Friday, December 26, 2008

apples and oranges...

During the last days of 2008 there were some robberies that occurred in New York City that caught some attention from the local press in connection with the general raise in crime that has occurred during this period of economic decline. However, 'petty' theft of tens, or hundreds, or even thousands of dollars during armed (and unarmed) physical assaults pale in comparison to the scale of deceit and robbery that can occur through legal means.

For example, hedge fund manager Bernie Madoff is accused of swindling investors, some as notable as Steven Spielberg, out of billions of dollars and, while under house arrest, was caught with checks made out to family members and associates worth approx. 173 million usd in an effort to hide his personal fund from persecutors. In addition, think of all the loan officers, banking institutions and appraisers who made a financial killing during the housing bubble and stand to profit from the subsequent government bailout. In contrast, the average bank robbery nets approx. $2,000. From a practical standpoint, if one is going to commit a crime in order to profit, while-collar crime demonstrably trumps petty larceny anyday (I mean you get the same prison sentence more or less).

But the point here isn't to condone or condemn either but to point out some of the things that are 'legal'. Various legal edicts, Papal Bulls, laws, statutes, constitutions, and the like have been passed since the Code of Hammurabi in 1760 BC providing the legal context by which the "State" and religious institutions have codified their actions. Think about 'The Conquest'. The vanity of man, whether 'Men of God' or not, who would draw up a map of the New World and divide it amongst two European powers. Lands with their own history and culture, claimed in the name of Kings and Queens. Rebellion amongst the Indians only fed the stereotypes of their 'savagery' and justified the continued occupation by the Spaniards. Similar to arguments that Iraq must remained occupied until the violence dissipates without the admission that the violence may be in part due to the actual occupation. Or how, sixty years ago, Israel was craved out of occupied lands by the legal proclamations of the dying remnants of the British Empire and today are denying sovereignty to the very people whose land was taken in order to create the Israeli state in the first place.

It would be illegal go into someone's residence and physically remove them but you could buy up all the land around them, inflate the prices, in order to 'force' out residents. Crime doesn't pay, unless one can change the law and legalize the 'action'. Sort of like rendition, torture, and waterboarding (practiced since at least the Vietnam War). Petty crime, most associated with deviants, inner cities, and minorities, allows for small-time gains but to really obtain substantial wealth through deceptive means necessitates legal, institutionalized and socially-accepted channels through which actions can be executed. Any great fortune, it is said, has infamy as a partner and perhaps if people realized a suit and a briefcase was more effective than a doo-rag and a weapon, my friend with 'street dreams' wouldn't have court records...or at least Swiss bank accounts in addition to their legal issues.

"Mas puede la pluma que la espada" (The Pen is mightier than the sword)

~Spanish Proverb

Thursday, December 11, 2008

shine on you crazy diamond...

How does one put a price tag on anything? Besides the cost of the raw materials that comprise of any given object and the necessary markup, there are all types of factors such as supply, prestige, goodwill, etc. that conflate prices. One of the biggest challenges for any artist is placing a price tag on their work that is considered "fair" for both parties. I say f*ck fair! My business degree has taught me that the prices of most things are so subjective, and even more so in the art world. Plenty of the most successful artists, from Titian to Reubens to Velasquez, Warhol and Murakami have utilized assistants to increase production output, only signing the finished artwork. 

Damien Hirst, 42, may well be the world’s richest artist, however it is debatable how much he actually is involved with his actual product. As the highest-priced living artist (his most expensive piece selling for approx. 100 million usd), wouldnt an individual purchasing his work want the actual craftsmanship of the artist, rather than those of assistances and interns? While most of his money comes from the sale of artwork, Mr. Hirst has a company, Other Criteria, that licenses his imagery, creates products, and sells them on the Web. In addition to Hirst’s own prints, editions, books, posters, and T-shirts, the company markets the wares of other artists. And this is just one piece of an umbrella corporation, Science Ltd., that oversees Hirst’s vast studios, 120 employees, and other business interests.

