Category Archives: Comment

Watching the Art Market

Bazille Studio 1870.jpg
The Artist’s Studio. 1870. Jean-Frederic Bazille. Musee d’Orsay, Paris

The distance between the art student, the practicing artist, the gallerist and the collector/investor often seems so vast that it’s hard to believe they are all part of the same ecosystem. But of course they are, the product of a complex interlocking network of ideas, preferences, cultural values, economies and desires. Once was a time when artists stacked up their finished canvases in a corner of their studio. If they were lucky enough to be shown in a gallery, then the gallery got a cut, but often enough collectors or art-lovers visited the studio, had a glass or two of absinthe, paid some cash to the artist and walked out with the painting. Perhaps, as in Bazille’s amazing painting (above) a gentleman played piano while the negotiations were in progress.

OK, it’s an oversimplification. But the idea of a “quality” artist selling from their studio is now almost unthinkable. The link between artist and seller is so distant that many artists have no idea who currently “owns” their work. If they do meet up, over a glass of Cristal at a glamorous dinner party perhaps, it’s because the artist too has become a celebrity. Many successful artists never see their works again because they are consigned to storage as part of an investment strategy. Did you know that if you buy art as part of your superannuation you are not allowed to look at it? It must be locked away somewhere, otherwise you are getting a benefit from it before you are allowed to. You have to be sixty and retire first. Crazy!  Strict rules govern investment in SMSH’s

A good artist has to have a gallery. Galleries compete for artists, but only if they sell, and especially if they have a rising reputation. Once with a gallery, the artist is no longer free to sell from their studio. They can give paintings away as gifts, of course, but even that is frowned upon. For decades this was the accepted system: an artist, a gallery, a buyer. In the secondary market, where art is on-sold from its first purchaser, auctions were the norm, but there were also private sales.

This was a fairly stable process until round about the 1990s. Then, in a strange contortion of late global capitalism, the rise of the super-elites, including traditional oligarchs, real-estate tycoons, movie stars and glamorous celebrities with infinite wealth saw the system change.

bradpitt neo rauch etappe
Neo Rauch’s 1998 painting Etappe. Bought by Brad Pitt at Art Basel for one million US in 2009.  David Zwirner and Galerie Eigen Art, Berlin/Leipzig.

There were new players awash with funds from the “developing” economies: China, Brazil, India. And with the end of so-called communism funds were flooding around the globe and into the hands of gangsters and various versions of Mafia with their new-style goon squads: armies of suited accountants and investment managers. Gazillions of dollars went into superannuation funds which had to give a decent yield.

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Three stock market indices: US$

Periodic panics emerged, as they always do in a capitalist system. Stock markets rose and fell, raw materials markets collapsed, industrial work moved off-shore to low cost countries and then their bloated and unbalanced economies went off the rails. Democratic systems stalled. Military rule came back. Nothing was stable.

Where then could the super-rich, or their financial managers, deposit their gotten (ill or otherwise) gains?

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Pablo Picasso’s ” Dora Maar au chat” is auctioned by Tobias Meyer at Sotheby’s New York during the Impressionist and Modern Art Sale 03 May 2006. The painting sold for USD 85 million. AFP PHOTO/Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Aha! The art market! What a great idea. Original works of art are just that: original. Walter Benjamin put his finger right on the pulse when he wrote about the aura of the art work in the age of mechanical reproduction. [It is worth reading and re-reading this work – so prescient, yet he had no idea in the 1930s how it would unfold].

Walter Benjamin 2
http://www.slideshare.net.  John Eckman #wcnyc2014

The magic is that you cannot duplicate an original work of art. You can make prints of it, of course. Or someone can try forging it. But in the end there can one authentic example of each work, and only a limited number from each artist especially when the artist is dead.

Artists become superstars. A dizzying variety of choices emerge, some of them hard to “collect”, as in the best-known works of Tracey Emin. Tracey recently married a rock in a formal ceremony and they are reported to be very happy.

Dinner In Honor Of Tracey Emin Hosted By Phillips In The Cecconi's Garden At Soho Beach House
Tracey Emin dinner hosted by Phillips and Vanity Fair at Cecconi’s at Soho Beach House on December 3, 2013 in Miami Beach, Florida, to celebrate her wedding.

A dense supporting cast in the art world decide which works are important, which styles are great, which fashions are in. The art market itself slides in its preferences from time to time. How to invest in the right pieces? Let the market decide, it is capitalism after all.

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The Mei Moses index – reproduced under the terms of fair dealing for purposes of study and research.

