say "Hey, look at all this crap!” Of course, I am being a bit facetious. However, there is a part of me which knows I am right. I am just as good. I am just as notable. I am just as worthy. Maybe I won't know about it, but I guess that is the way a lot of this works. I guess.

Anonymous said...

Well Sheree you can't help but compare yourself if you've made it this far, still making art and "collecting your own work," as Ed Ruscha would say (this is not to say you don't sell it too...). Everyday we make work, it's a choice. And every time we move and lug a bunch of work with us, that's a choice. I never thought of it that way until I left NYC and had to pay for the moving of all these paintings I made in the 80s. Were they worth anything at all? I still don't know.

namastenancy said...

I think about this a lot - well, maybe not a lot lot, but more than sometimes. What will my work be worth when I'm dead? Will my family just toss it in the trash? They probably will because none of them give a damn about art or understand anything beyond Woolworth's reproductions of 19th century landscapes. On the other hand, the older I get, the less interested I am in success. That might just be realism setting in, given the gallery situation here in the Bay Area or it might be my refusal to play the game. For me, at 63, it's all about making art and living what I consider a good life - not pandering to a system that despised me when I was alive and would exploit me after death if the price was right.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nancy... I am on the fence about it all. Part of me thinks I will destroy it all, especially the diaries. But then again, why bother with it, why take so much time with it, if it's only for ourselves?....E

namastenancy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
namastenancy said...

I removed my previous comment because there were a couple of important typos- so, here it is corrected:

But isn't making art - in the last analysis - about us? I remember reading an opinion piece somewhere along the lines of "if you don't sell, are you an artist?" I think that most artists have to say yes if they want to continue being artists and creating. Can our art making be tied solely to a successful career? For most artists and especially women artists, the answer has to be NO. We make art because we must, because there is some part of our being that is tied to making art.

Of course, I'd like to sell my pieces but I'm also very realistic. The Bay Area art market is not a good one for a lot of artists; if you are male, make cartoon art, quasi-porn or tattoos or skateboards, it's a paradise. So, because I don't sell very much, should I give up or should I just keep on making pieces for my own pleasure? I think that a lot of us are always pondering this dilemma. I imagine that if I had a market for my art, I'm probably produce more. Success can breed a drive that lack of success does not. But, for me, being commercially unsuccessful also translates to a lot of freedom. If I want to make small books and watercolors instead of large pieces, I do so. If I want to spend a year or more learning about oil paints, it's no loss. I wasn't always this philosophical - I learned in a hard school. But at 63, I can’t tie my delight in being an artist, looking at art and continually learning to the type of success that is defined by having a gallery and big sales. If I did, I wouldn’t be painting.

Sheree Rensel said...

You wrote:
"Well Sheree you can't help but compare yourself if you've made it this far, still making art and "collecting your own work,"

Hell yeah!! Don't we both know it!!

Thanks for the validation.