This past summer (2008) Damien Hirst officially became the world’s most expensive living artist both at auction and in the gallery, bypassing even long-established greats like Jasper Johns. In June, Sotheby’s London sold Hirst’s Lullaby Spring, a 2002 medicine cabinet filled with hand-painted pills, for £9.65 million ($19.3 million), superseding Johns’s auction record for a living artist. But that’s nothing compared with the £50 million ($100 million) price on For the Love of God (2007), Hirst’s diamond-encrusted platinum skull, which London’s White Cube gallery sold in August, reportedly to a consortium that included the artist himself. 

Hirst's work is an examination of the processes of life and death: the ironies, falsehoods and desires that we mobilise to negotiate our own alienation and mortality. His production can be roughly grouped into three areas: paintings, cabinet sculptures and the glass tank pieces. The paintings divide into spot and spin paintings. The former are randomly organised, color-spotted canvases with titles that refer to pharmaceutical chemicals. The spin paintings are 'painted' on a spinning table, so that each individual work is created through centrifugal force.

Hirst recently stated, "If I want to sell new work, I'll price it lower. If people have got less money, you can either just shut your door and say, 'Screw everybody', or I can wait until everyone can afford my work or price it cheaper." Thus, you can't measure the success of Damien Hirst with traditional concepts of art world success. After all, Hirst is exploring different markets in order to sustain his art dynasty, so to speak.

Value is defined as the degree of usefulness or desirability of something, especially in comparison with other things. However, what is useful to someone does not have to be equally useful to somebody else. In that respect, “value is in the eye of the beholder.” Furthermore, what is useful in one context does not have to be useful in another context. So value is, by its very definition, subjective. Is a Hirst piece worth the money? Is a Picasso? Is a Renoir? Is anything worth what is paid for it? How would you value a $300 pair of jeans if you were hungry? Or sick? Or stranded on a desert island? Perhaps not much. In the end, art is composed of materials...plastics, canvas, paint, staples and little else. The value-added is the skill and the intangibles of the artist. I am not fortunate to have assistants but I have learned one thing: never to feel like i have sold myself short.

"But the answer to how to live is to stop thinking about it. And just to live. But you're doing that anyway. However you intellectualise it, you still just live"

~Damien Hirst

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

sobre mi mala educación...

The paradigm of economic globalization is sharpening the historical processes of social marginalization of the indigenous peoples.  Meanwhile, in the cultural arena, a process of “homogenization” is beginning, which attempts to undermine the pluricultural identity of the continent, ignoring the fact that the construction of modern citizenship involves the challenge of reconciling the historical and cultural specific features of each community with world development and modernity. What does this mean? This mean that in the realm of global cultural politics, artists and individuals from peripheral countries (i.e. those not from the "first-world") are more often than not overlooked and unknown outside of a limited regional context. When is that last time you bought a CD from a musician based in Burkina Faso or Estonia? Often the cultural dominance of a particular country, or group of countries, follows their global political and economic dominance.

One of those underappreciated in the canon of the arts is Oswaldo Guayasamín, an Ecuadorean artist who dedicated his life to painting, sculpting, collecting, fighting injustice and adulating the virtues of the Cuban Revolution in general and Fidel Castro in particular. He was given a prize for "an entire life of work for peace" by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The magnificent work of Oswaldo Guayasamin, whose images capture the political oppression, racism, poverty, and class division found in much of South America. His death on March 10 1999 was marked by a day of national strikes by the indigenous people (whom he spent his life supporting) and other sectors of society, and was considered a great loss to Ecuador.

Once the home and studio of Ecuador's most famous modern artist, his spacious museum in Bellavista, a northern residential area of Quito, now houses an extensive collection of the artist's own work, from the beginning of his 'career' at the age of 7, right up until his death in 1999. He is famous for his abstract humanist works, that both reflect and denounce the violence of the 20th century with its world wars, civil wars, genocide, concentration camps, dictatorships, and tortures. Sadly, not much is known of this artist here in the United States, or many others from Latin America, Africa and other developing regions of the world. Often
finding the best of the best requires a little more searching beyond the conventional.

"Hay un único lugar donde ayer y hoy se encuentran y se reconocen y se abrazan. Ese lugar es mañana"

~Eduardo Galeano