Idea becomes a machine that makes…money

The „neo”/”post” conceptual art has little in common with the conceptual art done at the end of the ΄60s. The complex idea behind the art work that challenged the „traditional status of the art object as unique, collectable or saleable” (Tony Godfrey, Conceptual Art”) became nowadays itself collectable and saleable. The intellectual labour of the artists is the main trademark of these works which became more and more desired by the collectors.  

„Art is the most fabulous currency.”  Unsurprisingly, this statement comes from one of the richest living artists, Damien Hirst. So we found ourselves raising questions regarding on what grounds a work of art is valuable by what it represents – especially because of the direct involvement in the artistic activity of the viewer, or by what is believed to be due to the reactions stirred in the cultural circles. Such an example is given by the Piero Manzoni’s pedestals on which were two footprints that invited the viewer to engage thus he became an art work himself.

Piero Manzoni, Pedestal for the World, 1962

Another work produced by Manzoni, “Ninety cans of Artist’s Shit” were sold at a value according to their equivalent weight in gold (about $37 per can in 1961 and £97,250 in 2008). More intriguing and amusing is the fact that, according to one of his assistants, the cans didn’t contain what everybody believed and bought as “shit” but plaster, thus demonstrating that the art market buys everything as long as the “thing” is signed by a fashionable artist.

Ninety cans of Artist’s Shit

It is not a coincidence that in top 100 done by Artfacts.net (a ranking where artists receive points by the attention they received from art auctions and institutions) on the first positions are listed conceptual artists such as Bruce Nauman, John Baldessari, Lawrence Weiner, Sol LeWitt, Marcel Broodthaers, but also neo-conceptual artists: Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Douglas Gordon. The popularity of these artists is reflected by the prices listed on various auctions for their works.

A film produced by Cindy Sherman (Untitled Film Still) was sold for $ 338,500, a work by Sol LeWitt (Corner Piece No.2) with nearly $900,000, the “Quality Material” of John Baldessari for $ 4,408,000, while “The Golden Calf” by Damien Hirst gathered about $ 19 million. It is not important if these numbers reflect a reality regarding the actual value of the works, but their existence might be useful in continuing Sol LeWitt’s statement that the idea becomes a machine that makes…money. 

Damien Hirst, The Golden Calf 

In the Eastern Europe, especially in Romania, a particular practice of conceptual emerged in the early `70 and continued up to now. Yet, during the communism the interest manifested on the surrounding social realities took a form less authorized by the Single Party, criticizing the political regime.

As for Romania, an artist who stood against the ideologized art of the `80s and continued this tradition by positioning himself against the greedy-capitalism that imbues the artistic world nowadays, mocking the process of art-for-money sake is Dan Perjovschi. He not only depicts the internal turmoil of his country through drawings, but adjusts to the realities of all the countries he visits, by catching in almost all his works the social and political realities of those times.

The sentence comprised by the work entitled The Drawing Institute, 2010, in the 90s I spoke about freedom, now I speak about money is just one example that reflects the reality viewed by an artist of a former communist country through his drawings, without the desire to place himself as a condescending critic but more as a vehicle meant to raise awareness of the public on the deceiving promises the consumer society promotes. 

Apart from the examples mentioned above, for the vast majority of the artists recognized or self-proclaimed as neo-conceptual artists, only the creative concept is not enough, for them money is a kind of conceptual art itself. So that’s no big deal… .(Andrei Codrescu)

Maria Mocanu

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