Before critics become employees

Selling a “Self-Portrait” (in the small frame behind the stage) to Francis Bacon (Getty)

The art market in the world is not linked to aesthetic values, its originality and creativity, as much as it is linked to the authority and sovereignty of the state and the strength of financial and economic balances. Otherwise, how do we explain that the high rate of transactions in this market only takes place in countries with financial hegemony and promising economic radiation? Despite the entry of modern elements into the club of this market, such as: Shanghai, Dubai and Doha, the most prominent traditional capitals of this market, London and New York, still control the majority of transactions through “Christie’s House” in London and “Sotheby’s” in New York, as the most active institutions competing and controlling the activity of this market.

For example, a painting by the British Francis Bacon (1909 – 1992), which was first displayed at the Marborough Gallery in New York in 1987, was recently sold at Christie’s. Discussions on this work amounted to more than 41 million euros. The market is thus recovering strongly after the (Covid-19) pandemic and its repercussions on the world economy.

The artistic experiences of the creators may seem independent and depend only on the existence of the self and its aesthetic aspirations, but it ends up in the hands of speculators most closely related to economic conditions and the map of forces. Thus the market represents an interface to the economy of countries and a barometer to measure its strength, while we continue to imagine that the work of art is a front for the creative self’s aspirations for freedom and the product of an activity which is “disinterested” (and this is one of the elements of aesthetic modernity theorized by the German Immanuel Kant in the eighteenth century!) It is considered the epitome of human sentiment, which is transformed into financial values ​​in the hands of investors .

As much as the accidents of the artists, the ecstasy of the speculators in the market

As much as the artists’ tragedies, the euphoria of market speculators. Many creators of human cultural conscience, whose works are sold for tens of millions of dollars and gain a foothold in the market after their death, were the poorest people in their lives (Van Gogh model, 1853-1890). Although the market rewards these people for their poverty after their deaths, the beneficiaries are the collectors, speculators and museum institutions. Whoever suffers from this market brings the geniuses of art and the makers of creative conscience back to life, after their societies had previously sentenced them to death, and sometimes even forced them to commit suicide, and what a paradox! At the same time, the market is working to create new names and nominate them as industry numbers in the transaction machine, an industry based on selected strategic calculations, according to the game of interests in the map of global forces.

And when it comes to investing in and developing established values ​​or creating new ones, as is common among institutions that support contemporary art, this is nothing but an important lesson that countries that intend to lead an artistic renaissance , must be utilized in order to correct the fate of their artists and appreciate their heritage. . Artistic values ​​do not die with the death of their owners, but rather continue and grow again in two ways; The critical and interpretive approach, and another aspect of a practical nature, formed from financial values ​​in the hands of money owners of investors, collectors and institutions. Often the two curves appear to be connected, since the first establishes the second directly or indirectly.

And this Frenchman Raymond Moulin, the sociologist of art who specializes in the art market, said honestly: “Critics are the guarantors of the aesthetic value of an artistic effect, before it becomes a bank value.” In this perspective, it is easy for investors to develop the financial values ​​of the artworks in their possession, whenever they have an important presence in the texts of critics.

Critics vouch for the value of beauty before it becomes bankable

It seems, at least in terms of form, that the art market forces are eager to link the dynamics of promotion and speculation based on knowledge. This is despite the fact that the market’s pitfalls, especially in contemporary art, where investors master the creation of new values, have involved many critics in financial interests and calculations of the map of powers with a lack of impartial knowledge of anything. . and under the guise of what waves of “anti-art” have produced from postmodern conceptual devices. This is the phenomenon of “reversal of roles in the system of actors” (versatility), in the words of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, where the imposed financial value has become a precedent over the supposed aesthetic or artistic value, and even direct it to potentially profitable paths.

Outside of this Western cultural tradition, it is difficult for artistic values ​​to survive and develop in an increasing way after the artist’s death. Especially in the absence of a museum system on which the pricing of works is based, and on the basis of which the purposes of promotion and marketing grow, and in the absence of a strong link between artistic and financial values, especially in countries that do. does not have the elements of economic power and its guarantees and a political view translated by the legislative side regarding the valorization of heritage, artistic focus and cultural sovereignty of the state.

In most cases, works of art are “buried” with their owner: Habib Shebeel (1939 – 2004), Muhammad Khadda (1930 – 1991) or Mustafa al-Hallaj (1938 – 2002), for example. All that is there, encouraging incentives for some artists in their lives, at best, such as the artwork purchasing committee. It is a commendable initiative, but it is not available in all Arab countries, and “encouragement” is not included in this committee, which is supposed to procure works to develop the state’s public stock artworks. And that’s another issue.

* Researcher and artist from Tunisia

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