Benjamin R. Mandel
Art of the Deal: Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Marketby Noah Horowitz
Art today is defined by its relationship to money as never before. Prices have been driven to unprecedented heights, conventional boundaries within the art world have collapsed, and artists think ever more strategically about how to advance their careers. Art is no longer simply made, but packaged, sold, and branded. In Art of the Deal, Noah Horowitz exposes/i>
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Art today is defined by its relationship to money as never before. Prices have been driven to unprecedented heights, conventional boundaries within the art world have collapsed, and artists think ever more strategically about how to advance their careers. Art is no longer simply made, but packaged, sold, and branded. In Art of the Deal, Noah Horowitz exposes the inner workings of the contemporary art market, explaining how this unique economy came to be, how it works, and where it's headed.
In a new postscript, Horowitz reflects on the evolution of the trade since the book's original release in 2011, shining light on the market's continued ascent as well as its most urgent challenges.
Benjamin R. Mandel
"[T]he precision and lucidity with which Mr. Horowitz describes the commercialization of art should garner appeal for his book across a broad swath of market participants. For the rest of us, it is an enjoyable glimpse into the opaque corners of the art community."Benjamin R. Mandel, Journal of Cultural Economics
"Horowitz has provided readers with a very thorough and wide-ranging analysis of the contemporary art market that brings an unprecedented complexity to this discussion. His synthesis of the literature on the topic is sophisticated yet lucid and the book is exceptionally well researched, supported by countless citations."John Zarobell, Tabula Quarterly
"I thoroughly enjoyed this critical account of the global contemporary art economy; Noah Horowitz has a real understanding of the inner workings of the market. The fact that he chose to focus on video and experiential art renders his account unique and gives even the seasoned reader interesting insights."Thaddaeus Ropac, Art Newspaper
"One welcome aspect of the book is that its avoids to a degree but not entirely the usual cast and plot lines because of its focus on the relative undermined areas on 'immaterial' art genres in the first two essays. The book's discussion of video and experiential art is interesting. The discussion of the minutiae of this world of performances, installations, action and social interaction and their ancillary elements, content ownership and the rise of the collector's box will add greatly to the reader's ability to appear learned on a suitable social occasion."Satyajit Das, naked capitalism
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Art of the Deal
Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market
By Noah Horowitz
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2011 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
Artists have frequently viewed their activity as the production of meaning — often disruptive meaning — rather than as the production of objects per se. But commodification, the fetishization of the corpse of art (and often of the persona of the artist), eventually outruns all art forms, from Dada provocations to medical photography, and in this decade it has caught up with video, as video installation — a fittingly housebroken museum form for the "electronic age."
— Martha Rosler, 1997
In 2002–03 an exhibition of Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle (1994–2002) toured the Ludwig Museum, Cologne, and ARC/Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris before culminating at Manhattan's Guggenheim Museum. At each venue, the show encompassed the Cycle's five videos — Cremaster 4 (1994), followed by numbers 1 (1995), 5 (1997), 2 (1999), and 3 (2002) — and an abundance of sculptures, photographs, and ephemera. Central to the project's conceptual vision, the videos and accompanying items were installed ensemble, creating an immersive navigable environment, which some likened to a Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk — a "total artwork." In 1999 New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman had famously hailed Barney as "the artist of his generation," and this show cemented his position as one of the most coveted living artists. After more than a decade of spiraling renown, the traveling exhibition exposed the artist to a wider public than ever before: over 300,000 spectators visited the show in New York alone, and the Guggenheim brand represented a stamp of institutional approval. Few could deny the density of Barney's output, and the publication of a five-hundred-page exhibition catalogue contextualizing the project's biological lure further laid claim to his art-historical import.
