Art = money, surprise!

How invigorating to see art inspire debate once again.  A new exhibit called “Richteriana” at Postmasters in Chelsea (in New York, not London) is less about the German painter Gerhard Richter than it is about the phenomenon — or the brand, you could say — of Richter.  The work in the exhibit is by other artists such as Greg Allen, Hasan Elahi, and David Diao, each engaging with the canonization of Richter as the so-called greatest living artist.  Allen, for example, has created what he calls the Destroyed Richter Paintings (pictured above) based on the photographs Richter used as the source material for now-destroyed paintings that Allen then sent off to a Chinese painting mill — which are not new, as I traced in this post back to 19th century Peruvian painting — to reproduce in paint on canvas in editions of five.  All very ‘meta’ but that’s the point of art today.

I haven’t seen the exhibit yet, but I will if only because I find the surrounding debate about it so compelling.  Felix Salmon at Reuters has a long piece about the commoditization of Richter as an ‘asset class’ like Apple stock or pork bellies; Jane Hu at The Awl has a response piece that ties it all together with the Postmasters exhibit.  Read them both, then go see the exhibit — through 16 June.

But, by coincidence, the most exquisite manifestation of the art = money equation is playing out in Philadelphia, where the famed Barnes Foundation collection — the greatest collection of Modern art ever assembled by an individual — opened last week in a new Tod Williams Billie Tsien-designed museum.  The reviews of the new space have been uniformly laudatory and even Peter Schjeldahl, who in 2004 called the move from its long-standing home in suburban Lower Merion to the city an ‘aesthetic crime,’ has been won over.  Schjeldahl’s 2004 essay gets at the controversy but to truly understand it watch the polemical documentary “The Art of the Steal” (the heavy-handed trailer is below) which makes the point that in his legal trust Alfred C. Barnes strictly and explicitly prohibited his collection from ever being moved into Philadelphia.  This is what has now happened, largely because the Philadelphia elders wanted a city center landmark that would bring in tourists.  By all accounts, the new museum is a better place to see art; it is also a much better place to make money from it.

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Read all my posts about photography, art or New York.  And if you have access to the New Yorker archives, be sure to look for “De Medici in Merion” by A.H. Shaw, a profile of Alfred C. Barnes and his art collection from the 22 September 1928 issue — yes, that is 1928, when the worthiness of much Modern art was still contested and its terminology sufficiently unformalized that its author could refer to “cubistic painting.”

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