The Depot has been in the art world for twenty-one years now and continues to remain sustainable by being perspicacious, predictive and proactive. We have been researching the changes in the art world.
STATE OF THE ARTS
We first discussed the state of the arts in 2003. We explored the notion that an increasing preoccupation with fiscal matters led to the commodification of almost everything; that our society was one where, as Oscar Wilde famously observed, “everything has a price and nothing has value.” Included now in this commodified world, with its concomitant characteristics, including conspicuous consumption and investment potential, are the arts.
We noted that the shameful sale of Colin McCahon’s “Storm Warning” in 1998 by Victoria University to a private collection presaged in both the act and the substance of the work some of these major social trends, which finally filtered into the NZ art scene. McCahon bequeathed the work with the expectation it would remain on public display. The text of “Storm Warning” prophetically read:
‘YOU MUST FACE THE FACT The final age of this world is to be a time of troubles. Men will love nothing but money and self. They will be arrogant, boastful and abusive, with no respect for parents, no gratitude, no piety, no natural affections, they will be implacable in their hatreds. PAUL TO TIMOTHY.’
In a lecture titled “Money, Power and Contemporary Art” (2004), Los Angeles Gallery Director Robert Shapazian** warns that “within the world of contemporary art, works of art are traded like a commercial article….Art has become an ornament to power, celebrity, big money and control.”
We see very little let-up in this fiscal focus on the arts, but we have observed significant changes which relate to the ways and means art is marketed and sold, some of which unfortunately exclude the artist from any personal financial benefit.
- The secondary arts market is going mad, with sales by auction houses reaping millions of dollars and sidelining artists, and the galleries which have supported them in the past. No rewards accrue to artists whose works are on sold at auction.
- A work purchased at auction may also be a fraction of the cost a dealer gallery will sell it for. In some instances a work by a well-known artist may be less expensive than that of an emerging artist, which has significant implications for an emerging arts scene. Our publication, Artist Resale Royalties Aotearoa, ARRA, revised 2017, documents research into the possible income of artists who would receive a royalty if their work sold on the secondary markets and on that basis advocates for a resale royalty.
- There is also a proliferation of other means for selling work, such as a variety of online sites from Trade me, which is non-selective and enables the artist to list their own works, to Ocula, a fine-arts, on-line gallery. On-line art sales are more prolific than when we first addressed this subject in 2004. This is also true for art fairs run for both charitable and commercial purposes.
- Also there’s a far greater blurring of what defines ‘art’. YouTube, digital media, blogs etc. and greater links between art and design encourage the concept that anyone can be an artist. Also art’s becoming increasingly a life style/leisure activity like cafes, wineries etc. Venues for seeing art are opening up – artists are opening their studios and houses for showings and home galleries are on the rise too.”
Here at the Depot we constantly question how, under such circumstances of change, we can best meet the needs of artists. Galleries are no longer a great source of sales, as we witness through the closure of art galleries both locally and internationally, and as artists take their creative sustainability into their own hands. The establishment of personal websites with online sales facilities, the connection with the organisers of school and other charity art fairs are means by which artists are building their own audience and potential buyers.
As a result the Depot realises it may be able to support artists more effectively in the following ways:
- Offering professional development services to artists; assisting them to design websites, to draw audiences to their websites, to prepare artists’ statements that attract and interest audiences, and to offer advice on materials, technique and marketing.
- Providing workspaces where artists are able to work on projects and to collaborate.
- Offering opportunities for participation in shows that do two things:
- Build a community of support for artists; they are not alone and nor is their profession without recognition and value.
- Develop and promote the creative critical mass that showcases the local community as rich in the arts which contribute to its identity, vibrancy and economic sustainability.
In a recent article, titled The Future of Art Galleries, Mark Adams notes that many galleries are attempting to build a sense of community. “One trend I have noticed recently is how galleries will sponsor workshops or an in depth demo from their artists. They have become more than just an art gallery, but built a community where people can buy art, learn how to make art, or just talk to people about art.” http://markedwardadams.com/blog/64141/the-future-of-art-galleries
We are aware also that the arts contribute more to society than an additional economic stream. The arts are kept alive in our society not by the incentive of an income but by the passion and calling of artists. If the production of art were governed by the profit motive it is unlikely that the arts would feature significantly in the lives of so many practitioners. And how much more impoverished would we be both as a culture and a society if this was the case. Thus, to value art on a dollar basis or to be is to under-value it at any price, for the arts emanate from and are an expression of the human spirit which is itself definable in what it creates.
In “The Story of Utopias” (1922) visionary social philosopher, Lewis Mumford, made the following observation: “A community whose life is not irrigated by art and philosophy, is a community that exists only half alive. The fundamental values of a true community are to found in poetry, art, music and the free use of the imagination…the production of non-profit-making goods, the enjoyment of non-consumable wealth. Here are the sustaining values of a living culture.”
These words, like those on McCahon’s “Storm Warning”, are harbingers of dire possibility when we neglect who we truly are and succumb to the gross and transient pleasures of commodity fetishism in which art also becomes implicated; the victims of a world-wide phenomenon.
*Commodification is a process “in which something enters freely or is coerced into a relationship of exchange, a transaction enabled by an instrument of payment…..Parties in this exchange identify themselves as owners.” Rainer Ganahl “Free Markets: Language, Commodification and Art”
**Robert Shapazian has master’s and doctorate degrees in literature and fine arts from Harvard University. He has worked extensively with artists, museums, curators and private art collectors.