"Money talks; it has nothing to say about art," is the apparent bon mot of the summer, uttered by Venice czar Crocodile Robert Storr. But Storr has the equation wrongly reversed. The intriguing issue is what art says about money.
Damien Hirst summed it up succinctly in a recent Artnet Magazine interview with Joe La Placa, "Art is the most fabulous currency." From the celebrated Hirst to the failed painter in the garret, money constantly whispers in the ear of the artist. We all have known artists who squirrel away unwanted works, only to finally get a show. Then these artists wildly overprice their canvases so that nothing will sell.
That is the call of money, the fear of art as exchange value. Conversely, Claude Monet, the original Andy, would crank out his haystacks, take a small number to Marseilles, telling his buyers, "There are only a few, buy them while you can." Then he'd float another dozen stacks back in Paris.
This is more than making a living, or refusing to: It is the love call of currency at its most fetishistic. Steve Rubell famously showered Andy Warhol with buckets of bills at Andy's birthday bash. No artist was more the victim, and yet exploiter, of money lust than Warhol, wandering the souks of Soho with Stuart Pivar buying up everything in sight then dumping the unopened packages in his closets at night, full of unsatisfied shame. The pull of mammon was murderous even on someone so intelligent. For money is a form of behavior, abstract, hidden and irrational.
We in our world of art are currently amused by the hairy men of mystery bringing home the Bacons from London bazaars. The pounds are limitless and the Bacons scarce, and Bacon himself, he’s dead. What has changed in the relationship between art and money is time. Huge amounts hedged on art made last week are the symptom of a new art-world dynamic, the living buyers grasping at totems of life from living artists.
Like the blackest hole, this behavior must collapse upon itself, because, as the critic Peter Schjeldahl told me the other night, "The only time is the present." Parse that present like a hedged derivative into minutes, seconds and milliseconds and pretty soon, like the diminished spiritual significance of overpriced art, nothing is there.
Better to quote the ancient Sanskrit saying, "For today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Such is the salutation of the dawn."
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).