And so the glamour auction houses emerged in the main cities of global capitalism: London, New York, Hong Kong. Lesser markets emerged in outliers: Melbourne, Sydney, Vancouver, wherever there were funds to be invested and profits to be made. Some great books have been written about the world of the auction house. I mentioned some time ago the wonderful film of Isaac Julien, with its glimpses of the art market and interview with one of the main players in the British art market. Isaac Julien: PLAYTIME.

isaac julien portraint
Isaac Julien: portrait with still from Playtime 2013

ocapital

I will add shortly the titles of some books and articles I have really enjoyed, including some fiction.

So here we are today. The profound impulse to make and enjoy art has been ripped away from its base in local cultures and economies. The new Global Art Market is a dizzying beast. In the next few posts I will be looking at some recent trends and think about what it all means for the ordinary artist in backwaters like Australia.

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Roy Lichtenstein. “Oh, All Right”. Sold at auction for $42.6 million in 2010.

 

Developing a Wordpress site for Artists

This post was originally meant to go onto my work-in-progress art site (see link below).  It turns out to have been a mistake to use my name for both of these URLs of these sites, because WordPress when it gets tired and emotional doesn’t know which one to put the post in. Still, I thought it might be worthwhile to say a few words about my experience of site development in WordPress as an artist and writer.

The first blog site I ever set up was  about life in Sydney, with a focus on food and the inner west. That site is still live and you can go there easily by putting Elinor Entity into Google. It was set up on Blogger which was then one of the only options. Blogger has developed a lot since then and offers great simplicity and functionality but it doesn’t have the Website quality which you get with a WordPress blog.

So I decided to set up a WordPress site when I started studying art at TAFE. I thought I could use it to put my written work up on. But my teacher never looked at the site and wanted me to hand in written papers which I did, but I put various expanded versions and research comments on things that had interested me on the site anyway.  I am talking about this site which you are on now, annettehamilton.wordpress.com. It was a very steep learning curve and I went through hours and days of struggle to learn how to use it, but once it was set up it was a breeze.

I now have three sites live and two others I am using as practice although both will go live eventually. One is this site, obviously, which has been a delight to develop and use. I used the same template for my Writing Zone site, which I set up to manage my fiction and memoir publications. These WordPress templates are free and don’t require third party hosting or any knowledge of coding although you can of course make some modifications through the templates. Not all the free templates offer the same range of options so check them out carefully. There are hundreds of them, both sites developed by WordPress and by third parties – most of the latter are not free though.

But using free WordPress templates with a WordPress URL is kind of low rent. The real deal is to obtain your own domain name, either through the WordPress set-up process or separately through a domain name provider, and set yourself up with a paid theme and a hosting service. The domain name, the specialist theme, and the hosting service all cost money.

You can do something inbetween by setting up your own domain name through WordPress, and using WordPress themes and WordPress as your host. Or you can buy a dedicated theme. I wanted a Portfolio site so I thought I would be very clever and do that.  I thought I could put all my images up on the site, on grids, and the viewer would be able to click on each one and bring up information about the picture, such as size, medium etc. as well as any other background.

Well that just didn’t happen. I have spent hours and hours trying to make the paid theme I purchased, Qua, work properly. Only now have I realised that the kind of clickable functionality I wanted isn’t available with that theme. It just doesn’t work like that but I couldn’t see this out from the demo. Now I’m stuck with a fairly expensive paid theme which won’t do what I want. Quite often you will be told that you can make things happen by going into CSS or doing some kind of html coding. Well sorry but that’s not in the repertoire of this artist/writer and I’m not going to start paying a specialist to do it.

So I’m stuck with a kind of portfolio site, which sort of/half works but isn’t what I had in mind at all. One of these days, when I don’t want to spend more time painting and writing, I might go back to the drawing board and see if I can set up a better one.

my portfolio site

Another idea is to sign up for an Art Archiving service. Again, it involves expense, in this case an annual fee. But you can put all your paintings on it, and track where they are, whether any have been sold, prices and such.  Plus I think there is a facility for commenting on the paintings. More on this soon.wordpress-art-portfolio-themes1

 

REMARKABLE RAT MAN: LUCIAN FREUD IN W.A.

Freud Naked Man with Rat

Lucian Freud, Naked Man with Rat (1977-78).

Comment on Kitty Hauser’s piece in Public Works, The Weekend Australian, October 25-26 2014, p. 11.

