Saturday, October 27, 2018

40 "The Price of Everything"

     There is one painting above all others that I would want to own so I could look at it everyday.  That painting is "Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43)" by Piet Mondrian and it's at MOMA in New York.

     I've walked through hundreds of museums in my life, thousands of galleries and I've scrutinized tens of thousands of paintings.  I read the quality of color, line, shape, form, texture, scale, subject matter (or lack of)-and then I see the touch.  From Giotto to Mondrian I look for and see the unique touch of a painter in their brushwork.  This one eloquent trait is what, for me, bridges centuries and cultural distances.  When I stand in front of "Broadway Boogie Woogie" I see Piet Mondrian's touch in his gentle and precise brushwork.  That touch affects me because it is proof that he was there in front of this canvas, just as I am, as I gaze at it.

     Today I saw a film, "The Price of Everything" (title taken from the Oscar Wilde quote, "a cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.)  Since I was already familiar with the "cruddy" (Robert Hughes' word, and what a great one it is!) monetizing of art by dealers, auction houses and the almost sad, plaintive art hungry shoppers, I didn't learn anything I didn't already know.  But I left with a renewed sense of disappointment in humans anyway.  To have every material thing a being living on this planet today could possibly have-and yet to still have a gnawing hunger deep inside that only compulsive art shopping can fill is at the very least, perplexing. 

     Apparently there is a glitch in our human genome that propels these insatiable needs.  This malfunction creates a need to keep stuffing inside our bodies or lives anything (heroin, food, money, cars, houses, luxury objects-such as art)- anything, to fill this great yawning hole deep inside that makes us feel like pointless, sad burlap sacks of dust if we aren't busy stuffing something inside to quiet this relentlessly aching monster of need.

     As it plays out in this film, if one is rich enough, art is just another commodity like real estate or stocks, and the notion of having an intuitive, visual and/or aesthetic connection with a work of art is quaint, nonexistent even.  Why not treat art the same way that a junkie treats a dime bag of junk or a developer treats a prime piece of real estate?  Shoot it up (or in the case of art, buy it!) so that however fleeting, something is felt, maybe even a brief spark of emotion.  

     To use a food metaphor, watching the players in this film produce, market and consume art, is akin to watching someone cram a hundred Big Macs into their maw, vomit the mush out, and then get back in line to buy a hundred more so that the cramming process can begin again.  The food pushers are the art dealers and auction houses and the burger crammers are the rich, aching for another fix to fill the hole of need.  

     Fine art was not always produced or treated in this way.  And there are many, many artists who quietly keep making art the way it has always been made.  But the ones who get the attention and make the money are usually the ones who run studio assembly lines like In N' Out Burger at lunchtime.  Uncle Andy is smiling down from high above, regarding his progeny with pride.

     What would Piet Mondrian say to an art pusher/dealer who nagged him to amp up production because there were art junkies/shoppers waving their cash right outside his studio?  Who knows.  But I like to think he would politely say, "NO thank you.  Try the artist down the hall.  I have nothing else to say."  Then he'd firmly shut the door on everyone, dealer included, put a jazz album on the turntable, pick up a brush, wiggle his fingers to loosen them up and get back to work.  Making art.  Not a product, but ART.



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