Barney's auction record speaks volumes about this ascent. Although he had gained prominence in the art world by the early 1990s, between 1995 (the year of his first auction sale) and 2001 only 23 of his works were hammered down at auction. But since 2002, in the wake of the Cremaster Cycle's trination exhibition tour, over 160 additional works have been sold, nearly 50 of which above $100,000. Barney is today one of the most sought-after contemporary artists, and editions of Cremaster 2 and Cremaster 4 are among the most expensive video artworks ever sold, at $571,000 and $387,500, respectively. (See appendix A for a list of the record prices for video art at auction.)
While it is far from unusual for a living artist to enjoy such status, the noteworthy difference in this case is that the moving-image work, installations, photographs, and performances that are synonymous with Barney's practice have until recently been isolated from the art market spotlight. This chapter historicizes this development and examines how economic and symbolic values are generated for video art. The discussion corresponds to this book's overarching thesis on the rise of strategic economical thinking in the art market, from ambivalence over the financial, and even art-historical, relevance of alternative art forms during the 1960s to their increasing institutionalization and key roles within the commercial sector today. Though particular to video art, the arguments in this chapter are intended to reflect similar changes across various reproducible artistic media.
Before I begin, two red herrings should be briefly addressed. First, the marketization of video art is not part of a deterministic metanarrative in which the commercial success of video artists is in any way preordained or following a single, linear path. Instead, this is a phenomenon that evolved sporadically and slowly overcame a number of challenges in order to shape viable economic models that its makers, sellers, and buyers could all accommodate (this remains an ongoing process). Related to this, it is important not to overemphasize the role of the market in shaping video art's evolution. While my focus is with how this economy has taken shape since the 1960s, I do not propose that bottom-line concerns outweigh other fundamental issues relating to the making, curating, exhibiting, and reception of such practices. My main concern is both to contribute to a critical understanding of video art in the broader sense and to set this in play with other key developments in the recent art market.
Second, the term "video art" is misleading. Literally meaning "I see" in Latin, video refers to a mode of production that records images and sound onto magnetic tape, rather than capturing these onto celluloid film and storing them on a reel, as in film technology. Developed in the early 1950s, video was initially visually inferior to the quality of film-based recordings, but continuous improvements in the technology mean that it has become increasingly difficult to visually distinguish between productions. In recent years, digital technology has overtaken both the film reel and the magnetic tape, converting recorded objects into pixel values that, in turn, are composed of an immaterial, binary digital code. Together with the advanced capabilities of computer editing that have followed in the wake of these techniques, the distinctions between video and film technology have only historical significance.
There is today a very thin and porous line between video art and practices involving film, sound, and slide-projection — even performance. Many artists work seamlessly across these media, and similar guidelines tend to be applied to their conservation. The manners in which these works are sold (usually in limited editions with accompanying ancillary goods) also share much in common, and leading art institutions increasingly refer to all of these practices under the wider term "time-based media art" in order to minimize confusion. This book nevertheless sticks to the term "video art" — not because it disputes the relevance of broader categorizations, but because it serves as a suitable reference to the historical beginnings of the phenomenon, when video was clearly distinguishable from film, and eases discussion of its place in art market discourse, which continuously and pervasively applies this term.
* * *
I commence my narrative by returning to the origins of video art in the 1960s. Early practitioners' objectives and their efforts to supplant and enhance traditional broadcast television are of particular interest. I then assess early sales conventions before evaluating the gradual institutionalization of video art in the 1980s and 1990s, looking in particular at how this was supported by technological improvements, the rise of the Internet, the integration of video art into the core of contemporary artistic practice, and ultimately its widespread acceptance in exhibitions and museum collections.
Against this historical context, we can more adequately assess the resurgent marketization of video art. As we will see, the art market crash of 1990–92 provided a conduit through which alternative practices (including, but not limited to, video) enhanced their institutional footing, gained elevated support from private collectors, and enjoyed increasing relevance within the marketplace more generally. Telltale signs for video art included its strategic parceling into both immaterial and material forms (VHS cassettes and DVD recordings alongside three-dimensional video sculptures and installations); shrinking edition sizes; the proliferation of ancillary collectibles; and its seamless figuration as a lifestyle commodity. I conclude by weighing the consequences of video art's marketization and the opportunities and paradoxes that accompany its expansion across the Internet and into new retail circuits.
