Bacon, Koons with Hirst, and a Side of Yue Minjun

by Gary John Gresl

The Regional Art Junkie
The Regional Art Junkie

For a few years we have watched auction prices at Sotheby’s and Christie’s set new records for vintage and contemporary art. Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Francis Bacon have been among the most sought after, with new prices being set auction after auction. Record price levels have also been established for such longer established secular demigods as Rothko and Warhol. We are talking many dozens of millions of dollars per piece.
To add to the churning marketplace come reports about the rise of interest and monetary value of contemporary Chinese artists, with the smiling canvases of Yue Minjun among them, as well as more focus going to artists of India and Latin America.
To call this a feeding frenzy would not be far from the truth, and just like any lustful self gratifying behavior, there comes a time when bellies are full, headaches abound, and there seem naught but leftovers remaining to be casually nudged, then ignored until the next hunger needs to be satiated.
Are there art coat tails for us regional artists? Can we… have we… ridden any crests created during the last few years of an exhilarating art market fueled by millionaires and billionaires? Has the financial power of major art centers filtered down to collectors in the Midwest and Wisconsin?
So sorry to say that it does not appear that Wisconsin has yet seen reports about increasing numbers of millionaires involved in buying our regional art, driving up values and reputations, though some of that might quietly be going on without our notice.
Along the same lines, have wealthy art interested people announced that they are giving gifts of millions of dollars to aid the fund raising for the expansion of the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend? If one painting can sell in New York for 30 million or more, how hard is it for an art patron to contribute a few million to a worthy cause such as a regional art museum? (FYI, it appears that the MWA is doing pretty well with its fundraising, but if there was a wealthy patron ready to give millions, we would probably hear about it. Remember the name change of the Elvehjem Museum to the Chazen thanks to millions from that family? I’m sure that the MWA would have a gallery or two that might be named after some affluent benefactors.)
For months now it has been discussed and speculated that the thriving art market, especially in New York and London, was due for a correction… a down turn, perhaps a crash. Some such development, greater or lesser, is expected, for how can a super heated market/business continue forever?
Here are quotes from an article in the New York Times from Nov. 22, written by Michael Kimmelman:
“You may have noticed how even cheerleaders for the contemporary art boom have lately begun to worry about the current market insanity, hedging their bets, and reputations, perhaps. The current system seems rigged to make rich people richer. Meanwhile Mike Kelley, the American artist, over lunch the other day bemoaned how students and many newly minted art stars seem to take for granted that art is just a business now.”
And Kimmelman adds this as he speaks about an exhibit of Titian’s work: “Titian reminds us, among other things, that art is a business but it’s also a calling, or else it’s not really worth anything in the end.”
And that brings on the coda to this issue of the “Junkie”. By the time this article gets into print we may have heard more reports about the expected New York-London art market slow down.
So what? It will not likely mean much if anything at all to our regional art market. Compared to what goes on in major markets we are bargains! We are undervalued! Unless we break through at the national level, we will still be facing the scramble to make a living, get ahead, stay afloat and otherwise produce art that is personally meaningful. Ah! Yes…why do we make it?
I repeat what Mr. Kimmelman of the New York Times states above, “Titian reminds us, among other things, that art is a business but it’s also a calling, or else it’s not really worth anything in the end.”