via OnTheCommons.org > David Bollier's blog:
This Art Is Not for Sale
Posted by David Bollier on Mon, 02/12/2007 - 8:45pm
If the market for art is burgeoning, shouldn't that be a great thing for artists? Well, maybe and maybe not. A new exhibit in Queens, New York, "Not for Sale," gathers together dozens of paintings, sculpture and other pieces from the likes of Robert Rauschenberg, Jeff Koons, Maya Lin and Dennis Oppenheim. (See Randy Kennedy, "What They Keep for Love," in the New York Times, February 11.) The art works have little in common except for the simple fact that the artists do not intend to sell them. In today's market-obsessed culture, that is making a radical statement: not for sale.
The art at this exhibit takes backseat to the concept of the exhibit, which invites us to contemplate the meaning of "not for sale." What does it mean to withhold something for sale, and why? The curator, Alanna Heiss, says that she does not want to preach any message, but rather wants to invite contemplation of the intrinsic power of art for art's sake: "I just want to show people art that can be made and exist apart from the market for reasons that I hope still exist, even in this type of market."
Given the ways in which paintings can now sell for millions of dollars and eclipse the experience and meaning of the art itself, this exhibit certainly has admirable aims. If art becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of the market, it subverts its entire purpose for being. Yet of course, artists need to earn a livelihood, too.
As it happens, the artists of "Not for Sale" have many different reasons for keeping their works off the market. Some have highly philosophical reasons, others have personal and sentimental reasons. One artist, Richard Tuttle, is untroubled by the interdependency of the market and art, pointing out that this has been a historical reality throughout time. Yet on the other hand, who can be happy that the rich patrons of art are starting to dictate how artists make their art? Graduate students in art are actually tailoring their aspirations and work to make themselves more saleable. The end of art as a truth-teller?
I haven’t seen the exhibit, so it's hard to know if the works of art, as collected and shown, truly speak to the idea of inalienability. I suspect not. The exhibit is more of a conceptual packaging for an idea. Still, that idea deserves some serious attention. It’s about time that art and artists began to turn their attention to the ways in which commercial markets enhance or degrade the essential work of art.