Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Debout Les Damnés De La Terre!

If you, like me, live in Los Angeles, you cannot escape the daily headlines about the upcoming-or-not WGA strike. For those of you who don’t live here, the looming strike concerns all the screenplay and TV writers around, whose collective contract is set to expire tonight, thus ensuring a Happy Halloween to our brothers and sisters the slaves working in the Other Cultural Industry. My understanding (which is very vague, sorry to my 3 non-art readers-cum-writers Annie, Jonathan and Mike) is our cultural workers-comrades-in-arms cousins have been screwed at the previous negotiations, and this time their union (the WGA) is hell-bent on striking if the studios and networks and other Powers That Be on the other side of the bargaining table don’t make tiny, tiny compromises to their humongous profits, so the people who come up with your daily entertainment ideas are not starving.

It seems the bone of contention is reality TV (you know, these shows were supposedly *normal* but often apparently deeply retarded people utter *natural*, *non-scripted* dialogues in between poor singing, dancing, house-flipping, cat-petting and other decorating activities), and residuals.
For my art readers, let’s assume residuals are akin to royalties, because I am not sure myself what it is and how our friends get those, if they do. Writers have been screwed on residuals in the past and for apparently as long as The Other Cultural Industry beached on our sunny California shores. So now our cousins-in-arms are trying to get residuals on the stuff they created, you know all this content that ends up on YouTube, DailyMotion, and the new one with the silly name.
Now, given how thin my 3 non-art writers-readers friends are, I assume they, and by extension all the writers in this town, already don’t get enough to eat, and if they are to go on strike tomorrow, I can’t imagine how they will NOT starve. I’ll post more cheap soups and pasta recipes for them if the strike happens, so at least they can make whatever pennies they still have left last as long as they can. I’m all for solidarity with people screwed up in any type of cultural industries.

I‘m also all for a swift resolution of the contract issues because:

a) I don’t want my friends to end up looking like ordinary anorexic Benetton models
b) it seems lots of other Industry-related services and businesses would suffer, therefore we would all in the end see some bad fallout (how many visual artists works on production design, special effects, etc.)
c) TV and movie programs coming up during and immediately after the strike will more than likely be über-mediocre. There’s so much Canadian-Australian-Brit content that can be imported, or worse even more silly reality-shows. On Craigslist they are trying to hire cats to do reality TV. As much as I love my Pomme, I can’t imagine something sillier and more yawn-inducing to watch.
d) I’m looking for a job myself, and if a recession comes (how much lower can the Feds go with interest rates?) I cannot fathom how I could compete with all these super-smart people also looking for a job outside of their branch. I don't enjoy starving myself, even though I could do with a bit of a width reduction. I don't want to resort to silly reality shows to feed my cat either!

Though, now that I think of it, maybe we could start an advice business on how to survive in times of economic depression? What do you think, Annie, Jonathan and Mike? There’s a market, with all the real estate agents and mortgage lenders out of jobs around, maybe there’s an idea. I know ! We could produce a reality show on poor writers, ex-mortgage lenders, chic Frenchies and former real-estate agents growing potatoes on their balconies, creating a giant cooperative/commune to roommate in with our various pets and share survival tips! I’ll do the cooking, if someone else doe the cleaning!

Also, in solidarity with our writers-comrades-cousins the artworld should go on strike too. Because, you know, come to think of it, we don’t have residuals either. Not. At. All. I’m not even thinking of curators and critics whose work is more often than not plagiarized, ripped off and underpaid 3 years after being completed, but of the artists.

Imagine yourself, my dear artist reader. You’re in your early to mid- 30s, struggling to make ends meet, slaving away as an assistant to someone more established, teaching with no benefits, or doing part-time graphic design, working your a.. off in your studio that’s little more than a rented a converted garage in sweltering Highland Park. That is, assuming you’re not a trust fund baby, because if you are I may respect your work but you’ve already lost my sympathy. Go ask Daddy for the rent money, OK?

Anyway, back to our friend, the poor deserving artist. You make this great artworks, and ta da, stroke of good luck! You get a show. Your new but savvy art dealer gets some smart collectors to buy your things while you’re young, and cheap, and those $4,000 to $6,000 a piece seem like a lot to you. There are maybe a dozen works, and lucky you! They are sold out, and you’ll get 50% of the sale money (minus the 10 to 15% discount the smart supportive-of-your-work new collectors always ask for and get) ! Life seems good.

