Art as such, well, Modern Art, seems to be in a bit of a turmoil at this moment in time. That’s my opinion anyway, and has been for some years now. Yes, there are meaninglessly high prices achieved at recent art sales, such as for Jackson Pollock (140,000,000 USD), Willem de Kooning (137,500,000 USD), Gustav Klimt (135,000,000 USD), Pablo Picasso (104,200,000 USD), Mark Rothko (72,800,000 USD) and Andy Warhol (71,700,000 USD), but that is art history of dead artists and may be a result of the ‘New Richistan’ of Russia, China and India, not to mention Wall Street or the City of London.
Contemporary Art is a different story, though. There is Damien Hirst (auction record so far at 20,063,000 USD) offering a Diamond Skull supposedly worth an amount of 98,000,000 USD, whilst Spanish newspapers compete this week with silly promotions of dinner plates by Eduardo Chillida and commercial prints of Andy Warhol silkscreens. Would you like to own an Andy Warhol print for the price of 1 €? ‘El Mundo’ newspaper has it waiting for you.
The art world has turned into the art market, MARKET being written in capital letters.
Artists strive to achieve their promised ‘15 minutes of fame’. Artistic output is often not based on clever thoughts or mindful inspirations but mostly exclusively directed at the saleability of the work created. That’s actually misleading. Works are not created anymore, works are produced, fabricated, manufactured. Artists appear to now follow Andy Warhol’s dictum of ‘Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art’, but fail to understand his individual circumstances in the particular time during ‘The Factory’ in the New York of the Seventies. Ah, there you have it. Warhol was the first artist to actually call his studio a factory. 40 years ago he was the only one, now it is everyone.
Notwithstanding, the confused contemporary art world celebrates itself more vividly than ever this year. For one, you have the recently opened ’52nd Venice Biennale’, the massive international exhibition of Contemporary Art in Venice, Italy. There is a staggering number of more than 100 exhibitions in Venice, representing a total of 76 countries, from Italy to Uzbekistan, France to Ukraine, and Great Britain to Uruguay. Britain is represented this year by a female artist only for the second time ever. The lucky lady is Tracey Emin, famous for exhibiting her unmade bed at the old Tate Gallery years ago.
The grand opening in Venezia was followed last week by more openings of more major art events: that of ‘Documenta 12’ in its provincial setting in Kassel, Germany; a huge art event that is staged every five years, and ‘Sculpture Projects Münster’, a big, but not so mega show in nearby Münster, Germany, that takes place only every ten years.
Venice turns the contemporary art fan’s visit into a kind of a treasure hunt. There are big group shows in palatial old buildings in the historic inner city (see photo above), solo exhibitions in pavilions dedicated to individual nations in the Giardini, the expansive park at the east end of town; and many small shows in locations that will test the visitors’ map-reading skills.
Kassel seems to have failed this year in making ‘Documenta 12’ into anything but a politically correct kaleidoscope of art and decorum. I have not been to the new Kassel show, but I have been to all but two or three of the last eleven editions. I doubt very much that I shall go this year. From what I see in the media, Kassel appears to be non-committed. Not committed to art, not committed to the problems of today’s society and not committed to any future other than a slick and consumerist one. Not for me, this one, I am afraid. The only gripping statements of art that you can see this year in Kassel, it seems, are remnants of past ‘Documentas’ such as Joseph Beuys’ ‘7,000 Oak Trees’ or Walter de Maria’s ‘Earth Kilometre’. But I have seen those at the time of their first presentations, and a few times since.
More relevance seems to be offered in Münster. All the art on offer there is presented out of doors and away from gallery spaces, i. e. away from any points-of-sale. One of this year’s highlights is a sculpture project by Bruce Nauman called ‘Square Depression’. The American artist designed this sculpture for the Münster exhibition of 1977, but the thorough German authorities delayed their approval at the time for supposed technical reasons. Only now, 30 years later, has the artist been authorized to make his now belated statement.
Whether you decide to travel to Venice, to Kassel or to Münster this year, you may find that contemporary art in its confused present state lacks more than just a go-ahead on technical grounds.