The painting to the left is Akt Elke 2 (Nude Elke 2) by the German artist Georg Baselitz, who is famous for painting figures upside-down. When Baselitz was asked by a reporter recently whether or not he felt any guilt about the "astronomical prices" his works were fetching at auctions, Baselitz took a long drag on his cigar, blew the smoke into the reporter's face, and remarked: "What is better than a painting? Nothing."
Well, that may have been true last year, but I suspect that these tough economic times are going to produce more than a few detractors to Baselitz's speculation. Waldemar Januszczak, New York Times art critic, thinks we're way overdue for a value "correction" in the art market, which he sees as terribly over-inflated and badly managed. In his article "Time for a cull in the art world," Januszczak claims that "the whole tottering art-world edifice has grown soft, blubbery, arrogant, self-congratulatory and decadent." Art prices have gone up in almost direct proportion to its decline in value. There are too many galleries and not enough of what Januszczak calls "fire-in-their-belly" artists. Aesthetic value is not recession-proof, Januszczak argues, and this recession has come just in time.
I don't really have the eye (or the income) to count myself among the owners of fine art, so I can't remark upon the accuracy of Januszczak's claims that the art world-- and espcially the Tate Modern-- has become bloated. But I am both intrigued by and sympathetic with his insistence that we be suspicious of any kind of Warhol-esque conflation of buisiness and art. It's not that art isn't a business, which of course it is, but when it becomes only a business, then I can understand his welcoming the sorts of market corrections that make good businesses good, and bad businesses fail. Januszczak thinks that this recession will produce what he calls a "leaner, meaner, angrier art world," which he acknowledges will undoubtedly be bad for artists, but only bad artists. That last part makes me a little nervous, since it is just as likely that plenty of good, "fire-in-the-belly" artists will also get lost in Januszczak's proposed "culling." Even still...
What is better than a painting, Baselitz? Food. Rent. Heat.