Monday, June 10, 2019

Duping the Hyperrich

I have already opined on the rank absurdity of paying $91,000,000 for an inflated toy bunny. Yes, serious art critics call it a work of art, of surpassing aesthetic qualities. Still, sometimes a toy is just a toy. Collectors who traffic in such swill can at least consider themselves to be great investors. The art critics sound like vapid suckups… willing to say anything to make the collectors not look like the world’s richest dupes.

Seriously, it’s yet another sign that we are suffering through a cultural collapse. Matthew Scully made some salient comments on National Review, and I am happy to pass them along.

As for the Jeff Koon sculpture of a rabbit shaped balloon, Fortune magazine, formerly a serious publication says this, via Scully:

To prepare bidders for the experience, as Fortune captures the scene, “the piece occupied a temple-like rotunda at Christie’s, displayed in blazing white light on a pedestal under an oculus.” The auction house’s lot essay reflected on the “inscrutability” of the work: “The steel surface of the titular bunny initially appears smooth and balloon-like, the forms reduced to some abstract, Platonic ideal.”

Plato must be rolling in his grave. If you think that that is bad, take a gander at what a Christie’s representative has to say:

No mere sculpture, explained Christie’s chairman of contemporary art, the three-foot-high Rabbit stands for “the end of sculpture and the antithesis of ‘the perfect man,’ Michelangelo’s David.” How so? Well, David “is young, he’s muscular, he has long arms, strong legs. He’s carved by one of the greatest artists of all time with a chisel, out of one block of the purest white marble. The end of this is not a computer screen because that’s not a carved figure. The end is a small bunny.’”

And why not, pray tell, compare it to Michelangelo’s Pieta, a better work? As for the drivel that art critics have learned to traffic, calling this bunny “the end of sculpture” is just a test to see how easily they can dupe rich people into thinking that they are intellectually sophisticated.

It reminds me of Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, where a tutor instructs a gentleman poseur that he has, for his entire life, been speaking prose. The gentleman revels in the realization and believes that he has attained the height of wisdom.

The fault, Scully continues, lies in the education that aspiring young art critics have garnered in our best colleges. Since art is one world where it is the most difficult to ascribe value to work, it has become the place where wanna-be thought czars grant themselves free reign to indulge opinions that cannot be judged against reality.

Or better, where opinion can only be tested by the vagaries of the fine art market, a market where a handful of hyperrich collectors at an auction can affix an absurd valuation on a toy rabbit.

If the uninitiated do not detect much creativity in any of the pieces themselves, there’s certainly enough of it in the writings of art critics who strain to make us see why Mr. Koons and his $91 million piece are so very “important.” They read like entries in a college essay contest in which students are required to reach 1,000 words or more with as much as can possibly be said about the artistic merits of a balloon rabbit. Inspecting the object, a Guardian critic observes that “there is indeed something special about the contrast symbolised by the heaviness of the material used for each statue, and the seeming lightness the motifs give the impression of.” The sum effect is profoundly “counterintuitive.” One might even call it, with the Washington Post’s critic, “a compelling proposition about tensions in our culture between mass popularity and seriousness, between art and kitsch, and between pleasure and shame.”

In truth, since the work has no aesthetic value and even less meaning, critics can let fly and say anything whatever:

In so many ways, says the Times writer of Mr. Koons, “he changed the way we see the world, elevating overlooked objects, like inflatables — sometimes giving them a startling, disturbing gravity, and other times just making them bigger, not better.” Perhaps this is why, after learning of the balloon rabbit, I couldn’t stop thinking about it:

because the strongest works imprint themselves on our visual memories with a striking if uneasy singleness. The various curved forms of the “Rabbit” — head, torso and legs — function as a cascade of concave mirrors. Often compared to an astronaut, the creature is at once alien and cute, weirdly sinister and innocent, weightless and yet armored. The idea that something is inside, or nothing is, is equally disturbing. “Rabbit” is intractable, a little warrior, yet it also vanishes into its reflections, which are full of us looking at it.

As noted, the nonsensical theorization surrounding Koons speaks ill of our current cultural moment:

Actually, if there’s political insight to be gleaned from all this, it probably has more to do with inflatable reputations, gullible audiences, and the spell of progressive groupthink — problems that grow only more hopeless with money. If you left the Rabbit on a curb, no one would steal it, but set it in that temple-like rotunda under the blazing light, declare it the “end” or “antithesis” of something or other, applaud its defiance of convention, its challenging of Western norms, etc., etc., and the bidding can start at $40 million.

So, we live in a world full of rich people who want nothing more than to think that they are sophisticated intellectuals. Our pseudo-intelligentsia has accepted the task of separating them from their money while taking over their minds:

It takes some real doing to reduce so many intelligent people to the level of defending vulgarity and nonsense, and of discoursing on the meaning of Play-Doh and the like as if they were beholding the Pietà.

Next thing you know, these wealthy collectors, having sunk fortunes into nonsense, will happily shut down anyone who dares notice that they, great emperors that they are, are wearing no clothes. Once you make a blithering fool of yourself you will do everything in your considerable power to shut up anyone who would dare hold a mirror up to your folly.


UbuMaccabee said...

"If you left the Rabbit on a curb, no one would steal it"

I would. It would make a fine objet d'art for my pals at the gun range.

Anonymous said...

It would definitely have at least some value to pigeons as a perch to sit on and from which to poo.

Sam L. said...

These "Art" sellers and "connoisseurs" are definitely worth laughing at. Reminds me of the story of the kid who says to his mom, "I don't care what you call it; I say it's SPINACH and I won't eat it!"

Anonymous said...

The art sellers themselves aren't necessarily stupid though. Opportunistic geniuses maybe, like a standard tourist trap selling 50$ 1 liter bottle of piss flavored water in the midst of a lengthy desert hike to naive tourists.

sestamibi said...

I'm wondering just how rich one would have to be to blow $91 million on such a piece of junk. Think about it--for even a billionaire that wouldn't exactly be chump change. One would have to be worth at least $15-20 billion before it would make a dent in one's lifestyle.

Robb Moffett said...

Most of the fine art in a modern gallery is found on small white cards in front or near the art describing what you are supposed to be seeing. The finest and highest BS known.

Anonymous said...

Imagine the seller is also the buyer, who can then sell back to the seller.

The rabbit becomes an impossible object just like that lady's review comparing it to abstract Platonic solid.

Anonymous said...

"Imagine the seller is also the buyer, who can then sell back to the seller."

I've mentioned Mr Koons "work" here at Stuart's blog in the past.

I've also linked in the past to some investigative art criticism, by Miles Mathis.
His thesis is that "Modern Art" doesn't just look like a scam, it IS one.
Mainly of the money laundering variety.
The quote at the top of my post is likely *very* accurate.

Do a search on "Frances Stonor Sanders", the CIA, and the art world.

"Modern art was CIA 'weapon', by Frances Stonor Saunders
Frances Stonor Saunders", the CIA, and the art world. from
Nov 14, 2010 · Author of a masterful study on the CIA and the cultural Cold War, British historian Frances Stonor ... the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world..."

If she piques your interest, dive deeper into Mr. Mathis endeavors.
The Armory Show in NYC at the turn of the 20th century was a British Intelligence project.

- shoe