July 2, 2022

Price and Value


I have a dear friend who likes to send group emails that introduce topics current in the art dialog. The thing is, he sports a reductivist abstract style, so the word count in his emails after the subject line is in the single digits. This time, the content was a solitary hyperlink.

While I usually try to mirror his manner, I let rip this time:

Consensus of experts depends on the stability and strength of expertise. The dematerialization of art led to a dilation of the meaning of expertise. Art as a river of Modernity had developed from mountaintop mists to icy streams to crystal tributaries to rivers widening and ever muddying until where we are now: oozing, evaporating, steaming, fetid deltas disappearing into the ocean. In other words, consensus had lost its clout and the only hope lies in mountain dew.

Once art became an asset class, art works became fungible. The system of aesthetic valuation, once natural and pegged to artist's agendas have become easily emulated, simulated and controllable. Artists' production became equivalent to minting currency. The value of art objects became fiat, whose worth depended on another kind of consensual decree by those who have figured out how to game the system.

What had underpinned the eclipsed legacy system were a community of artists who asked the question in the quiet of their studios: "...where are we in art history and where are we going?" What had underpinned the now-eclipsed legacy system of art were collectors who understood and believed in pricelessness.

The ironic nature of the value of art is lost in the collective mind of the contemporary art system. The value of commodities such as oil, water, lumber, steel is in what can be done with them. The value of art is in the art object itself, of its' own sake. Money, either in the form of printed paper or stacks of bullion is valuable only what can be done with it. Art is valuable for what it is. The former is expended, the latter is conserved. It's only when art in the possession of a collector, considered priceless in any degree, that it can begin to have a price. Yes, like death, all things priceless will be conquered in time. Eventually, a price can be quoted for the priceless possession. It is the incalculability of worth that renders a price that can be calculated. The world knows all of the superlatives that describe this dynamic: irreplaceable, incomparable, unparalleled, worth a king's ransom... the indices of the priceless. All of this is in the company of metaphysics, where the Real abuts the intangible.

There are no laws, no regulations, no policies that can remedy the problem of the reduction of art to mere currency or an alternative investment instrument, the problem of the evacuation of meaning in art. Only the return of passion can save the day. It's only when collectors join the sphere of creativity and imagination, when their collections are expressions imbued with vision and insight that can rival and put to the shade the shallow exploitation that the art world has become, that our art world can again shine.

Until then, it's all a sad shit show.
Posted by Dennis at July 2, 2022 10:06 AM

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