The emergence of video art must above all be understood as a constellation of a wide range of influences, artistic and otherwise. Chronologies are indelibly linked to the 1965 release of Sony's Portapak, the first consumer video recording device available in the United States. Prior to this, professional moving-image work tended to be shot on 16mm film, with domestic use usually limited to 8mm or Super8 film. Although these provided sufficient image resolution, they were logistically burdensome. Loading film was intricate, accidental exposure risky, and time delays between shooting and film development unavoidable (one week was common). It is easy to imagine the appeal of magnetic video imaging technology with instantaneous feedback.
The Portapak promised just such feasibilities, though the practical benefits of Sony's inaugural offering, the CV-2000, were not robust. Consisting of a small mobile camera and a half-inch black-and-white videotape recorder (VTR), the earliest Portapaks were heavy and could accommodate nothing larger than twenty-minute tapes. They were not cheap either, but at approximately $2,000 when combined with a small monitor and microphone, the unit was a fraction of the cost of prevailing television industry equipment. Incremental modifications led, by the mid-1970s, to Sony releasing the Betamax cartridge and JVC the Video Home System, or VHS. Both formats accommodated half-inch tapes, facilitated up to two hours of recorded content, and could be inserted into cameras and playback apparatuses.
Yet the cultural significance of portable video technologies was a factor of neither affordability, user-friendliness, nor technical sophistication alone, but of the ethos of access and self-determinacy these products embodied. Up to then, televisual tools, like those of the radio industry even earlier, were run by corporations and governments offering prepackaged information in a monodirectional supply. Consumers could acquire the rights to receive content (on television sets) but had marginal ability to modify, let alone create or distribute, it. The "half-inch revolution" changed that.
Video art's chronology, however, is not as linear as this path would suggest. It is important to realize that many of the artistic ideas and interests that the Portapak accommodated had been initiated decades prior to its release. The Italian Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published his manifesto, "Il teatro futuristo aeroradiotelevisivo," in 1931, promoting the notion of a "total theater" (teatro totale) comprised of large television screens — an early pointer. Other pre-1965 examples include Lucio Fontana's "Television Manifesto of the Spatial Movement" from 1952, and Fluxus cofounder Wolf Vostell's intermedia actions and famous television dé-collage performances, which he began in 1959 together with Nam June Paik. Paik's earliest "manipulated TVs" debuted at Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal, Germany, in 1963.
Paik is often mythologized as having been the first person to purchase a Portapak in America, acquiring one on the day of its release (October 4, 1965) and using it to record Pope Paul VI's motorcade through Manhattan that very afternoon (screening it to friends in the evening). In many accounts of video art, this story is presented as the beginning of a linear cause-effect chronology: video's prehistory (Futurism, Fluxus, performance art, commodity critique) segues into its watershed moment (Sony's Portapak), which once and for all liberates artists from prior constraints and gives birth to a new art form.
Video art's de facto emergence is a lot more complex, and we need to bear a few facts in mind before proceeding with an analysis of its early market history. First, as Martha Rosler points out in her seminal essay "Video: Shedding the Utopian Moment," video's relationship with "corporate TV" and other broadcast mechanisms is trivialized in the above accounts. If we uncritically accept that Paik freed "video from the domination of corporate TV" and allowed it "to go on to other things," we risk overlooking the multiplicity of engagements simultaneously at play and naively conclude that video was always destined to become a formal artistic medium.
Second, to define the crystallization of video art through Paik is to turn a blind eye to the fact that his own "artistic" predisposition was in fact alien to the objectives of many early practitioners. Between the artists who began to use video in the 1960s, including Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, Lynda Benglis, Bill Viola, Peter Campus, Les Levine, Ira Schneider, Frank Gillette, and Steina and Woody Vasulka, some tested its technological capabilities of feedback and resolution, some focused on its impact on language, meaning, and mediation, while others simply saw it as a means with which to capture performances or passing interests of the moment. Counterbalancing and complementing this, yet others, including feminists, activists, and collaborative groups such as Rosler herself, Jon Alpert, Top Value Television (TVTV), and Raindance Corporation, were motivated to experiment with video's documentary potential, to expand its broadcast supports, and to assert its political agency. Indeed, those who fell into this latter group did not necessarily see either video technology or their use of it in artistic terms.
