Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Art World Explained To Children

I always thought the series “bla bla bla for dummies” in their lame tongue-in-cheek attempt at humor had the most awfully condescending title ever. Besides, their titles most certainly come with a trademark, so I decided to name this post in homage to Jean-François Lyotard whose La Condition Postmoderne and its follow-up Le Postmoderne Expliqué Aux Enfants certainly influenced my undergrad days. Though I much preferred Le Différent, one of the most beautifully, intelligent and desperate book I have ever read, but I’m digressing.

Anyway, there seem to be a need to explain the art world inner workings to newcomers, i.e. the nouveaux riches freshly learned connoisseurs who were buying like crazy over the last few years. We’ll see how the subprime crisis is going to affect the art market and if these new collectors stay true to their status trophies personal integrity and deep love of art knowledge.
I’ve recently read a particularly mediocre novel by Danielle Ganek (with a way too long title) pertaining to do just this. She’s something on the board of MoMA and probably a charming person in real life but I am afraid her abilities in fiction writing are a bit sub-par. It’s OK, now we have chick-lit for the über-rich as well, a new publishing category for the culture-challenged previously literature-deprived I never thought of myself. No wonder I’m still broke. Ah well.

The storyline betrays a very superficial understanding of art and art history, but the description of the art market is spot on. It is also a book in which curators, art historians, critics and learned institutions are curiously absent from, making it a “hyper-present” book: no past, no future history are sandwiching the events depicted. It looks as if art had no longevity whatsoever, which could be an interesting take on Baudrillard, had the author sought to reference him.
(Note to Viking: copy-editors are not a luxury: if you have to publish such average material, make sure at least someone checks the continuity in addition to grammar and spelling. Copy-editing is a noble job and it does enhance the quality of published material. I swear.)

Anyway, reading it was in a way appropriate to my post-whiplash injuries as it required very little concentration. It took me a week to read it, but I’m sure anyone in good health would spend only a couple of hours on it, at most. It also reminded me in contrast of the best book ever written about the art world, which documents events happening from the late 1970s to a few years ago. I’m linking to Richard Hertz “Jack Goldstein And The CalArts Mafia” which is a oral history of the late Jack Goldstein’s life, in the context of his SoCal schooling, his move to NYC, the market craze, drugs, and how success made everything go wrong, etc. It is also a great reminder of the 1980s market boom and as such would have deserved wider distribution and reviews.
I always think this is the cautionary tale each art school student should be required to read, in addition to a mandatory showing of Paul McCarthy’s Painter video. This way they would be all set for their uncertain future, though a fat trust fund or a long-suffering supporting spouse would certainly help even better.

Richard Hertz is the former chairman of Art Center College of Design Liberal Arts and Graduate Depts. He basically created the grad school there and made Art Center one of the LA art schools that count, bringing there a great faculty and therefore being responsible for many, many good artists who came out of the program.
I always felt he was widely under-estimated in the LA art world, maybe because he is so tolerant, generous and supportive.
Richard holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Pittsburgh and comes from a learned family. His father was an art historian turned diplomat who I believe studied under Panofsky. Richard inherited his father’s library and therefore has a good knowledge of the German art history tradition. He knows who Riegl, Warburg and von Schlosser were, for example.
Richard has an amazing conversation and I always thought all the “me, me, me” grad students at Art Center would have benefited from asking him questions about, I don’t know, Richard Rorty, Nelson Goodman or John Rawles rather than babbling endlessly about their own misunderstanding of “French Theory”.

Full disclosure: I owe everything to Richard Hertz, who is the most generous and tolerant person I have ever met. I feel very, very honored to consider myself his friend and to have benefited from his support and encouragements. Since I was ranting against the NYT and LAT cronyism the other day, I don’t see why I cannot indulge in a bit of copinage myself and give back to Richard the admiration I have for him.

In a nutshell, Richard is awesome. Now read his book!


Annie said...

On your recommendation, I read Richard's Jack Goldstein book and I loved it. It was such a terrific peek into the politics and personalities of the art world - not to mention the rising and falling fortunes. As an outsider, it was a great primer. I second your props!

Anonymous said...

Hello: I found your recent commentary on Richard Hertz by googling his name. I know this is coming out of left field, but... I'm a college professor, and want to teach his Jack Goldstein book in a course I'm teaching this fall - I share your high opinion of the book. I had our bookstore try to order the book, but to no avail. I'm trying to get in touch with him (to see if he knows how I can order it), but can't find any contact info. If there's some way you can put me in touch with him, I'd really appreciate it. Thanks! -Michael Lobel