“The Art Market is a Scam”

We knew that though, didn’t we? Get yourself ‘adopted’ by a gallery or a collector and your work will sky rocket in price. You might have to be dead though, which would at least mean you weren’t kept on a lead by your sponsor/patron/gatekeeper.

It’s always seemed to me that, and this video puts it succinctly, as art has no intrinsic value, it can only accrue value from people’s perceptions of it and these are easily manipulated by social and economic concomitants. Look at the number of celebrities suddenly, and from a standing start, producing a best selling novel. Was it that good? Really, was it? Or were people just buying the name and making positive attributions based on the author’s performance in, oh I don’t know, Die Another Million Times?

As a psychologist by training and practice, the influence of social context has seemed to me to be a major factor in the appraisal of subjectivity. A ‘name’ lends its own aura, a kind of halo effect which, in research terms, is the phenomenon whereby a person is judged according to criteria that aren’t necessarily relevant to the quality under consideration. You look good so you’re probably smart – that sort of thing, although that works less well for women.

For art, it’s likely to be the plain fact of being in a gallery, and thereafter of the aesthetics of the gallery itself. In a documentary featuring Sean Scully, I saw what to me was a quite nondescript abstract transformed by its particular position in the gallery that had bought it. Against a white wall and seen through two arches down a pristine corridor, that canvas looked striking.

But how did it get there? Who recognised its value in the first place and took it, like an unwieldy Cinderella, to the gallery ball? Or did they know Scully as an artist who had exhibited elsewhere, who had an agent who negotiated its inclusion, whose work was worth a bet because he was a ‘name’? Would it have sparked so much interest from a trestle table at the Christmas Craft Fayre in Pocklington*?

It’s also interesting to me that so many high profile artists are also, well, slightly strange, and I wonder if that’s part of the package. I recall being invited to a posh party back in the day, one at which girls from Roedean** would be in attendance. My ‘sponsors’ were my flatmates, both Sussex university undergraduates; and as the artist (Foundation year, Brighton) I was their proxy weirdness. I managed this in splendid style by trying to eat a bay leaf because I’d never seen one before and, working class kid that I was, my drummed-in ethic was to eat everything on my plate.

Unfortunately, I’ve lost a lot of that inadvertent kudos over the years, unless you count being a psychologist which was the only job I ever had that cleared off the chat-up merchants faster than salt on a slug’s tail [no, don’t do that, slugs are family!] so I might have to generate some. What if I pretend to be my own agent but with everyone knowing; you know, like Dame Edna and Barry Humphreys – never seen together? Fake a previous life as a spy? Fake a previous life even? Unacknowledged wild child of the Medici family, infamously confined to an asylum from birth?

Meanwhile, what’s your money on here – Pollock or hedgehog?

*Pocklington. A small town in Yorkshire where, in nineteen hundred and frozen to death, our car broke down and had to be fixed at a local garage. It was dark and late, and the most exciting night of my not-very-exciting life to that point.

**Roedean. A posh public school (private, if you’re American) near Brighton where minor aristocracy sent their girls to make sure they learned about French, twin sets, dinner parties, and how to greet Earls. They knew how to handle a bay leaf, for sure.

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