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SMALL BEER
by Charlie Finch
 
There is no beer in my beer cans.
-- Jasper Johns, 1964

For me, the whole Dakis Joannou/Jeff Koons kerfuffle at the New Museum is small beer, because, in the art world, what is open and on the surface is nothing compared to the insider deals and conflicts-of-interest that don't see the light of day.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a collector who is going to make a huge killing off the New Museum's Urs Fischer show. Guess what? It's not Dakis Joannou. Then there's that high-profile curator associated with the New Museum. This person has assembled a huge and very valuable collection of contemporary art over the decades, completely for free, and everybody knows it.

What else? Oh, the veteran uptown dealer who always manages to conveniently insert a retouched Old Master into this or that show at the Metropolitan Museum, then walks a client over to the museum, which the dealer always describes as "my gallery." Then there was the 1989 Andy Warhol retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art: At the opening various big collectors who may or may not have been on MoMA's board were openly swapping and selling their loans to the show. Andy would have approved, if he could gossip about it and if he got a cut.

In her recent piece on the renewed health of the auction market in the New York Times, Carol Vogel described the thrill and mystery of guessing who bought what. The auction houses should be required by law to tell us who bought what, but, more importantly, transparency would be in the best interests of the auction world because more people would get involved and it would be more fun!

Unfortunately, "fun" is the last thing that art world elitists are looking. Undertakers are party animals compared to the lugubruities of auction land, where the whims of one billionaire Russian collector are interpreted as some sort of return to liquidity.

The basic problem with an opaque, exclusionary policy of catering to the rich, mirrored, after all, by the disgraceful bailouts of Wall Street by both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama Treasury Departments, is that true innovation, revolution even, is deliberately strangled in the cradle. Because of the record sale of Dollar Bills, I have been thinking a lot about Andy Warhol at the Pop Crossroads in 1962.

Andy's world was crashing around him. He reveled forebodingly at the opening of Claes Oldenburg's store, with its giant hamburgers, on East Second Street. He stopped doing cartoon characters, because Roy Lichtenstein co-opted the trope. Allan Stone, the uptown dealer, who was sniffing around James Rosenquist and Tom Wesselmann, offered to put Warhol in a show, but only a group show: not enough. So what did Andy do? He reacted in a conservatively formal fashion worthy of Mondrian, silkscreening the flattest most deadpan objects around, dollar bills, Coke bottles and soup cans.

Amazingly, Andy succeeded, and his dry take on Pop paradoxically led the way, although his Brillo boxes and silver clouds still didn't sell two years later.

What has been built on the Warhol plinth is an inverted pyramid of static, plutocratic branding that crushes the hope of any further development in artistic innovation. Everything is a rerun. Until the walls of the wealthy are destroyed, there is no hope for art.


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).



 



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