Except, except, 3 or 4 years from now, you will have attained a reasonable degree of success. Your work will sell in the $10,000 to $15,000 range, the same collectors regularly buy a piece or two at your shows, some of your stuff may end up in regional museums’ collections, you may have had a few good reviews already in either Frieze or Artforum. The market is starting to heat up, like it does every decade or so. You regret you didn’t keep at least ONE work from your first show, but hey, you so desperately needed the money at the time, what with your car that broke down, some health-related issues (couldn’t afford health insurance) and your rent was increasing.
And then suddenly, wow, first real museum show! In a highly visible institution! Or, even better, an appearance at the Whitney Biennial, or the Venice one (more prestigious!), in one of the places that count. For your career. Never mind art history, this can wait for after your death.

Now the market is absolutely crazy, and somehow your work starts to appear at auctions, that edgy Phillips de Pury in the beginning, then maybe at Christie’s London First Open, around the time of the Frieze art fair. And then, that first painting that was sold to that oh-so-dedicated and oh-so-savvy collector, is flipped there and then (hic et nunc, to use pedantic Barthesian Latin).
Low estimate, $50,000. Your art dealer should try to go buy it, but he has too many fishes to fry what with his hot stable of young artists, besides he privately thinks it’s good prices are out of control, it gives him a good reason to raise them the next time he sells a piece of yours.
Shocker! At the auction, the painting goes for $95,000, over the $70,000 high estimate.

And what do you get out of this fantastic surge in value from $4,000 to $95,000 ? Nothing, nada, rien de rien, macache, walou. Rien du tout!
Why is that? Because, because visuals artists are not unionized, are not informed of the intricacies of copyright laws, and no one speaks for them. Certainly, my non-art readers are going to ask me, there are enough artists (yes, probably about between 60,000 and 100,000 of them in the United States, if you include everyone who has at least a part-time practice) to create a union?
Yep, but the majority is self-employed and therefore cannot strike against themselves. What could be done? Well, organizing would be a smart start. Something art schools could participate in, for example, rather than release into the wild a bunch ill-prepared youngsters only armed with rudiments of critical theory but no political, business or administrative training. CAA (not that one, this one) would be a good platform to get the debate going, and I have a feeling those universities that have both famous art schools and law schools (Yale, anyone ?) should set up a think thank. For a start. Then let's revive the Art Workers Coalition!

Of course to start regulating the unregulated, a certain dose of government wouldn’t hurt. What better way to involve Uncle Sam than include a tax proposal. Say, a 3% to 5% residual on the added value (I’ll let you do the math, I suck at it) after (the various) resale(s) should go back to the artists. Maybe a non-profit set up by CAA and the Artist Pension Trust could be in charge of the redistribution.
The added value, that is, the final $95,000 minus the $4,000 of the initial price minus the commission/buyer premium.
The residuals could be taxed at about 20% and still the artist would get something for his early pains, and Uncle Sam could redirect these taxes, say, to a universal health care system that could benefit our artists friends as well as everybody else.
Almost every single art worker I know doesn’t have health insurance, and art dealers and auction houses don’t set up a general fund for them, thank you very much.
Of course our friendly art dealers, auctioneers, appraisers and auction house owners such as French billionaire Francois Pinault would cry misery and explain how it would *hurt the business*, blah-blah-blah.
That’s true, they would get 3% to 5% less. But you know, they’ll make up for it on the buyer’s premium, and the buyer being amongst the 0,1% assholes rich people who owns 20% of the planet’s total assets, well I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel sorry for them. Not really. Plus, we’re pretty sure they will bargain for only 3% anyway.

How do we start fighting for the cause? Well, let me tell you my artist friends. If tomorrow our writer cousins find themselves on strike, let’s go on strike ourselves. Miami Basel is only in a month, and your various shipping deadlines are approaching. Just. Don’t. Deliver.The. Artworks.
Simple, no? Everyone stops making, showing, selling works for a couple of months. Postpone your museum shows. Un-suscribe to Artforum or whatever else -you’ll be able to buy coffee instead!
Don’t show up at openings. You’re going to tell me, yes, but maybe then all the green artists who don’t have galleries yet are going to be acting like strike breakers, etc.
Well, maybe, though I don’t know how dealers are going to be able to do it that fast, and there are only so many ill-conceived group shows you can curate at the last minute. And given how generally liberal-leaning the artworld is, it’s hard to imagine how museums, curators, and even collectors will dare openly do business until the strike issues are solved.
And, I have to confess, my little Frenchy self gets homesick sometimes, and it does include street demonstrations. Please?

Tomorrow, let’s show solidarity with our WGA-cousins! Let’s chant “C’est la lutte finaaaaaale, groupons nous dès demaiiiiinnnnnnnnnn l’Internationaaa-aaale sera le genre humain!”


Annie said...

Do you really think I'm only a week's worth of ramen away from looking like a Bennetton model? This is your best post ever, Noellie!

Anonymous said...

Here's my favorite version of the Internationale, it's Frenchy, but chic: