The Value of Art (to the Fiscally Mobile)

I’m just sitting outside the Royal Academy having surfed the annual embarrassment of riches that is the Summer exhibition. It always feels like a privaledge to peruse the carefully curated caverns before the crowds of cultural tourists and septuagenarian patrons descend. Admittedly, I would rather that didn’t mean that I had to get out of bed at 8am on a Sunday, but I’m usually glad I did. If nothing else it’s adding to a internal dialogue about art and me. If I’m honest, I think our relationship maybe more that purely professional. But that, as ‘they’* say is another story.

Apart from the art, what was wonderous about this visit was the stumpy-plump beige** middle age woman with a velveteen hairband. This Hooray Henrietta had a notepad and a companminion, who sedately allowed herself to be barked at all round the exhibition, while her barbour jacket hung mournfully across an arm.

What was horrifying was the notepad’s hastily scribbled shopping list. Amoungst exclamations of ‘this is warm like the sun and would fill the staircase beautifully’ or ‘David would adore this because he really likes blue’, Hooray was banging down the catalogue number of every piece of art she deemed pleasing. Occasionally, she would exclaim, ‘Some fucker has already bought the original. It’s ok, we’ll just have to buy the print.’ Naturally, she was foxed by the Jake and Dinod Chapman*** and proclaimed loudly that the Gilbert and George^ was possibly too large for ‘The Collection’.

I’m not even sure what her criteria for selection were. A ot of her preferences were quickly considered abstrations, lots of bright colours; but then she’d floor me by picking up a grotesque portrait of couples mid phaltio or a tapestry with graphic monochrome illustrations emblazoned with the word look. Soemtimes it just seemd the piece was the right size for ‘that space in the kitchen.’

Once they’d finished their perambulations, via the Sipsmiths bar (IT’S 10:30am FFS), they then toddled off to purchase the extensive array. What was alarming about this was thecasual consumption and purchase. She may well have been purchasing a Vettriano in Habitat, rather than new work at £350k+ a ticket. 

Money always worries me. Conspicuous consumption merely serves to make the world disposable and ideas a brief purchase consideration. There’s been loads written by far clever people than I about how art’s value is no longer reflective of the artistic merit but the ownership kudos or the effective collatoral of the investment portfolio. Let’s be fair, it’s made a lot of people (including artists) a lot of money and I am delighted for them. It’s just you don’t expect to see that casual devaluation of someone’s carefully considered work this early on a Sunday. 

As usual, when faced by people who have the money to do anything, the vacuous nothing of their actions leaves me blind sided.

*Who are ‘they’? Please submit answers on a postcard.

**She was dressed in brown and beige like she escaped from the pony vlub as few hours early. I’m not *that* rascist.

***I love the fact that they have the ability to viscerally and physically repulse the viewer, but I can rarely stay in proximity to the work. The New Arrival is no exception. Eyeless manikins are never going to sit well with my overactive imagination.

^I love them so much. I may have got a bit tearful.

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