Staging Paik as the father of video art moreover risks underestimating the influence of avant-garde film at this early stage on the formation of the practice. Pioneers like Stan Brakhage, Michael Snow, Jack Smith, and Andy Warhol were all working energetically in the 1960s, and their development of underground cinema cannot be cleanly disentangled from the landmark progress being made with video (and, indeed, Warhol made use of video technology as early as 1965, which he shot on a Norelco camera that was lent to him for promotional purposes). Furthermore, Pop Art reveals a third, and altogether more playful, set of influences within this early evolution that drew inspiration from a mixture of consumerism, psychedelia, and humor and would feed directly into the development of work by video practitioners such as William Wegman.
Yet however intricate and differentiated the emergence of video art is, one thing is certain: conspicuously absent from this sundry heritage is the role of the market. This is far from incidental. Many early video practitioners were either ambivalent or antagonistic to the market's espousal of singularity and objecthood. Process was prioritized to product, collectability dismissed as antiquarian (or, for Marxists, bourgeois), and impermanence championed as a vital condition of the medium.
The crystallization of a new practice or product is often surrounded by a utopian disregard for opulence and an activist rejection of the impurity that monetary concerns bring, and many histories of video art center on just this reaction. But even on this stance we do not find consistency. Marita Sturken disagrees with how "most of the video collectives have been historicized as zany, anti-Establishment groups with mutually supportive and egalitarian structures." In fact, Raindance Corporation was conceived as a "think tank" (its name coined by Gillette as a takeoff on corporate R&D and the RAND Corporation) and began as a profitmaking business. And she also points out that documentary troupes such as TVTV "eventually lost [their] impact when confronting the potentially more seductive subject matter of the entertainment industry [in the 1970s]," enticed by the superior production and postproduction facilities of commercial media ventures.
Similarly, while leaning toward Fluxus's championing of nonobjectivity and impermanence, Paik increasingly generated numerous permanent artworks. Pieces such as his TV Chairs, Magnet TVs, and Robot TVs (1965–67) soon fell under the aegis of "video sculpture," a flexible term used to describe works in which the television monitor not only relayed content, but also served as a three-dimensional art object in its own right. So defined, video sculpture indexed television's social functions, especially its integration into domestic household life, and raised phenomenological issues of the physical relationship between spectator and object that were also gaining traction in Conceptual, Minimalist, and installation-based practices during this period. Several such works entered museum and private collections in the 1970s.
There are other incongruities, too. The fact that it is difficult to gain an overview of issues pertaining to the early history of video art's production, distribution, funding, or conceptual orientation is, Sturken argues, part of the "paradox of video" itself, in which "art" constituted only one trajectory:
What emerged from this complex set of events was not a medium with a clear set of aesthetic properties and cleanly delineated theoretical concepts. Instead, one sees paradox, the paradox of video's apparent merging of (hence its negation of) certain cultural oppositions — art and technology, television and art, art and issues of social change, collectives and individual artists, the art establishment and content. These paradoxes are at the root of video's problematic relationship to both history and modernism.
Excerpted from Art of the Deal by Noah Horowitz. Copyright © 2011 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are saying about this
Alexander Alberro, Barnard College, Columbia University
Richard J. Zeckhauser, Frank P. Ramsey Professor of Political Economy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Daniel Birnbaum, director, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and curator of the 2009 Venice Biennale
James Cuno, president and director, Art Institute of Chicago
Meet the Author
Noah Horowitz holds a PhD in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. He currently lives in New York, where he is a member of the faculty of the Sotheby's Institute of Art and executive director of The Armory Show.
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