The Contemporary Art Bubble

Friday, March 13, 2009

Nice article from Prospect Magazine (from December) on the massive bubble in contemporary art.

A choice morsel:

Economist and historian of financial crashes, Edward Chancellor, observed recently: “Most contemporary art is inherently worthless. It is not like Titian and other old masters of which there are few and whose value will not fall away. It’s like subprime CDOs.”

And another:

But the suspicion is that dealers and collectors with interests in particular artists may have been “bidding up” prices at auction and acquiring works. If so, they may be holding large inventories of overvalued work, financed by increasingly expensive debt. At the Damien Hirst auction at Sotheby’s, his London dealer, Jay Jopling, bid on an astonishing 44 per cent of the lots in the evening sale, and both he and Hirst’s US dealer, Larry Gagosian, bid on two lots after long pauses in the bidding.

I’ve said it before but its always worth saying again: Koons, Hirst, etc., etc., are hustlers. I feel no pity for those who will never recoup their “investment” in this worthless tripe.


West Side Story Prologue

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Watching this reminds me of my own hardscrabble childhood dance-rumbling on the frying pan blacktop of New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen.

Music by Leonard Bernstein. Choreography by Jerome Robbins.

There is No Shame is Self-Publishing

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A little article today in the New York Times about the still growing business of self-publishing.

It has become increasingly common and is, like online dating, no longer something to be ashamed of. The traditional publishing industry is crumbling in large measure for the same reason that newspapers continue to do so. They are victims of the democratization of media.

You are now the gatekeeper. Writers should utilize all the tools at their disposal to reach their audience without the stifling interference and failing business model of big publishing.

In a tangentially related editorial, David Swensen and Michale Schmidt, write about newspapers seeking endowments and not-for-profit status to survive. A brilliant idea this commentator has been suggesting for a couple of years.

Andrew Wyeth RIP

Friday, January 16, 2009

I first became aware of Andrew Wyeth in the 80s when the news about the Helga pictures broke. I loved what I saw of those paintings and I read a little about Wyeth and his father, N.C.

I am not saddened by his death – I am always amazed by people with the emotional capacity to feel connected to strangers, even if they share an intimacy with their work – but in reading about him now and his place in the artistic canon (ugh), I’m sorry he is dead.

I would take one Andrew Wyeth over 300 Jeff Koons any day of the week.

Furthermore, I’ve always admire what I perceived as his simple, dedicated life. Living out in the country, working every day, quiet, surrounded by nature. I don’t really know about the truth of his life, but I will say, for me, as a teenager, it was an ideal that I kept in the back of my mind as a model of good living.

The Sound of Music!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Sound of Music is the greatest movie ever made. I haven’t gotten around to ranking the ten best movies but the Sound of Music is my number one. What? I’m a giant pussy, you say?

Think about it. It’s got everything. The beautiful and conflicted nun Fraulein Maria (played by my favorite actress of all time, Julie Andrews). Great songs, Salzburg, the Austrian countryside, Christopher Plummer (who’s got a new memoir out and apparently was quite the “plumber” himself. (I know, lame.)) It’s got Nazi bad guys, a chase scene, and, did I mention, the incomparable, perfect Julie Andrews?

Growing up, my secret dream was to have Julie Andrews as my governess.

Anyway, I turn on the TV and I’m watching it right now on ABC and it’s the scene where the Baroness Schrader confronts Fraulein Maria and leaves shamed by Maria’s honesty and seductive innocence. The Baroness is the lessor woman and she knows it. But she quickly recovers, because she thinks that she has won her man.

Oh, then the excruciating scene where she tries to bond with the children by tossing a ball around. She tells Max that she’s going to ship them off to boarding school once she’s landed Georg.

Next you’ve got Captain Von Trapp walking around everyday wearing that strange quasi military jacket with green velvet lapels and having that strange whimsical reaction to his own emotional torment at Maria having left. He tells the kids that he and the Baroness are to be married and they line up in silence to pay their respects.

God, what a great movie. I’ll admit that the “I am sixteen, you are seventeen” song sucks enormously. And the love song in the gazebo after Georg finally makes his move is also a tad wanting, but I just pretend that I am Captain Von Trapp and the virginal Fraulein Maria is falling in love with me.

