The world has been utterly turned on its head.
Worlds, in fact, have been utterly turned on their head. Sports are a distant memory. Shopping basically involves logging into ssense and trying to figure out what size your chubby quarantined ass is now. Travel means adventuretime all the way to Whole Foods.
The ramifications just don’t cease. The fashion world is in a tizzy, as both its perpetual cycle of shock/awe with fashion weeks has been cast aside, meaning the big buyers are less inclined to throw black cards at event invites, and their wanton racial prejudices and casual indifference to large swathes of the world have been thrown into very serious (and legitimate) question of late. We’ll see how that plays out, but fingers very much crossed for some change.
The art world, as ever, is…unique.
Galleries have been shuttered across the globe, but some…errr…interesting accounting has also allowed for major private institutions to receive PPP COVID relief loans. Mega galleries including Hauser & Wirth, Gagosian, and David Zwirner received relief loans, which feels stilted when remembering that Gagosian, for example, has eclipsed one billion in annual sales at his personal gallery network in the past. Obviously ensuring our collective economic future is paramount, but the LA Lakers don’t need or warrant loans, and neither does Larry bloody Gagosian.
Still, it’s been a fractious time. I’ve personally seen all manners of extraordinary artworks going on the sales market low key, from Picasso’s and Banksys to Ruschas and Kusamas. All from people who would prefer to keep it anonymous, and proxy sales through a Swiss gallery. That’s a very telling economic symbol.
We’re also seeing the very public acknowledgement by Takashi Murakami that his studio may see bankruptcy amidst COVID concerns. This was a harsh wake up call for all, as Murakami is easily one of the world’s most famous and successful painters. Louis Vuitton collaborative collections, magnificently pointless Virgil Abloh exhibition collabs, retrospectives at the Guggenheim and the Fondation Louis Vuitton. Literally hard to imagine a bigger name in the art world. And bankruptcy may not be far afoot. This would be horrible. Maybe karma for supporting that pedephilac little piece of shit Mr., but horrible nonetheless. Murakami is the first genuine progenitor of a ‘global art movement’ in ages; the man who essentially told Ellsworth Kelly, Jan Boer, and Morris Louis to hold his beer, and created a whole new level of flatness and anti-dimensionality. Super flat.
This news also comes at a time when Murakami is about to unleash a charity project. 6 different prints; editions of 300 apiece. All prints black, and all profits to BLM. A million plus usd, he reckons. One ‘prays’ that his financial troubles don’t catch up prior to this release, though it has already been postponed once.
Then, conversely, we’ve seen prices for certain artists skyrocket. Daniel Arsham released his first ever paper print; a bit of a surprise move from an artist who boasts a strong architectural background and typically works only in the pan-dimensional. And not only did he do an edition of 100 pieces that sold out in less than a minute, they were $9500 USD. Yeah, for real, NINETY FIVE HUNDRED USD. And $1700 more for shipping. I’m pretty sure from my crib to his studio in the LIC I could charter a helicopter there and back for like $400. Last time I went it was thirty minutes and $2.75 each way on the train. Who the hell is delivering this print? Brinks? Ironman? Kanye in some kind of latent post-MAGA dirigible? The actual fuxk.
But this all serves to highlight the one intangible of the art world. Forget hype. Forget Veblen goods. The art world has a factor unseen in any other arena. In the normal process of the free market, goods are assigned value for a host of reasons, including production size, scarcity, media, and so on and so forth.
In the art world, with its dark, cavernous, exclusive, and often indecipherable codes and mores, we have to boil individual pieces, OGs, as one of a kind pieces are oft referred, down to their essence. As one learns in day one of econ101, the Smith-ian free market is hella simple. Something is worth precisely what someone is willing to pay for it.
In the art world, those numbers are like Donald Trumps personal net worth. They often revolve specifically around feelings and emotions. If I believe a painting to be worth $11,000, but one other person on earth believes it be worth $11,000,000, and they are willing to back that conviction up with…you know….$11,000,000, then that piece is worth $11,000,000. This isn’t rocket science.
Sometimes money laundering or other shadiness comes into play, but mostly its speculation. Like Sand Hill Road tech VCs. If you make bets on all the small fish at relatively reasonable prices and one pops, you recoup your whole investment and then some. Imagine if you bought ten Banksys 15 years ago (even while buying 10 pieces each from a bunch of other artists). Hopefully one of the other artists was Kaws or Condo, but still. The profits there outweigh the losses elsewhere.
And, speaking of, in the midst of a catastrophic new world order, there paradoxically has never been a better time to collect prints from artists you love, at prices that make it actually feasible.
I mentioned the Murakami BLM prints. But there have also been prints at incredibly reasonable prices, largely supporting COVID relief or BLM, from a vast range of artists, including Kayla Mahaffey, Chloe Wise, Petra Collins, Michael Reeder, Cleon Petersen, Dennis Osadebe, James Jean, and on and on. Yoshitomo Nara did a print for $200 (yup!) to support Dallas Contemporary. Kaws did a series of five small batch prints to support various charities (at $1200, which is nothing compared to the 8k his profit engendering print release of this week cost). Hell, Kaws even did some ‘figurine’ sales to raise charity monies. They were full price, and Kaws figurines on the shelf is roughly analogous to wearing a ‘Hello My Name Is Fuccboi’ sticker on your lapel, but point still stands.
The art world, like all others, is in flux.
Prints and pieces from artists with names in good stead with the kind of cats who run bots for Chunky Dunkys are running sky high (think Baldur, or Harrington). Cats are even running bots on gallery sites now. And I hear more discussions of resale values than of colour palettes. Hypebeast-ification of bloody everything.
One thing is clear. The art world will survive. By any means necessary. And thrive, clearly.