Walking the fine line between non-profit arts organization and absurdist theater.

SHContemporary Review: Re-Value

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Re-Value: The Construction and Consumption of Value in Contemporary Art is a conference hosted by UACC & ArtTactic in collaboration with ShContemporary. Split between two sessions, the seminar will first invite representatives from museums, art journals, foundations, auction houses and galleries to discuss the art system that constructs value from art; and then invites collectors to discuss value from the other side – those who recognize and consume the value in art. (decription taken from SHC website).

Background:

SHcontemporary: http://www.shcontemporary.info/English/event/welcome/
Discoveries: Re-Value : http://www.shcontemporary.info/English/program/special/
Conference: http://www.shcontemporary.info/English/program/events/
 
Conference Content:  

Part 1- Construction of Value: Speakers: Anna Waldmann (Consultant,The Sherman Foundation), Simon Groom (Director of Modern & Contemporary Art, National Galleries of Scotland), Shen Qibin     (Director, Zendai Himalayas Museum of Art), Lu Jie (Director, Long March Space & Foundation)

The first half of the conference dealt with the "Construction of Value." It was set up as a panel discussion where each panelist presented a perspective on the topic followed by dialog between panelists and a brief period for audience Q+A.

The discussion began with Simon Grooms describing three aspects of value. He used three popular artists to illustrate his point.

Financial Value: Grooms referenced the work For the love of God, by Damien Hirst. He said its iconic because of how much its worth (50 million pounds).

Aesthetic Value: Work of Olafur Eliasson: His work is meant to be spectacular and invoke the sublime.
 
Cultural Value :  Jeremy Diller:  photograph of the sport of gurning. This is art that seeks to connect with life.

He ends his framework by stating that work with personal connotations has the most value.  Grooms used “Rosebud” from the film Citizen Kane as an example of the relationship that personal connection has to value.

The second speaker, Anders Peterson, presented a “quantitative approach” to the topic of value, but didn't give any numbers.  He present two pyramid diagrams that showed the institutions that influence the market.

The first is based on a “western model” and was represented as this hierarchy:

 

Museums: as preservers
Public Art Institutions: as promoters
Private Collectors: as patrons
Galleries: as commercial entities

 

The second hierarchy represents the developing Asian model:

 

Auction Houses
Galleries Dealers
Art Funds
Private collectors
Public art institution
Museums

He described the two basic factors in determining the quantitative value.  The first is the “symbolic value” which is based on the context that the work is coming from. It is also referred to as "fundamental" value and describes the conditions, whether favorable or unfavorable, in which the art exists. This is where the museums, critics, and collectors become the arbitrators and "taste makers" of contemporary art. 

The second is “economic value” must also have a fundamental value. The economic value is driven by whether the work is being shown, collected, traded etc.  Anders notes that China is currently in a place where the market is dictating the value since it has a weak infrastructure. He follow up by saying that this current state emphasizes the importance of having conversations about value.

Lu Jie gave his perspective on the subjectivity of the charts and suggested that both European markets and Asian markets are in flux and that the relationships between institutions are changing.  He says, the "political economics" of visual culture are ultimately influenced by a global market in flux with changing traditional systems.  Lu Jie also emphasized the idea that artists need to create momentum and energy for themselves in working with the whole are ecology.  He supported this sentiment by suggesting that artists should be working with the galleries and institutions to create and develop “value.” They should grow together. 

Part 1 - Consumption of Value: Speakers: Sylvain Levy (collector - France, Founder of DSL Collection), Deddy Kusuma     (collector-Indonesia), Hallam Chow (collector-Hongkong, Founder of H2 Foundation for Art and Education), Qiao Zhibin (collector-Beijing), Gong Nana (collector - Beijing, Founder of UACC)

The second half of the conference dealt with the consumption of value and presented a panel of art collectors from both the east and the west.  Most of the time was spent looking at images and listening to collectors describe the works in their collection. Less time was spent actually talking about the methods or importance and role of collecting contemporary art.  Sylvain Levy gave the most insight into his own criteria for collecting.  He referenced this quote by Leo Castelli - “I try deliberately to detect the other thing.” Sylvain follows by saying that a good artist is someone who can move the emotion of thinking of an audience. Yes- it was that thin and mislead.

Most of the slides that were presented were painting. There were maybe 3 sculptures referenced and one installation.  During the Q+A  I asked these collectors what their thoughts were on the viability of collecting artworks that lay outside traditional forms.  I prefaced this by stating that contemporary art includes performance, sound, movement, video, installation, conceptual art etc.  There was an bit of an awkward silence after I asked my question.  I got the feeling that no one actually had an answer for the question.  Deddy Kusuma was the first to speak up.  He began by stating that he has something like seven hundred paintings and three hundred sculptures in a variety of styles.  He asked how he was supposed to collect installation. “Its is so big,” he said, “and video’s need to be shown in a dark room.” Kasuma chose the abvious targets for avoiding an actual consideration of the question. Gong Nana was a little more encouraging with his reply. He said that while it is difficult to buy or collect something like performance art it is still possible to sponsor and in fact, Nana had sponsored a recent Chinese performance art event.  It was clear that this room of collectors were not seriously looking at how to collect non-traditional forms of art. 

Short and synical review:
It was an exciting proposition to have a chance to listen to such an esteemed panel of experts speak to the topic of value in art.  However, the discussions and presentations were far from enlightening in than I expected they would be.  It was more of a basic overview that described the general territory and complexity of the art market.  China is clearly developing contemporary artwork with a limited infrastructure.  There wasn’t governmental support for contemporary art in Shanghai until 2003 (this is the same year they won the bid for the Expo).  Chinese citizens have limited experience with creativity in general having grown up through an educational system that emphasizes science and math and often excludes forms of personal expression.  This lack of education can make it difficult for general public to access the work. In addition, issues of censorship  coupled with an art market that focuses on developing prices an not content means less opportunity for artists to create influential work. 

The conference preface made it seem like all of the secrets to the art market would be revealed. The feeling that I got was that it was essentially the secrets that drive the market and that to expose them would mean to lose the edge over a competitor or a loss of mystique in the eyes of the public. If the institutions are the “taste makers” and that this unofficial accreditation of artwork is a driving factor in the value of  artworks then isn’t it in their best financial interest to maintain that influence?  When Simon Groom gave his perspective on the personal subjectivity in the defining of the value of art he prefaced it by saying that it was his personal opinion and not the official stance of the museum that he represents. This kind of side stepping fuels the stereotype that Simon himself said he felt was confining curators of contemporary art and that is, that the art world is comprised of an elite group of individuals.   I like to look at this as a kind of game and popularity contest with little interest in content.  If you want to be a successful artist whose artwork is valuable then you need to sell / market both your ideas and your work.  Say you buy a plot of land, take a piece of bark from a tree on that land, stretch a condom over it, dip it in chocolate, bronze it, mount it to the same tree and call the property with the bronze bark tree a piece of art.  Now that you have the art all you have to do is sell it.  You come up with a story around what it all means, call the local papers, send pictures to all your friends, host openings with beer and wine next to the artwork,  ask people to write about it, dig up the whole property and have it shipped to Venice for the biennial all the while you watch the value of the work grow.  Its a matter of convincing others that it is worth something.  Your best bet is find an entrepreneur who is a closet dendrophilliac with a soft spot for contemporary art to buy the work.  All you need is the right product at the right price with the right promotion in the right place.

Some of this cynicism will become more clearly supported when I post more about the exhibition/art fair that this conference was housed within.  I think the following image says a lot. I would title this image “Modern Painting.” This image was taken in the VIP lounge at the fair. 

 

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