Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Art of Business is the Business of Art

So we all know not to mix business with pleasure.  But what about mixing business with art?  Art should provide critique and perspective on the direction the world is heading.  On its morals and meanings, its grave mistakes and its greatest triumphs.  So quite rightly the involvement of money and the flow of capital into an artist’s current account is looked on, not quite with scorn, but with raised eyebrows.  The reason being that perhaps the lump sum should be the subject of their next provocation rather than the basis for it.

At the same time, a hard up artist will not create many works from a casket.  There’s some sort of middle ground here.  This middle ground though is a bit like a Tibetan border; it’s a fluid concept about as stable as a well developed game of Jenga.

Of course there’s a tremendous amount of history tied in right from Michelangelo’s commissioned ceilings through to the commodification of Dali’s lobsters.  Money is not the achilles heal of art in the last 20 years but is in fact has been the awkward step brother for the past 2000 years.  It is almost hard wired into the human psyche to presume that great art has been produced by starving, poverty stricken bearded men in their mother’s living rooms consuming only stale bread.

Art was either  commissioned or bought by the rich for many years before the YBAs started lining their pockets.   Afterall, you need quite a bit of financial clout to start buying a product which, in the words of Oscar Wilde, “is quite useless”.  Money and art don’t have a hate-hate relationship but they’re definitely not always best pleased to be neighbours.

The paradox is demonstrated quite neatly when you explore the past 25 years of Victoria Miro and her gallery life.  A very astute dealer with a love for art, she has also been very successful in a pure business sense.  She has kept her gallery going through the cuts of the 90s (when her second gallery in Florence was forced into closure) and has built up a well deserved reputation.  However, this contrasts with the furroe surrounding the Tate’s purchase of The Upper Room.  Funding in art is both the beating heart and the bleeding ulcer.

Chris Ofili’s Upper Room which were acquired by the Tate in 2005 and have since been described as “the bargain of the century” despite the marked lack of clarity surrounding their sale price

But what to do it about it now that the coalition government is planning on slashing financial backing to the culture department by 40% as the FT reported a few weeks ago.  Sotheby’s has also recently reported a sharp upturn in the value of auction sales which is fine for established artists.  Where’s the funding going to come from those still slaving in their mother’s front room?  With the coalition forcing cuts galore artists are not going to be able to pull in ‘innocent’ funding like they once could.

Charlotte Hillenbrand has discussed the implications of brands partnering up with artists with the hope that they could provide new impetus and resources for young, emerging artists.  For some the idea of corporate behemoths, such as BP,  pulling the strings behind artists is a nauseating prospect.  As Charlotte nicely explains “If a brand is smart enough to partner with artists who can engage with the public, create intrigue, memorable experiences and conversational currency, everyone is onto a winning number”.  Just as curators must give room to artists to express whatever they feel they ought, so too should brands if they want to be involved.  It’s a path that’s fraught with danger but I think one that does offer potential.  It is a question of scale.

From the Boundary Layer exhibition at the Parasol Unit: a privately funded gallery which produced this challenging collection of work from the artist Tabaimo

You see, a man with such powerful vision as Anish Kapoor is less likely to yield under pressure from a global brand than a fresh faced artist new to the cut throat world of 21st century art.  Get the pairings right and then the business world could become the proud grandfather rather than the leering uncle which would suit the government nicely as they’ve already expressed a desire for Britain to move towards the US model of corporate sponsorship.  Corporate funding is fine, but it needs to be without conditions and free from meddling.  I’m not sure whether all companies could manage this, but then again, do private collectors?


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