One of the most challenging and “shocking” of Freud’s large-scale paintings – 91.5 cm square – it was quite surprising to see it in full colour in the Weekend Australian. The painting is reproduced in some of the published books on Freud’s oeuvre but for some reason I had never realised it was acquired by the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth in 1984. This is another of those super-mysterious Australian art-acquisitions about which I am thinking of writing a short study. My interest in Evariste Luminais Sons of Clovis 11 (1880) has been mentioned elsewhere, and I am writing a preliminary outline. The research I have done to date on Clovis (including at the excellent library at AGNSW) has revealed a lot of short comments and magazine and newspaper reviews published at the time of its purchase in Paris in 1886 but little detail on this surprising decision by the AGNSW – we don’t know who was involved, how it came about, why it was this particular painting and not the second, almost identical version which was acquired, and so on. I imagine the answers, if there are any, must lie deep in the archives, but if there is material there, it should be accessible.

The second example is perhaps the most obvious, the controversial acquisition of Blue Poles (1952) by the National Gallery in Canberra in 1973. This seems to be generally attributed to the innovations of the new “It’s Time” Labor Government. Prime Minister the late Gough Whitlam personally approved the purchase even though the Gallery then did not have authority to sign off on purchases of over one million. James Mollison, the director, believed the painting would be a great start to the new national gallery, at a time when it did not even have a building. The painting was purchased from the collector Ben Heller of New York for the unprecedented sum of 1.3 million Australian dollars. (For some reason the sum of $2 million is now often attributed to the purchase). Clement Greenberg, New York art critic, was Pollock’s particular champion, and had given a lecture on the worth of Pollock’s abstract expressionist works which was challenged by the local theorist Donald Brook but supported by the Melbourne critic Patrick McCaughey.  Local response was largely one of outrage, involving the retelling of various stories current in books and magazines about the circumstances of the painting’s creation. “Barefoot drunks painted our $1 million masterpiece” said one newspaper headline.

Some other less famous but contemporary paintings purchased by Australian galleries include pieces by Willem de Kooning at the NGA, including Woman V of 1952-3. Australian public galleries continue to invest in old masters: the National Gallery of Victoria purchased Correggio’s Madonna and Child with Infant Saint John the Baptist (1514-15) from Sotheby’s London for $5.2 million, the single highest priced acquisition in the NGVs history.

Naked Man with Rat is a very interesting case. I think there is only one other early Lucian Freud painting held in an Australian gallery: And the Bridegroom (1993).   I mentioned it earlier in the context of the small exhibition at AGNSW of treasures from the Lewis Collection. So I guess it isn’t really in the same boat, i.e. the picture was bought by Lewis and then bequeathed to the Gallery, along with the much smaller painting Susie Sleeping (1988-9). It is perhaps a stranger painting than Naked Man with Rat, but both are outstanding examples of the bizarre quality of Lucian Freud’s vision and technical approach, and it is amazing that these two, at the least, are in public collections in Australia.

and the bridegroom

Lucian Freud, And the Bridegroom, 1993

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Paul Cezanne,  Afternoon in Naples, 1975.

The NGA also holds Freud’s After Cézanne, a variation on the theme of Paul Cézanne’s L’Aprés Midi à Naples (Afternoon in Naples) (1875), which was purchased in 1985. This was one of Freud’s “day pictures” which he painted in nine months from December 1999 to August 2000. The painting is famous in part because of its peculiar composition. It was initially painted on a rectangular canvas, but when Freud found there was not enough room to put in the upper half of the maid’s head, he added some additional canvas. This is a completely unexpected mode of approach to composition, which normally takes the boundaries of the canvas on its stretcher as the limits of what can be displayed.

Freud after Cezanne

                                         Lucian Freud, After Cezanne,1999-2000

As far as Naked Man with Rat is concerned, the commentary by Kitty Hauser is short but to the point. She has some good gossip on the painting – this is unattributed but no doubt came from one or more of the books recently published on Freud – I suspect from the excellent and informative book by Georgie Grieg, Breakfast with Lucian (2013) – but also identifies the genre as portraiture, rather than a “nude”. Yes, the subject is naked, but the purpose is to create a portrait, without clothes. The subject is Raymond Jones, an interior decorator from whom Freud borrowed money to settle a gambling debt. Repayment was in the form of this portrait. The viewer is gripped by the very strange posture of the figure, the floppy genitals almost at the very centre of the composition and then the rat (and its tail) which is at first hardly noticeable and then impossible to ignore.

I am not sure what to think about the details of the involvement of the rat in this painting. What ethical obligations does the artist have to his subject, even if it is a rat?   This rat was dosed with sleeping tablets dissolved into a dog’s bowl of Veuve Cliquot for the entire time of the painting’s completion. Freud was notoriously slow and extremely thorough in his work. At the end of it, this rat was without doubt an alcoholic and addict. Nothing in the literature which mentions this picture gives us any further information about the life (and death) of this nameless rat, but we must agree that it is one of the heroic figures of contemporary art, truly martyred in the interests of great art.

