Neoliberal Art / Ali Alışır 2012
In the first quarter of this century, big revolutions; art movements; and ideological and political poles are disappearing. As Marx puts, “all that is solid melts into air.” Disintegration of Soviet Union, China’s transition to post communist economy, and the change of capital city of arts from Paris to New York have influenced the arts circle deeply; and these dramatic changes paved the way to the formation of Neoliberal art. During the second half of 20th century, the claim of art was transformed from ‘changing life’ into ‘being part of the neoliberal world’.
So, what is Neoliberalism and how does it affect arts? First of all, in a Neoliberal system free trade is the case. In a trading system, that has no rules, it is not the case that only social state is refined and privatized. At the same time, privatization brings about disidentification of a traditional and deep-seated social system, unemployment and loss power of in trade unions. In this era consumerism has started to become more cultural than ever.
Art has started to get strength from this uncontrolled capitalism and witnessed unlimited freedom of hybridity and variety regarding context. Once the essence of the modern world oriented towards branding and advertising, art has started to become an area that artists and artworks with the highest brand value come to the fore; just like the high grossing films. At this point those who greatly contributed to modern art are museum houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s; and, investors like Saatchi, Gagosian and Jopling (White Cube), David Geffen, Steve Cohen, Adam Sender determine the financial status of art market.
Today institutions and galleries took the place of great merchants of 20th century such as, Leo Castelli and Duveen. The biggest change in art investment and marketing compared to last century is the fact that the period of movements (“ism”s) are no longer based for buying and selling works of art. While in early days social stimulations and universal values (content) were prior reference points to decide to what extent a work of art should be approved (a work of art’s value could be formed by itself within its natural flow or social conjuncture); today, approval of an artwork’s status and finding its value within the history of art are merely reduced to its sale success. At this point it is worth remembering Tobias Mayer’s famous saying, “best art is the most expensive one.”
Is that the case for real? Is it really possible to define an art object’s value just because the artist can sell his works for high prices in his very first exhibition? Or, does a sixty million dollars- empty toile really deserve that artistic value?
Primarily, it is essential to understand the phenomena determining art’s value today. In our day, the value of an art object is determined according to the gallery that the artist works for and collectors’ structure; rather than the content of the work. The reason of an art object to be more expensive or less expensive than other works of art, is not related to time spent to create it. The value of an art object is mainly about how it is related to galleries and art institutions and brandization of the artist.
As art started to be more like an instrument of vanity and show compared to last century, its brand value has become an investment tool. No doubt, wealthy investors have an important role on this. While expensive cars, luxurious yachts and flats become cheap ways of show-off; art, forms an ideal platform of prestige for that stage since money does not have any meaning for the rich. At that level everyone has money, what is important is the capability to buy the prestige and status that modern art object provides. Being able to buy an art work by Rothko (72,8 million dollars) or Jackson Pollock (140 million dollars) makes those people different in their world. This understanding of art reflects an interesting reality of the fact that today modern art history can be written by some buyers.
Obscurity, authenticity, and free production, which are the basic condition of art, were generally used during the obscure periods of history; while today capital is the determinant and directive of several things. For example, when an artist works with a popular gallery, he guarantees his career; and, if a gallery works with a popular artist, this provides prestige to the gallery. This constitutes the basic cycle of the food chain within the art market. On the other hand, the opportunity to exhibit art objects without conflicting with each other by defining their brand values, made art to be more confidential. The ability to take risk, which had been at the essence of art almost since the modern age, has started to vanish in our day.
In order to shine their reputations corporations force artists and art institutions, of which they support exhibitions financially, to make hybrid exhibitions so as to be valuable at the international arena. (There are financial supports of strong companies; galleries and museums behind “New Media” and installations. The productions of Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons can be referred as good examples of this structure).
This close relationship between art and business world indispensably brings the following question, is it still possible to talk about real art in such a state that art completely depends on cultural economy, the market of which is expanding? In a world art that money and relations are intermingled, it is a wonder if modern art and artists were moved to a position that they cannot claim any synthesis or alternative regarding life and future?
Firstly, it is important to accept that the art of 21st century is no longer in a position to get strength from art movements and ideologies. It does not challenge to them either. That is, postmodernism was not only introduced after the termination of modernism’s promises (utopia). It is not even possible to argue that postmodernism was an “introduced” concept. Postmodernism is nothing but a desperate result of the marriage of free market economy, and social culture and art. It is the name for differentness and colorfulness, a brand new hybridity.
Armani exhibition that was organized in Guggenheim museum in 2000 is a very good example of this. Instead of exhibiting the historical processes of Armani collections, Guggenheim, which is one of the most important museums in the world, preferred to exhibit a creation that still has an active sale price in the market. As a result, a fashion house’s exhibition was, maybe for the first time, organized not on podium but at a museum.
Similarly, today the situations of art magazines that allow for these strong brands’ (Armani, Prada etc) advertisements or fashion photographers who take the pictures of those brands; are not different. The facts that fashion works appear at galleries (Steven Meisel, Steven Klein etc), or these works allowed to take part in art catalogues or fairs; indicate how much economy and art are intermingled in this century,.
This interlock between fashion, technology and finance constitutes the basis of today’s art. Finance is no longer about money flow or capital. As a result, art, in this neoliberal system, has become a part of fashion, finance and developing technology. Now what is important is not the ultimate meaning of a certain art work when we try to understand in front of it; the most important thing is the reason that work is exhibited under that particular brand and its brand range (even in most cases higher prices make the art object more meaningful).
As a consequence, companies try to develop their brand value by using art; and artists try to promote their names under these corporations. The charity policy of business world in 20th century was replaced with partnerships formed with today’s artists or museums. While the companies’ aim was to branding a certain item and conduct marketing; today this attitude was enlarged with the addition of marketing policy of art to elite class. In order to do this it is required to organize such exhibitions that do not conflict with each other and are less risky. The reason is that exhibited art objects and artists are secured by the brand. In this sense, under the wings of firms marketing certain items, art started to take public to a safer status.
What is more, none of recent developments are new to the history of art; they are results of a certain group’s organization around art circles since 1500. Path-breaking transformations of The House of Medici in Florence first paved the way to Renaissance, and the formation of modern art. This commercial and financial network that was situated by the House of Medici behind all these political and artistic domination is still continuing under the cover of big companies and brands.
Today, art is a reflection of a neoliberal world. As if not only the companies and art environment are institutionalized and branded; but also state policies, culture, and life styles are started to incorporate. The reason is that big profits are no longer earned through individual, traditional style production; but through institutional area, brands, and finance sector. Today, art’s and artist’s role in the modern age, as prosecutor, is over; these relation networks seemed to take the artist in a position as a neoliberal propagandist.
Ali Alışır – 2012