The Price is Right

My review idea of “The Price of Everything” was originally not contingent on my actual viewing it, for after reading so many comments about it , I felt I had seen it. Everything about it I read I already knew. And in so far as I “knew” this reality, in the fine tradition of post modern reviews and thinking , the “sense” of this “reality” had revealed it self to me already.

Koons on The Price of Everything

But I viewed it and am glad I did. It was rather harsh and revealing to the sensitive viewer. The gist of the conceit is our inability to actually address the parlous state of culture today.
The film centers around the art world, the buyers and sellers, artists and collectors. Art is the “evaluated” market…a trusted investment, a store of value. And this commodity has very little else of value attributed to it, which is disturbing. … but not to Koons or his “crowd.
Stefan Edlis, puts it best: “To be an effective collector, you have to be shallow.”
This is almost a predilection of the film itself. It comes close to an admonition but never really attempts to spit it out.
When a work of art does not fetch the projected price sought during auction, the auction house rapidly pulls the piece and buys it back at the desired price. What they normally do is plant an employee in the house to bid the price up (https://thebaffler.com/ the immediate experience /the deal of the art surgeon).
So much stress is portrayed amongst at the selling level – billions of dollars are on the line and the movie goes deeply into the anxiety expressed by Sotheby’s chairwoman Amy Cappellazzo for an upcoming auction. This is a Wall Street pre-Frenzy act. As well as self-styled populist critic Jerry Saltz, who is the jester for the art investor crowd who spurs on the market. As much as anyone, he welcomes the ascending marker despite it’s now unreachability for the vast number of people who will never own art. Their answers, while often brazen, land ambivalently, creating an incomplete portrait of an art world that seems completely resigned to the status quo.
This is part and parcel of the crisis of the art world. It’s self imposed detachment that portrays the only value of art as its price.
The function of this market is never to discuss the actual art object but to price it up to where only certain individuals or institutions can own them. It is the “price” of the art, not a critical thinking of the art, which is paramount. And this market price is nothing to do with fair market practice. There is value/price fixing or market manipulation, which is in effect a separation from any sense of the naturally or real. Yes, the older and new masters will always demand high prices but there is a hidden way in which chosen contemporary artists are picked to join this elite status.
Do we leave our visual culture up to a market that very few can partake in? Do we entrust our museums to exhibit the cachet art of market fix … in letting the market guide us away from any other critical evaluation that may be sought, of discourse or philosophically pondered? Or to the self credentialed critic [Pulitzer Prize winner] who becomes the premarket arbiter of taste and elite consumption, to the point the art becomes privatized so it will no longer be available for public viewing. So what are we doing? What is happening? This is a 56 billion dollar market of what?
Or is the contemporary story of art alienated from real human activity, it’s value inherit to itself and what ever applied purpose it may have aspired to? If the Sotheby’s sellers have no feeling for the art what has this done to the act of art creation and it’s traditional enjoyment?
It is skewed. Whatever art is in the auction houses, dealers and art fairs are really not for dealing with that issue which once was, ironically, a prime concern of art itself throughout the twentieth century.
The small artists will stay where they are. The community artists, the academics have their own glass ceilings as if preordained in a set background. This acts as a designation of management in the culture distribution. So the big boys know who they are and the rest of the minor artists stay in constant grief that they have not made “it.”
There is a need for a vast critical process of revisitation and revaluation … and ironically, the market will reveal this it self when it begins to slump and that, to be sure, is on the horizon. The many reviewers of this movie were very ill at ease with the implications of this film and chose not to entirely dismiss the massive art world as folly. As A.O. Smith of the NYT wrote, “there maybe argumentation over the quality of the bath water, but everyone agrees the baby needs protection.”
The Price of Everything is a fine film to ponder these issues which it deftly never spouts about but “artfully” implies, infers, leads to the ledge but never pushes. It may be time to consider the real role of art in our society again. We shall have it here, at the New Art Gazette.

Al Jirikowic