Artwork by William Powhida
"Keep your eyes a little wide and blank. Show no interest or excitement."
~ Kevin McCarthy as Dr. Miles Bennell, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
The lid was nearly off the jar, it just needed another nudge. Most people had already stopped pretending; frequently overheard in the streets of Chelsea were whispers of "toxic" and "please let's just go to a bar." Then this happened. And then, in this week's Village Voice, Christian Viveros-Fauné's piece blew the lid completely off: 'How Uptown Money Kills Downtown Art'. Just in case there was anyone left trying to pantomime denial. Along the way, he cites a number of instances where folks have accepted, finally, the inconvenient truth of artworld climate change. Like most natural and man-made disasters, it's the little guy that's left holding the burnt end of the stick. He starts by quoting Irving Sandler:
Everything has changed, and the art market is a big part of that. Back in my day, people used to fight for their views. Now people look for the auction prices, and the prices are their argument.
He goes on to quote now-infamous statements from various artworld cognoscenti who have defected, or who at least have affected defection: veteran art critic Dave Hickey ("It's nasty and it's stupid....calcified, self-reverential, and a hostage to rich collectors who have no respect for what they are doing"), and Seven Days in the Art World author Sarah Thornton (the art market gives "too much exposure to artists who attain high prices"). He cites Reuters financial blogger Felix Salmon, who describes "the degree to which the market is kept afloat by vast, dark pools of wealth" in his post 'Occupy Art.' He invokes the anti-Miami Basel screed by Barneys gadfly ambassador Simon Doonan in his Slate column ("a vapid hell-hole of investment-crazed pretentiousness"), as well as critic Blake Gopnik's depressing final Newsweek column ("hubris has taken over from sense across the board"). Viveros-Fauné calls this description "too delicate by half", comparing the effect of the market on the artworld to "Chernobyl."
To those who have been looking on in wonderment and horror, there's no question: the artworld has been replaced in the night by something dark, shiny and lizard-like that has no soul and no brain. It seems to have engendered the same fate as those poor small-town cardboard humans in Invasion of the Body Snatchers:
I never knew fear until I kissed Becky. A moment's sleep, and the girl I loved was an inhuman enemy bent on my destruction. That moment's sleep was death to Becky's soul, just as it had been for Jack and Teddy and Dan Kauffman and all the rest. Their bodies were now hosts harboring an alien form of life; a cosmic form, which to survive must take over every human man! So I ran! I ran! I ran as little Jimmy Grimaldi had run the other day. My only hope was to get away from Santa Mira, to get to the highway, to warn the others of what was happening!