Thursday 20 April 2023

The Corruption of Art and the Art of Corruption

What Is Art?  

"Can You Tell The Difference Between Modern Art and a Child's Painting?"  [It's a quiz.] How have we reached the point where we struggle to distinguish the crayon scribbling of a toddler from fine art?

The History of art

Nic Thurman offers a brilliantly succinct answer to the question. To summarize the already succinct:  the concept of "art" as used today is relatively new--less than three centuries old.  (The same can be said about "literature" by the way.)  While we, the guileless, might imagine that art has something to do with skill and craft and beauty, that is not the case as the concept is used today.  In the 18th century the German Romantic philosophers Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Hegel respectively claimed that "art" was the product of "genius" and a reflection of the "spirit" of the age.  Consequently, anything that someone in authority deemed to show "spirit" and "genius" was art.  Skill, craft and beauty became passé.


Art Is like money

Money, as we've learned, is whatever people think is money.  And art is whatever people think is art.  In both cases we accept the judgment of the people who are supposed to know.  If it ends up on a museum wall, it's art.  If it ends up in a bank, it's money.  Eventually art became not just like money but, for all intents and purposes, art became money; that is, a way to store and exchange monetary value.  As art went from being objects of beauty to objects of fashionable genius, as determined by curators and auctioneers, it also soared as an investment instrument, a source of liquidity.

Blurred Lines

The documentary film, Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World, elaborates how the "art world" became a network of insiders, a bubble of artists, agents, curators, gallerists, collectors, museums, warehouses and auction houses--all focused on the wealthy .1% ready to spend multiple millions on the works of whoever was deemed genius.  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled  The Art Market Is All About the 0.1%  reiterates the point.  

Art buyers are either the super rich .1% or wannabes trying to claim a place in that rarefied clique, or they may be of that most decried tribe, the speculators who buy a work of art for multiple millions one day and sell it for multiple millions more the next.  Owners of art, collectors of Andy Warhol, for example, have a vested interest in ensuring that the price of art works never drop and a Warhol, for example, is never allowed to sell for less than a million dollars.  The artists interviewed in Blurred Lines declare an absolute lack of interest in money.  (Methinks they protesteth too much.)  The exception is Damien Hirst, of shark-in-a-tank-of-formaldehyde fame, who argues that the money game, of which he is ultimate player, makes art more exciting.

The Art of Corruption

In terms of art facilitating corruption, look no further than the suspicious fact that the paintings of Hunter Biden, lawyer, drug addict, "novice painter" and son of the US President, are selling for between $75,000 and $500,000 in a New York gallery. Or, as reported in the Wall Street Journal this week:

An alleged financier of U.S.-designated terrorist group Hezbollah was charged with a scheme to evade American sanctions and illegally import and export hundreds of millions of dollars worth of fine art and diamonds.

The Goldfinch

 The novel, The Goldfinch, provides a coherent, fictional account of how works of art can be used as collateral in drug deals and other international crimes.


The novel references the 1654 painting. "The Goldfinch" by Carel Fabritius, now part of the Mauritshuis collection in The Hague, Netherlands.




Bitcoin for Billionaires

According to The Black Box of the Art Business, one of the largest collections of fine art in the world is housed in a warehouse in Switzerland, the Geneva Freeport.

 As elaborated in the documentary, this "black box" of art, jewels and collectables, allows the super-rich to hide their wealth from the tax collector as well as facilitating theft and fraud.  Remember the panic when were were told that bitcoin would facilitate a universe of dark-web crimes?  Art has become bitcoin for billionaires.



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