Speaking of which, how can Von Trapp be a naval captain in the Austria? It’s a landlocked country! Look, I know there was a port in Trieste that was part of the Hapsburg empire, and probably some other access to water somewhere on their turf, but with those green lapels and Edelweiss and all, you get the sense he was out cruising that lake behind the house rather than sinking U-boats, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, the Anschluss happens and that world class dick Rolf starts showing up again.

Here, as an aside, are the top five songs from the movie.

5) So Long, Farewell
5) Climb Every Mountain
4) The Lonely Goatherd (the puppet show scene)
3) The Sound of Music (the hills are alive)
2) My Favorite Things
1) Do-Re-Mi (doe, a deer)

Then the Captain and Maria return from their honeymoon. And I really believe I see a change in Maria. She’s a woman now. The implications of penetration and physical intimacy, previously unknown to her, have changed her. She was already the perfect woman and she has become, in a month, the perfect wife. She is also a mother, a responsibility she takes seriously.

Anyway, they sing at the festival. They knock it out of the park. Everyone loves it. Julie Andrews sings like a angel.

And they escape! The chase is on…

Right from the beginning of the movie you knew Rolf was a weasel. For that matter, I never really like Liesl. She is easily…well, I was going to say she was my least favorite Von Trapp child, but Kurt doesn’t do it for me either. At any rate, Rolf is a weak-chinned Nazi wannabe. Sickening. But they escape again from the convent after he finds them and…

Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow…til you find your dream…

#1, jack! You got that right.

The Writer’s Lament

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Timothy Egan put the lament of all but the most successful writers into his column on Sunday in the New York Times. His complaint?

A plaintive why.

Why do publishers shovel out so much crap (witness Joe the Plumber’s book deal)? Why do people who can barely string together a sentence – like Sarah Palin – get $7 million advances? Why do so many people think they can write? And why does celebrity crowd out real writers in the marketplace?

As someone who has experienced publishing rejection firsthand, I feel his pain. But everything is relative, a matter of degrees. I have been told by my agent that if I was Bob Woodward or Thomas Friedman, my book (which I now intend to self-publish) would have been published. (A palliative explanation perhaps, but not impossible to imagine).

Those two, as examples, are celebrity writers crowding out a young unknown. Why shouldn’t I feel resentment for them? Why shouldn’t I feel resentment for Tim Egan? I wouldn’t mind writing a column for the New York Times.

Furthermore, who is to judge who is a writer? True, writers must demonstrate command of the language, but otherwise the barriers to entry are ridiculously low. A pen and a piece of paper. Who is to judge whether or not someone is a worthy writer?

Right now, it is simply the gatekeepers of America’s literary and journalistic brands. And, in this world, they are increasingly pressured to sell. What sells? Celebrity, name recognition, and really lousy fiction. (And, by-the-way, it doesn’t hurt if you roomed with that future editor back at Vassar.) Once in a while, something new, original, and previously unknown squeaks through by virtue of mere talent alone. But that is indeed rare.

So what is to be done?

Storm the ramparts. Blog, self-publish, start your own journal or imprint. Thousands (if not millions) of writers are already doing these things, and by doing so, they are shaking the foundations of the literary and journalistic establishments. Yes, they’re largely unpaid, and that is painful to writers who seek to make a living from the word. But don’t blame a writer for writing. Real writers are going to write whether they are paid or not.

And don’t blame the business of publishing for shoveling out crap that sells more than the hidden gems. If you want to make a living writing, then you’ve got to respect the marketplace. As a voracious reader of fiction and non-fiction, I can tell you that even among the “respectable” work by “real” writers, there is a hell of a lot of crap.

So do not lament a dying business and standards that protect a lucky few. Sure, Hemingway and Joan Didion deserve(d) their places and fees, and yes, Sarah Palin is an ignorant disgrace, but, ultimately, the market will decide who makes their coin as a writer.

Your best option is to put yourself in the role of gatekeeper. This is a time of empowerment for writers. Seize your moment and reach out to the marketplace directly.

Save your lament for the poor fools who actually put down their hard earned money only to find the Sarah Palin story doesn’t include nude photos.

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on SNL

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Watch the video here.

“I can see Russia from my house.”

(Apologies. The initial YouTube video was pulled down and, once again, WordPress won’t let me embed the NBC flash file. Ugh.)