Art Values or Money Values

Donald Kuspit

"How the middle aged and old collectors respond to keep an eye on. It might not yet be 'a public battle of styles', there is a possibility that such collectors will reconcile their boredom by collecting a lot of early moderns and returning to the 'autonomus form'".

We don't have art movements any more. Money's organs on view! I will suggest that the irrational exuberance of the contemporary art market is about the breeding of money, not the fertility of the art, and that commercially precious works of art have become the organ grinder's monkeys of money they exist to increase the generative value and staying power of money - the power of money to breed money, to fertilize itself - not the value and staying power of art.

Many years ago Meyer Schapiro argued that there was a radical difference between art's spiritual value and its commercial value. The commercial value of art has usurped its spiritual value and indeed, seems to determine it. Art's esthetic, cognitive, emotional and moral value - its value for the dialectical varieties of critical consciousness - has been subsumed by the value of money.

Art has never been independent of money, but now it has become a dependency of money. Consciousness of money is all-pervasive. Money has always invested in art. As though admiring, even worshipping, what it respected as its superior - the true treasure of civilization - but today money's hyper-investment in art, implicitly an attempt to overwhelm it, to force it to surrender its supposedly higher values, strongly suggests that money regards itself as superior to art.

Even more interestingly, money's respectability has made once disrespectful avant-garde art - art once scornfully irreverent towards capitalist society, art that claimed to be spiritual revolution against its material values - respectable. Today it is no longer a matter of art legitimating and celebrating the power that is money, but of money legitimating and appropriating art by making it a capitalist fiefdom.

Inevitably, one must recall Andy Warhol's prescient idea of business art, that is, his recognition that art has become a business and making money in business is an art, implying that the making of money and the making of art involve the same motivation. A new hierarchy of value has in fact been established: money has come to have higher value than art.

Money no longer serves and supports art, art serves and supports money. When money showers its blessings on art, the way Jupiter showers money on Danae, art spreads its legs in gratitude. Since Rothko wrote, we have witnessed the slow but steady encroachment of money in art. Escalating auction prices confirm that the capitalization of art is complete. Money has completely conquered art, indeed, art has become a spices of money.

Art was spirit in material form, the material of art a means to spiritual end. Art was always inwardly fine, whatever profane form it took. Only art that makes money finds its way into the textbooks, which sometimes seems like rationalization of auction results. Official art history tends to follow the leads of the art markets, consciously as well as unconsciously. Is the convergence of art and money-the equating of art with money - healthy or unhealthy for the artist, however much it may be a sign of healthy capitalism? I will return to the question of the general spiritual effect of the capitalist appropriation of art by money, but now I want to get down to the brass tacks of art prices in 2006 and their effect on the perception and evaluation of art. I will offer an understanding of the value and meaning accorded to works of art - and, by extension, the artist who made them -- by the amount of money paid for them. Paying a certain amount of money for a work of art can be compared to placing a bet on a number in roulette. It is in fact less of a gamble, for the more money one places in the art number the more one guarantees that it will win the art game. Big money guarantees big art historical returns - good art historical fortune as well as a very good economic future. It only stops in the most money.

Gamblers such as art dealer Jeffrey Deitch and collectors Donald and Mera Rubells, recently installed on a College Art Association panel with Jerry Saltz and Peter Plagens, two art critics, confirm that big money has taken over art. It is nouveau riche money that finds new meaning in old art and old meaning in new art - that has perverse insights - not the self-styled critical establishment.

Is Geffen manipulating art values or is he just making as much money as he can? The players have become more important than the artists whose works they play with because they have the money and the artist don't. I am suggesting that the price paid for a work of art becomes its absolute and authoritative value, even if the value the price implies is not particularly clear. Also, a low price suggests a short-term investment, while a high price suggests a long-term investment, and ultimately the "pricelessness" that confers immortality on art - its value beyond money even though its immortality resides in the vast amount of money it can be exchanged for. The high prices paid for Kooning and Pollock confirm that they are long-distance art-historical runners rather than sprinters who fall by the historical wayside.

There are several noteworthy things about this list, each indicative, in a different way, of the power of money value to create or at least impose art value. The question is what kind of critical value?

The list implies the conflation of critical value and social value, where social value tends to be reduced to national value, implicitly understood as a bottom line value. Price signals a partisan national choice, and with that supposedly national art values. again the canon created by American art administrator has been changed - an American derivative of French art has lost pride of place, coming in second to a German competitor. I suggest this is one of the reasons that the art of Germany and Austria, a country in its sphere of influence, are achieving higher prices than French and American art. There is no way that art prices can avoid reflecting sociopolitical realities, for art values have always reflected them, if not exclusively. I am also saying that for all the supposed transnational of art, national styles continue to exist, and national values are at stake in art prices. It conveys the breakdown of difference between popular commercial and fine art, which in fact occurred almost simultaneously in the work of all three artists. The development of art prices follows the development of art values if they develop. I suggest that as the political credibility and economic power of the United States declines and the political credibility and economic power of China grows - as Shanghai overtakes New York and even London and Frankfurt as a commercial center - the art produced in the United States will lose economic and artistic value while the art produced in China will gain economic and artistic value, with a few art administratively enforced exceptions. It seems clear, then, that the artist's nationality influences the price of his or her art. The freer the market, the higher the price of the art, confirming that the art market is a free market. The libertarian character of the art market accords with the unregulated character of contemporary art production.

Today art is what price you can get away with. Fontantels - Cisneros attended this year's New York art fairs. Clearly art offers an exceptionally good return of investment. Let me emphasize that while these art money comparisons raise art value comparisons, the market offers no conceptual follow-through or rationale for its prices. Money's reason for being is enough to make the being of any art rational and give it critical import.

In other words, money is the only reason d'etre and meaning art finally needs. You may say that money values have nothing to do with art values. But art prices not only impinge on them, but imply there is no need for independent evaluation of art. Today art's importance is that it creates money. It is not clear that money creates art, however much it may "patronize" it. Art's value is guaranteed by money, which doesn't mean that without money it has no value, but that money value overrides art value while appearing to confer it. Both art and criticism have been defeated by money, even though money gives art critical cachet, thus validating it as art. Even more insidiously, money has become more existentially meaningful than art.

I suggest that money has entered the sacred river of art and muddied it, even as it attempts to undo its sacrilege by paying artists off. But it looks like the relationship between art and money has become incestuous, suggesting that the marriage between money and art will produce defective artists.