Simulation: the weblog


Frieze Art Fair

Went to the Frieze Art Fair today. Great to see so many pretentious rich people getting separated from so much money in such a short time. Sad for art, sad that children are starving in Africa, sad that Baudrillard wasn't there as billed.

Baudrillard first: billed to give a talk at 1400 today, but mysteriously cancelled. What is the significance of this? is Baudrillard himself a simulacrum? I think we should be told.

Reminds me of the dot-com boom, when all sorts of people separated VC's from their cash. (I declare an interest here: I too lost a VC a modest amount of money.)

The signs are all there. See these quotes:
".. with the art market booming, collectors complain that great material is scarce..."
"... in today's booming market, if you are not a museum or a major collector, sometimes just getting the work is an achievement...."
"... you can try to obtain [a dicsount] sometimes, but at the end of the day, for a very hot artist, you just have to pay the full price for a very good piece..."
"...optimistic self-delusion, it's really big in the art world..."

The first three are from "The Art Newspaper" special edition for the Frieze Fair, last is from Kenneth Walton, who forged a picture supposedly by Richard Diebenkorn and offered it for sale on eBay. Cleverly, he didn't claim it was by Diebenkorn, pretending to have no idea that it was valuable, but then got a partner to drive up the bidding. So the buyers thought they were getting a bargain from a naive seller who didn't know what it was worth. The bidding got up to $130,000. According to the Guardian report: ""It's like this optimistic self-delusion," says Walton. "It's really big in the art world. People really want to believe they have found something good. I've been there. I've bought things that weren't real, that I've taken a chance on." The winner of the Diebenkorn auction is a case in point. Despite the obvious signs that the painting was not what he hoped, the buyer clung initially to the belief that he might have bought a masterpiece. He refused to allow Walton to cancel the sale, even threatening him with legal action." Walton got off with probation.

Three are now several subscription services which tell you the latest prices of artists, so you can judge whether they are a good investment. The Abnormal Returns blog said in October last year:
"This “asset class” has been legitimized to a degree by a couple of academic studies showing that art has significantly outperformed bonds and has kept pace with equities. Not surprisingly these studies find that the returns from art are not particularly correlated with the overall capital markets. [.. he refers to a paper called “Art as an Investment and the Underperformance of Masterpieces” ....] However just because an art fund is possible, does not necessarily make it a smart investment. Any art fund is going to have a number of expenses that will reduce the funds’ overall returns. In addition, the fund managers will undoubtedly not be working for free. ...the headlong rush to invest in art looks more like a fad than like a rational approach to making money. In some ways, it resembles the boom in Internet stock funds that swamped Wall Street in 1999, when investors were convinced that the only direction was up.”

The paper he quotes actually says: "we find art outperforms fixed income securities as an investment, though it significantly under-performs stocks in the US. Art is also found to have lower volatility and lower correlation with other assets, making it more attractive for portfolio diversification than discovered in earlier research. There is strong evidence of underperformance of masterpieces, meaning expensive paintings tend to under-perform the art market index.". In other words, it makes sense as part of a wider portfolio, but don't touch Van Gogh?

I suppose confusing the 'really hot' artists with the long-term successes is common to every historical period. For the record, Hockney oil paintings would cost about £200,000, a Patrick Caulfield oil was on sale for £100,000, but you could buy a nice Bridget Riley screenprint (limited to 60) for £4500. (And you could feed a lot of starving children for this, too.)

Sadly there was almost no digital art. I did notice the Diana Stigter gallery selling a work by Julika Rudelius called 'Forever'. Seemed to be an interview with a middle-aged woman, on two TV screens simultaneously, subtitled. Looked dull. The main point was that the gallery actually sells you a 'limited edition' DVD. (Limited to 7 copies; either E5,000 or E15,000, I can't read my notes.) The concept of a 'limited edition' digital work is a new one to me. The whole point of digital data is that it is infinitely and perfectly reproducible. But such is our need for the 'unique object' that we now buy limited edition DVDs.

It seems there's a quantum leap between ordinary artists and 'very hot' artists, rather like there is in the sporting or pop worlds. One does it for very little indeed, the other makes a fortune. Sadly it looks as if the way to get from one state to the other is to do something different, just for the sake of being noticed. You probably gather that I wasn't very impressed, though I did come home, rush out into the garden, and paint something myself, so it must have done me some good.

Perhaps it helped to remind me that there are no rules these days, so you might as well do what you feel like doing.

What's all this got to do with simulation: not sure to be frank. It's certainly a case where the simulation (art as a simulation of life) has developed a life and a valuation system of its own. If you buy an artist because (s)he's 'very hot', is this art or what? And if the 'unique' object is actually based on a digital original, is really a 'unique object'?

Perhaps Baudrillard was wise to stay away.


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