|SOLD: $750,000 |
(Hauser & Wirth)
Which is not to say that there were no sales. In fact, Paul McCarthy’s SC Western Red River, Red (2016), the first work in a new series entitled “Stagecoach,” sold for $750,000.
I want you take a moment and wrap your head around that.
It's silicone, measuring 52 × 32 × 37 in. (132.1 × 81.3 × 94 cm). It is from an edition of 3 with 2 additional artist proofs, so it's not even a unique piece, produced earlier this year and it sold for three-quarters of a million dollars this past weekend.
Paul McCarthy is recognized for his provocative, some would say tasteless, performances, multi-media installations, and sculptures, and so his work is very grounded in what could easily be termed "lowbrow" culture. Now, I'm not a Philistine; I appreciate high-concept work, and I can find the humor (if not necessarily the appraisable value) of his Santa Claus porn videos, Zapruder film reenactment, and even the giant, inflatable, chocolate butt plug. But I would be lying if I confessed to seeing anything deep, meaningful, or pleasing about that red, melted gnome in the upper left corner of this post. This exemplifies the disconnect between the pedantic and the public, and in that respect McCarthy as provocateur is the Donald Trump of the fine art establishment.
There might not be much harm in enjoying an occasional dose of juvenility, but for such work to become the standard bearer of academia... well let's just say there is a danger in that.
|Beefy by Mikal Winn|
Available for $12,000
I know that it has become novel to bag on contemporary art, and criticizing the wealthy has always been in vogue–especially as a form of disapproval. But I'm not a classicist. I would no more judge a collector for their bank account than for their race, creed, color, or age. Many patrons of the arts donate significant sums to charitable enterprises, and their disposable income fuels local economies.
Investment in art, however, is mostly a kind of tax shelter, whereby funds that could be taxed if left in a bank can't be taxed if spent on art until the point of resale. By that criteria the more money spent and the smaller the space it occupies, the better. Often, such art is placed directly in a warehouse rather than actually displayed. Best, then, if that art can be loaned to a respected institution who will care for it, store it, and give it additional provenance. In that respect, less expensive art becomes more of a hassle for them since it protects less of their taxable income and occupies more physical space. Investment art starts at $20,000 on the low end, but is generally hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars and those private sales and auction results fuel the rest of the market like a price guide.
|Rose by Mikal Winn|
Available for $3,200
But just as the mainstream news media has been blamed for the rise of Donald Trump, so too must contemporary art critics take a bit of the blame for the meteoric prices we're seeing for banal and poorly executed art. Money is not taste. But if coverage isn't given to good work, money won't find it. I'd rather read a positive review of lesser known art than a complete savaging of a sacred cow, and besides, not covering a big show is more damaging than a negative review.
|Mikal Winn & Dave Lebow|
Thank you, art world.
–Matt Kennedy, May 2016