Trophy hunting has recently benefitted from much-needed media attention thanks to Cecil the Lion. Thank you, Cecil, for your unfortunate, but pivotal role in this matter. Art features on the list of further types of trophy pursuits deserving scrutiny. Yes, maybe some thought should be given to Cecilia the Art Philanderer.
Who is she? Can we maybe see a picture? Yeah, give us a glimpse of her perfectly manicured hands, her feet gracing a pair of the latest Louboutins! Get her to blow us a kiss from her luscious, red, pouted lips! And then, let us stare upon her gleefully hanging a well-chosen, masterfully hunted, and officially-acquired masterpiece above a casually-situated €500k Prouvé table.
Well, New York-based Jessica Craig-Martin “presents skillfully cropped and angled photographs of glittering individuals shot at various society parties, charity fundraisers, art exhibitions, and other invite-only soirees.” (- Winston Wächter Fine Art, Seattle). Craig-Martin’s masterly snapshots give us a fanciful glimpse of the iceberg’s tip upon which ‘art philanderers’ tend to perch.
Nevermind that these particular photographs by Craig-Martin, whose images could be easily found thanks to Google, were shot at charity benefits. They could just as well have been taken at an art auction, major gallery opening night, or at an Art Basel cocktail party, whether in Basel, Miami, or Hong Kong. Your choice. They are used here to give a metaphorical, introductory glimpse into today’s deliberation.
Craig-Martin has managed to capture some fantastic details. Who doesn’t want to stand out in a pair of shoes like those? Why shouldn’t our pooches get to accessorize too? Let’s flash our suntans, perfectly kept hair, jewelry and other fabulous fashionista tidbits, while we glamorously socialize with our preferred pecking protocol, whether it’s a single-, double-, triple-cheek kiss, or a simple air kiss across the prosperous throngs of private event attendees.
Of course we all enjoy our own little luxuries and our sense of extravagance varies with income, means, culture, and opportunity. Sure, there is no need for a spendthrift definition of purchasing power. We’ve all accepted that everything is relative. A certain Mr. Einstein’s mathematical equations even put a scientific stamp on it, at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s got a legitimate seal of approval. So what?
Absolutely. So what. I couldn’t agree more with that. Power to the bucks! Happy faces when they flow! Sure. Like most, I can easily handle that.
The only issue with this kind of art-schmoozing, in which each piece is acquired with a bang and delightfully displayed above that designer settee in the penthouse, is that the Trophy Art Philanderer totally misses art’s true aim and life-size, yet apparently imperceptible targets.
Oh, before moving on swiftly, I should probably add that although Cecilia the Art Philanderer is female, ‘Trophy Arting’ (my words so please quote me when you choose to use it) also happens among men, it’s just harder to spot when you’re not in art world orbit. (Note: In her book, Seven Days in the Art World, published in 2008, Sarah Thornton describes the ‘art world’ as “a loose network of overlapping subcultures held together by a belief in art. They span the globe but cluster in art capitals like New York, London, Los Angeles, and Berlin.”) It’s harder to spot, because you don’t know who’s ‘important’. There’s no such thing as a published Artworld Who’s Who (now, there’s a title/business idea!). But ‘they’ know. That’s all that matters. To them. ‘They’ want to be one of ‘them’. Yes, it’s a matter of pack mentality.
Let’s be reminded by the words of French writer Marcel Proust (1871-1922) that “Desire makes everything blossom; possession makes everything wither and fade.”
This might be a little too strong when it comes to owning art, but we should definitely remember: art is not all about owning, displaying, or schmoozing with the art world It-boys and -girls.
Current times appear to be a propitious moment to reflect on this. We’ve nearly reached our millennial sweet sixteen, and media seem to feel the urge to use headlines like “How the Arabs are taking over the art world” (see http://www.gqindia.com/get-smart/pop-culture/tracing-dohas-rise-top-art-world-food-chain-gq-india). Apparently, to quote GQ’s online article “If we found it easy to dismiss our hedonistic brethren from the Middle East as mere highstreet shoppers, the joke’s on us. The new slice of culture they’re building is the real indicator of their long-term civilizational ambitions.” Who would’ve thought that art “shopping” could turn into some sort of 21st century ‘Missile Crisis’?
Money trouble can lead to the worst even in the best of times. Fair enough. But, regardless ‘who’ wins ‘what’ on this, we’re surely all sidestepping the truly significant, precious nature of art.
This occurred to me after recently visiting an artist in his studio in Paris. No gallery. No auction results. No string of solo shows or major exhibitions. All this was of secondary concern to him. What mattered to this painter? Painting. (I can hear some of you thinking, “Duh!”)
He showed me one. Then another. Stooping down, he lifted the bottom of another panel to set it alongside another. It was so big, I felt concerned it might topple to the ground along with him!
Then he selected one to hang and another to show next to that one, all the while pointing out features of one, details in another, while telling me about what gave him the idea to do this, to depict that.