Hemann Hesse: On Trees

One of the rare portraits of Hesse as a young man
Bildnis Hermann Hesse. Brustbild. Tempera auf Kart. Ca. 33,5 x 27,5 cm,
Date 1905
Source kiefer.de
Artist Ernst Würtenberger (1868-1934)

 

The banner photograph on this site was taken by me at Honeymoon Point, Katoomba.  I wanted to place the certainty and solidity of the tree against the void of space in the valley, stretching to the far horizon. The valleys of the Blue Mountains are replete with ancient trees, with their long breathing and restful thoughts.Hermann Hesse was particularly moved by trees. The more I look at trees, the more profound I find his thoughts.  Here is a famous passage from one of his reflective works.

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.
― Hermann HesseBäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

See Post:  “Hermann Hesse’s art” for some of his tree and landscape images.

 

Hermann Hesse: Writing, Painting.

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962), born in Wurttemberg, Germany, was a poet, novelist and painter.  His works include Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, Demian and The Glass Bead Game.  His writings became widely known in English only in the 1960s although he had received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946. Hesse melded several forms of artistic endeavour with a deep interest in and respect for non-Western cultures and religious systems.

He had a troubled early life,  marked by deep depressions, associated with rebellion against the doctrines of his strict Christian upbringing.  He believed that conventional morality was, at least for artists, replaced by aesthetics.  He began writing poetry and short prose works in 1897/8 although they did not sell.  He worked in bookshops and mixed in intellectual circles, especially after moving to Basel, where he was able to explore his artistic desires and undertook many wanderings in wild places. He began writing novels and his first, Peter Camenzind, was one of Sigmund Freud’s favourites.  Literary fame followed, and he was able to support a family.  However by 1911 he was tired of domestic existence and left for a long trip to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Sumatra, Borneo and Burma.  He hoped to find spiritual or religious enlightenment, but this eluded him, in spite of his ongoing interest in Buddhism.

During World War 1 he was not fit for active service but was given the task of caring for prisoners of war.  He opposed the tides of nationalistic madness and hatred, and called for recognition of the heritage of European histories and cultures, calling for love towards the enemy.  This resulted in hatred and public controversy, made worse for him by the death of his father, the illness of his son Martin and his wife’s developing schizophrenia. He began to undergo psychotherapy, coming to know Carl Jung personally.  In three weeks he wrote his novel Demian, published in 1919 under a pseudonym.

After his marriage ended, he moved alone to a small town on the border between Switzerland and Italy.  This began the most productive time of his life.  He began to paint, and wrote the novella Siddhartha, about the life of Buddha.  His most famous novel, Steppenwolf, was published in 1927.  He married an art historian, Ninon Dolbin, and began his major work, The Glass Bead Game, also known as Magister Ludi.  His Nobel Prize was awarded mainly for this work.

The rising tide of Nazism began, and he helped many famous artists including dramatist Bertolt Brecht and writer Thomas Mann to escape into exile.  His wife was Jewish.  By the end of the 1930s his work was totally banned in Germany.  His work was revived in the post-war era, but he was virtually unknown to English readers.

After his death, his works suddenly appeared in English translation in the United States and became bestsellers.  His writing was associated with ideas of the 1960s counterculture movement, with the quest for enlightenment and seemingly psychedelic episodes in some of his writings such as the “magical theatre” in Steppenwolf.  One reason for his popularity was the enthusiasm for his works expressed by Timothy Leary, guru of LSD.  His renaissance spread all over the world and he became the most widely read and translated European author of the twentieth century, with a huge and continuing appeal to young people.  His novel Siddartha has been translated and published widely in India, where a Hermann Hesse Society today flourishes.

Although Hesse is known for his writing, his works in visual art are vivid and vital, expressing his deep encounters with both the natural world and the towns and villages found in remote locations.  His work was entirely in watercolour, in soft bright pastel tones, with high horizons.  Almost every work included a tree, or several trees, framing and anchoring the landscapes as he viewed them.  Many of his small works illustrated his poems. Galerie Ludorff mounted a rare exhibition of these works in 2008, with the texts of the poems published in German below each illustration.

http://www.ludorff.com/de/artist/hermann_hesse/works

His poems were translated by James Wright in 1970. A selection appears at:

http://www.poemhunter.com/hermann-hesse/poems/

In recent years, as conservatism and anti-liberty sentiments grew from the 1980s onwards, Hermann Hesse’s works once again disappeared from view, remaining popular with only a small contemporary audience.  He is seen as a bit stuffy and old-fashioned, part of a pre-war European intellectual heritage.  This is a pity as his work shows deep engagement with themes of great importance today: nature, art, individual feeling, the development of an authentic and meaningful culture and the need for compassion and sympathy to all beings.  He remains one of my great inspirations.