Freitag, 29. April 2011

Art + Argument at Galerie Edwynn Houk, 5th May 2011

Art is the world’s lingua franca

Martin Jaeggi, Nick Micros, Emily Scott and Nika Spalinger debate art as a means of communication

19h, Thursday 5th May 2011

Galerie Edwynn Houk
Stockerstrasse 33
CH-8002 Zürich
Tel 41 44 202 69 25

This debate takes place in the context of Lalla Essaydi’s exhibition Les Femmes du Maroc.

The participants have been assigned sides opposing or defending the motion, and each team member has five minutes to argue their allotted case uninterrupted. After that speakers challenge each other and the audience may in turn question the speakers. The event will end with a vote for the more persuasive team.

This is a forum for discussing culture where the unspeakable may be said. Each speaker must play his or her assigned role, regardless of whether they agree or not. Speakers benefit from temporary immunity: what they say during the debate is not necessarily their opinion and they cannot be held to their word afterwards.

Art + Argument at K3 - the results

On the 20th February 2011, K3 was host to an enthusiastic (and tightly packed) audience to debate the motion: Without a market, no one would make art. Garrett Nelson and Claudia Groeflin were supporting the motion, while Hubert Bächler and Nadia Schneider opposed it.

Garrett opened the debate arguing for the market as the tool that generates “consensus opinion about art. And without opinion we would have no art, hence no art production.“ He cited Edme-François Gersaint, as portrayed by Jean-Antoine Watteau in L'Enseigne de Gersaint, 1720-1, arguing that this recorded the beginnings of art dealing. “He was the first to use auction catalogues, a showroom, a reputation of connoisseurship and the expertise of attribution to generate an opinion about art and indeed to sell art. And then, you know, suddenly in Paris, 18th Century, comes the Rococo style, and decoration becomes equal to art. Maybe for the first moment in time in art history. And so what does Gersaint do as an art dealer, self-created? He begins selling seashells - seashells in every array of presentation of form and type. And he sells it like he sold art. He applied the same aesthetic evaluation creating consensus opinion about their aesthetic value – he turns seashells into art. So here we see that the market machine has turned the dealer into the artist. He imbues the objects – whether naturally occurring or created by humans – with value, by generating and reinforcing opinion, public opinion. If the dealer can then be the artist by creating consensus of opinion about aesthetic value, then without the market, we would not have art, we would not have opinion about art. Moreover without opinion we would have no art, no artists and hence no art production.” And Garrett suggested that without the market there would indeed be no canon of art. “I as an artist could not imagine making art if it had no value!”

(L'Enseigne de Gersaint, or "Gersaint's Shopsign", by Jean-Antoine Watteau)

Hubert was the first to oppose the motion, reminding the audience that “there has been art before there was anything that we would call a market today, an economical exchange of goods and stuff like that. So I’m actually quite sure that there is also going to be art at the point in time when we have reached another means of exchange, so that we have transcended the market. I think the market is rather unimportant in terms of art apart from a few, very few, chosen ones who actually live from the art they are producing.” He continued by highlighting the lack of importance of the market in other art forms such as film or music, in which financial success is scarcely imaginable. Moreover, the market is not important to artists because it is not at all representative: “in the economical market I think so many artists don’t even exist there, because they don’t have the buyers, nobody wants to buy their things, for whatever reason, maybe they’re just bad, maybe they are just at the wrong place at the wrong time, there are all kinds of reasons, and my main argument in a way is why the proposition today is not really making much sense is that this very [only a] little slice of artistic function which is being included in today’s ‘art market’ ”. Finally Hubert compounded this point by highlighting how real monetary value is achieved on the secondary market, further still from the artists’ originating practice.

Claudia’s tack was “to look at the situation from an artist’s point of view” and the growing professionalism of artists. “I think in these days the art market has become that crazy that when you graduate from high school you can really choose: do I want to become a lawyer; do I want to become a banker; or do I want to become an artist.” The artist “has to create art, that’s the definition of why to become an artist, secondly you also have to sell yourself, you have to be a cool person, you have to be fun, you have to hang out in the right places, you have to know the right people, so you’re like a little company where you promote yourself and you also have these goods called art.” Without the market you cannot get the leverage to produce significant works. In closing, Claudia was adamant: “the notion of the artist sitting in his studio and just producing work because his soul is out there and that’s what he wants to do – has no chance in today’s market. It’s over.”

Nadia started her opposition with a personal remark: “if it’s true that without a market no-one would make art, I wouldn’t want to be a curator any more. Behind that lies actually a very high idealistic conviction! First, that an art work is more than just an object which means that an art work is a result of mental research and intellectual, spiritual process, and secondly, that an art work is not produced to be an object to sell.” Nadia seconded Hubert’s statement that the market is of little importance to working artists. While there are certain artists whose work is not accepted by the market, for whatever reason, for some it is a deliberate decision to avoid its machinations. “In both cases the market still exists, but it has no significant importance for the artist any more in terms of motivation, of prestige or of income. If the statement is true, people would simply stop making art, which is usually not the case. Artists do art if the market wants their work or not.” While not being involved in the market can offer artists greater freedom, “what nobody can deny is that artists are part of this system called the art market, this is a fact. And this art market is a part of the art world system, but it’s not equal to the art world system, and it’s also part of the broader system called creative industry.” But, citing official figures from the City of Zurich, the Swiss tax authorities and Visarte, she showed how the economic view is a very limited one – with a few very successful artists earning millions but many of that minority of artists whose declared income is art having a rather meaner existence. Closing, she said “it’s so much easier to make a lot of money in so many other jobs, why become an artist if you want to get rich?”

The ensuing debate was enthusiastic, circling round the notion of the market as tastemaker, or indeed as the means of generating the canon. We also touched on the market as a creator of hysteria that is little concerned with the art it deals in. The opposition argued that the market’s canon is not necessarily the right one for art, and the audience present queried how culture can exist outside of the market. An optimistic suggestion was that the market can be a purifying force, lifting art out of obscurity, but finally when it came to the vote, the opposition won by a slim majority. Without the market, artists would still make art!

Many thanks to the determined debaters, whose passions ran high. Thanks too to the audience, and particularly to K3 and to Sam Porritt and the other artists in the exhibition Oneself as Other which provided our backdrop.