His physical efforts were not at all directed towards the person beside him watching, looking, listening, saying whatever mumbled through my mind or made my heart skip a beat.
He cared about what he had done. He had done it with purpose. This is his secret to fulfillment and overall satisfaction.
I didn’t leave with one of the smaller formats tucked under my arm. The tallest ones were probably bigger than my entire Parisian living room. I didn’t give him a single, potentially fruitful business connection. I didn’t have any ‘Who’s Who’ names to drop. I didn’t know who would have a keen enough eye to display his work.
I ain’t no Middle Eastern sheikh. I ain’t no Parisian It-girl. I ain’t no blue chip gallery representative. Nevermind. He was in no rush. He took more than plenty of time. We even improvised a homemade coffee break at some point.
Was this my breakfast at Tiffany’s? No, it was more real than that. He appreciated someone with an honest eye for painting, a care for art, coming to look and enjoy the creative poetry of pictorial compositions that were most visibly darn hard work to make. Talk about values, priorities, what matters in life, what drives us in art, etc., etc., came up and wasauthentically conveyed, simply shared – by real people, in a real place, having a real conversation, in real time.
François Mendras takes months to create paintings. Often even years. He starts them, eventually continues them, at some point pulls them back out for another touch, then leaves them for a bit, and eventually reaches a point that the final stroke of color, glaze, varnish, or time, has achieved its finishing job.
Time. THAT is our greatest luxury in the 21st century. It’s all just a click away today, or maybe a Google cross-reference if we bother. But, sitting somewhere looking, talking, observing, noticing details, feeling visual poetics in action… takes real TIME.
Time is what I’ve finally understood matters in Guillaume Mary’s work too. This took me ‘only’ a dozen years to recognize and fully appreciate, but now I get and respect it. That artist gets it too. Pure genius.
Guillaume Mary sees something, thinks about it or quickly jots down a shape, then makes a drawing or a quick sculpture (that he playfully considers a “toy”), makes another drawing, applies some paint on a small piece of paper or canvas, goes back to his modeled “toy”, returns to his drawings, repeats some, makes others…. Then he continues with life, his day job, his kids, his supermarket shopping, administrative stuff, lunch with friends, whatever… and eventually returns to his ‘toys’, 3D models, drawings, and other notes, to pick up on a detail, consider a component or pattern that emerges. Eventually he starts thinking about colors, composition, scale… Eventually – potentially months later, he’ll feel it’s time for him to paint ‘that one’ shape or other visual ‘thing’ that had been on his mind and works well in a drawing and that he can picture as a painting.
I once very honestly confessed to him that when I first saw his work (over a decade ago) I thought it was all abstract. I had indeed been very surprised when I discovered his inspiration stemmed from urban settings and rural landscapes. He looked at me with widened eyes and quietly said, “Well, you know, regardless of what I paint, for me it always represents something.” Oh. That blew my little art historian’s mind. Today it makes sense. It even strikes me as deeply meaningful. It only took me a short dozen. Priceless.
Talking about what we see, what we feel, what it makes us think about, requires a certain amount of (potentially enjoyable) effort.
Time is one of art’s most important assets. All those thoughts that jumped from a source of inspiration, into the maker’s mind, on through their hands and out on the canvas…
Fabulous. THAT’s the jackpot.
I was equally awestruck when I began to realize to what extent Gregory Forstner studies early 20th century artwork. His pictorial endeavors in our millennium are not only intensely energetic, they are also incredibly historically informed. Forstner’s paintings are not only substantial in size and physical bearing, his actions are purposeful, informed both by aspects of his personal journey in life and his path as an artist looking to/at his masters – whose paintings hang on the white walls of great collections.
In fact, I can well imagine Forstner joining in François Mendras’ giggle that I experienced during a walk through the Tuileries gardens in Paris. Looking toward the neighboring Louvre, Mendras said he “might pop inside to see how his competitors are doing today”.
Let’s quote Marcel Proust again: “Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, we see that world multiply itself and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists, worlds more different one from the other than those which revolve in infinite space, worlds which, centuries after the extinction of the fire from which their light first emanated, whether it is called Rembrandt or Vermeer, send us still each one its special radiance.”
Proust didn’t know François Mendras. Proust didn’t know Gregory Forstner. Proust didn’t know Guillaume Mary. There are many other 21st century artists whose artwork he didn’t get a chance to see. But had he, Proust would have taken TIME to sit down, look at their work, discuss it with them, speak about it with others, and generally consider painting, creating, thinking, creative involvement … I don’t think Proust would have stiletto’ed into an auction saleroom to make that gavel bang with his winning buck. He wouldn’t have triple-kissed his Artworld connections on socialite occasions in order to narcissistically rejoice about the preciously reputable nature of his pals.
Have our highbrows gone lowbrow? How do we turn the (art) world right side up again? Now, that is worth a bit of thought, and considerable effort. Let’s take time to truly enjoy art, discuss art, share our thoughts in art, on art, through art.
– Nicola Marian Taylor, France, September 3rd, 2015