Gallery Beat was more than a television program; it was Paul H-O’s artistic expression. His expression produced an idea and object and was therefore subject to judgment. For the distinguished, it was banal and common. The Chelsea gallery spaces have co-opted the New York City art scene manifold. First, the birth into what it is now was an adventure purely of business, that is to say done with the idea of steep investment and the anticipation of immense returns. As the expense of gallery space swells so too must the return to the investor. What did it take to reach this success? Certainly, the increasing cost of artwork, considered premium because it is in premium space, has helped. In addition, as with any space it must be used efficiently and effectively (i.e., 4 of 5,000 sq. ft., will be used to display art). Hence, the need for galleries to acquire more works in order for this equation to be successful. Whereby, more artists are ‘uplifted’ to premium space. Those who see more successes are contracted formally or informally to create more pieces. An apparent domination occurs with a rise of popular art “…indices of a dispossession at the second power, which accepts the definition of the goods worthy of being possessed” (Bourdieu, p.386). The ultimate goal of the gallery then is to sell a product with marketing techniques that understand the desire to be distinguished. “The appropriation of symbolic objects with a material existence, such as paintings, raises the distinctive force of ownership to the second power and reduces purely symbolic appropriation to the inferior status of a symbolic substitute” (Bourdieu, p.280). And for this reason, the second co-opting Chelsea is guilty of, of which damage only an era gone by may tell, is the calculated commercialization of the art gallery into a place of mass-marketing and therefore the puissance behind mass-produced ‘fine’ art.
Finally, I feel that this era of art most resembles the Renaissance Era’s mode of production – commissioned work. Where they differ, however, is how I would define ‘commissioned’. In the strictest sense, and how I view the Renaissance’s use of the word, is a direct order or request, whereas, today in addition to this strict sense, there exists a command that comes from an overall “perception” (Bourdieu, p.2). In addition to being ‘weighted’ by a privileged “home background and of formal education” perception is also influenced by marketing (Bourdieu, p. 1). This is something, at least to such an extent, the Renaissance era did not have.
Couple this with New York and its heavy concentration of wealthy people and as an ‘art center’ to the world it attracts the attention of potential collectors from abroad, and acknowledging major differences between then and now, between now and only one-hundred years ago you will find a generation of new wealth. Their modes of acquisition are exceedingly dependent. This new wealth aims its focus, less on the reasons of attaining, and more on what it means materialistically.
Think of the parents of the 50s, 60s, and 70s in America. Material items were harder to come by. Many middle/working class families did not own a car or if they did, it was not new. Today however, kids have cars at seventeen, new cars in their early twenties. Part of the reward of attaining was the sacrifice; it is a material item but I wisely struggled for it. Today perception bypasses the sacrifice and aims directly at the desired object. Not only does perception bypass, but also wealth is in such amounts that more people today who can afford to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a Cindy Sherman portrait. And these are the people of ‘new money’ who are not excluded from being subject to a marketing code. Furthermore, the modern art pumped out of Chelsea galleries does not always receive favorable opinion. As an example, a good deal of recent work is considered’assemblage’ – a collage of objects. A warm reception from veteran collectors/buyers often eclipses this new style. This leaves a field of art and culture to a rising ‘petite bourgeoisie’ that has set out on their own path of discovery and deciphering.
The Autonomy of the Artist
The equation of marketing is to discover a widget and then sell as much as possible. A distinct part of marketing is to discover the shapes, sizes, colors, and signs that make buyers salivate. The purpose of Chelsea galleries is business, not a sacrifice for culture; hence, their bottom line is to assure return of investment. A form of marketing then influences consumption of art. Whereby, the artist who aims for Chelsea type galleries with purposeful intent subsequently finds influence from what is showing and selling in these spaces. The artists’ aspirations may be altruistic but in some distant form, woven into this historical homage is marketing. Whereby, most artists and indeed those who follow the Sherman’s and Haring’s have perhaps in some cases unwittingly sacrificed much if not all of their autonomy. If the aim of the artist is under the influence of said successful influences, to create what ultimately the upper class dictated as desirable art, freedom of creativity is lost. The artist is no longer free to have and explore – and a machine of productivity begins. Thus, the polysemous creations come only after the influence of the ‘laws of marketing’. Art will never die because it is in the eye of the beholder – but what is the fate of artistic autonomy?
Bourdieu, Pierre; Distinction – A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1984