Edward Shanken on Thu, 16 May 2013 09:20:56 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> What if a work of net.art sold for $34 million?

My aim is to place in tension two different sets of values: those of
the commercial art world (CAW) and those of telematic art (TA). To
this end, my question proposes a scenario in which a work of art that
does not satisfy CAW's basic conventions (e.g. as Florian notes, ease
of exchange, signature, etc.) rises to the top of the heap in terms of
market value. One might argue, following Stallabrass (nod to Matthias
Kampmann<https://www.facebook.com/matthias.kampmann.75>'s Fb comment),
that any artworld in which an artwork - be it an abstract painting
or a telematic network - attains values in the tens of millions of
dollars reifies neoliberal ideology and its inherent commodity (and
luxury) fetishism. In the first Fb response, Caroline Seck Langill
shrewdly suggested that "the money would be distributed like the

And why not? There are economies in which the creation and
hording/multiplying of wealth for its own sake is not valued as highly
as sharing, gifting, and ritual expending. Yves Klein understood
that over 50 years ago in his brilliant challenge to CAW "Immaterial
Pictorial Sensitivity Zones." This work could only be acquired through
an exchange of gold (cast in the sea by the artist), for which s/he
attained a certificate of authenticity, which was valid only when

Returning to ease of exchange, signature, etc., the basic conventions
of CAW are not neutral qualities or formal characteristics. Rather,
they embody deeply held ideological commitments, just as the basic
conventions of Ascott's TA embody deeply held ideological commitments.
So what are the implications if these worlds collide and CAW ends
up valuing most highly (and putting its money where its mouth is)
a work that challenges CAW's traditional values? If, as Langill
intimates, CAW embraces Ascott's "La Plissure" and its ideology of
distributed authorship, it would be logically consistent for CAWs
actors to express those commitments by distributing the economic
wealth generated by the sale of the work.

But let's say CAW embraces Ascott but retains its capitalistic
imperatives. Althusser might argue that any critical value of
telematic art would be evacuated once it becomes interpellated by the
hegemonic forces of the CAM. At the same time, by gaining the sort
of public recognition that comes with great market success, Ascott
commands a much larger stage (to say nothing of financial resources
and cultural/political power) from which to infect CAM with ideas that
undermine its economic system.

One final thought (for now). In terms of art's use value, defined
as the cultural capital accrued by a CAW collector today, a Richter
painting has a great deal to offer. The appreciation in price of
Richter's work also suggests that it has great investment value,
hence the high price tag, i.e. its exchange value. I'm no economist
but an artwork is not like a standard commodity in the sense that it
has potentially significant value in terms of its contribution to the
history of art and to the larger history of ideas (histories that
are perpetually reconstructed and retold from various, ever changing
future perspectives). Let's call that its posterity value. The
history of western art from contrapposto to conceptual art celebrates
innovation and embraces work that challenges the status quo. I suspect
that a Richter painting has little posterity value, compared to
Ascott's "Plissure" . In other words, at some point in the future,
Ascott will be generally recognized as having made a more valuable
contribution to the history of art and visual culture than Richter.

The disparity between use value and posterity value, and between
posterity value and exchange value, is at issue. Over time, as
posterity value is established and renegotiated from various present
perspectives, it becomes closely aligned with exchange value. Jaromil
Rojo pointed out that "The sword is double edged, investments in art
aren't good just because they move market value *today*. Actually,
they might be epic fails as well - and that's what is happening all
over - as we speak - to several big capitals."Jaromil's point is
insightful here, because I think $33 million for a Richter is destined
to be an epic fail when the correction between posterity value and
exchange value takes place - not because the art market is overvalued
but because from the perspective of the future, it will be seen to
have valued the wrong things.

Ed Shanken


On Wed, May 15, 2013 at 10:34 AM, Florian Cramer <flrncrmr@gmail.com> wrote:

> On Tue, May 14, 2013 at 8:24 AM, Edward Shanken
> <rotorelief@gmail.com >wrote:
> > What would the world be like if Roy Ascott's "La Plissure du
> Texte" (1983) > sold at auction for $34.2 million instead of Gerhard
> RIchter's ?Abstraktes > Bild?? In what sort of world (and artworld)
> would that be possible?


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