Can you see ways in which this (article: The Fetishism of the Commodity) may help us to understand the art market?
According to an article in the economist (‘The art market Why buy art?’ Jun 22nd 2012), the art market is made up of a reduced community of collectors and dealers, whose exchanges are extremely sociable and emotional. The acquisition of artworks that are deemed valuable and extremely desirable gives the collector a sense of victory, cultural superiority and social distinction. The market is extremely competitive and collectors always want what other collectors have, as a consequence they can even get a ‘high’ from purchasing a piece of art. In the article The Fetishism of the Commodity, Marx endeavours to explain that a commodity is something that gains value through its exchange, which is a social act and it is this social aspect, rather than the hours of human labour that have been invested in its production, that gives it value. It is important to understand that the value assigned to the art object is somehow, in the eyes of society, conferred upon the owner, therefore rising them up in their own estimation and that of society. Consequently, this helps us to understand that the excessive attachment or fetishism that the participants of the art market feel towards the artworks they purchase comes not merely from an emotional attachment or high regard for the aesthetics of an artwork but very importantly from the social practice of exchanging the artwork.
Does the article above go any way to explain the sort of work made by artists such as Jeff Koons?
The article allows us to see how artists like Jeff Koons have recognised and taken advantage of the rise in popular culture and the fetishism of the commodity to make art into a business. His art is based on concepts and ideas that are manifested in art objects that are made in so-called art factories. Koons has recognised that his hours of labour or expertise have little or nothing to do with the value assigned to his art work; he has understood that for his work to become a commodity all he needs are some popular concepts that are attractive to society coupled with the cultivation of his own image as a celebrity. On the face of it this is how it seems to me, but I would like to point out that I find Jeff Koons quite ambiguous in terms of his work and the intentions behind his work and his celebrity image. There is something unsettling about him, despite his claims to make art for the benefit of mankind; I’m finding it difficult to put my finger on what it is. It might be the ultra-perfection of what he is selling; his image and his artwork, that makes me feel uncomfortable. Or maybe it’s the fact that capitalism is all about mystification of the inherent inequality at its core and Koons is endorsing this.
Find some examples of Jeff Koons’ work and read up on Koons.
Koons is a supporter of capitalism, consumerism, populism and accessibility, he believes in advertising and the media, he views advertising as defining reality and people’s perceptions of the world. He has also cultivated his own image as a star. He can be considered a Pop artist because he transforms everyday objects into high art. His work is conceptual; he explores contemporary obsessions like sex and desire, race and gender, celebrity, media, commerce and fame. Like Warhol, he hires artisans and technicians to make his works in a factory-like studio. He believes that through populism he can create art the reaches out to the masses and somehow improves their lives. But I think that Marx would see it differently, I think he would see this kind of practice as maintaining the false consciousness of the people by presenting them with work that glamorises consumerism and capitalism. Marx was very critical of the entire economic and social system of capitalism, whereas Koons is an advocator of it has made it work in his own favour.
Koons has produced work in series since 1979. Celebration was a series that was conceived in 1994 when the artist’s son was abducted and brought to Italy. Through a series of hyper-realistic large-scale sculptures and large-format paintings of balloon animals and toys the artist seeks to communicate with his son.
“All works in ‘celebration’ reference memories of childhood, family, and holiday: balloon animals, hanging ornaments, play-doh, an easter egg, and birthday cake. at the same time, they are represented in imposing, room-size forms, composed of high-alloy chrome steel, drawing attention to the contrast between their appearance of weightlessness and their heavy, stable reality. The paintings in the series are based on arrangements of real objects created by the artist-with objects placed in front of draped, reflective foil- which were photographed, reworked via schematization, and then enlarged. …the filling of entire rooms, or entire vistas, with the large-scale installations, creates a false sense of scale where viewers again return to the smallness of childhood.” (http://www.designboom.com/art/jeff-koons-at-the-beyeler-foundation/)
Moreover, the pieces are a way for Koons to communicate with mankind; we are united through seeing references to our collective childhood. Koons was quoted as saying that they represented “new archetypes for contemporary mankind”. He also believes that “art only serves to make us more aware of ourselves as human, as part of humanity”.
Balloon dog (red), 1994-2000
high chromium stainless steel with transparent colour coating
307.3 x 363.2 x 114.3cm
ACROBAT, 2003-2009 Popeye series Polychromed aluminum, galvanized steel, wood, straw. 228.9 x 148 x 64.8 cm – 90 1/8 x 58 1/4 x 25 1/2 in. edition of 3 and 1 artist´s proof. (c)Jeff Koons. Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris
In an earlier series from 2003 called the Popeye series Koons produced the Acrobat, which includes a sculpture of an inflatable lobster. It is important to add here that as a young man he was obsessed with Salvador Dalí and even when to meet him on one occasion. This might help to explain where his desire to become a celebrity artist might have come from. This piece references Dalí’s use of the lobster as part of his surrealist works, and uses it to explore the theme of the duality of sexuality.
“…Synonymous with Surrealism ever since Dali transformed it into a telephone handset, the lobster here takes the form of a playful and sensual inflatable toy, its antennae seeming to form moustaches in an obvious reference to Dali’s whiskers… The lobster also symbolises the duality of sexuality, which is something that Koons sees as an essential aspect of his work and as one of the driving forces in Western art … Its shape explicitly evokes this duality: from one angle, it suggests the male sexual member, from another, a woman’s gaping vulva, with its tail as the womb. In Acrobat this intrinsic contrast is extended in the contrast between the trashcan and the chair on which the lobster finds its balance.” (www.luxsure.fr/2010/09/20/jeff-koons-popeye-sculpture-a-la-galerie-jerome-de-noirmont-paris/)
Find a couple of examples of artists who work in a similar way to Koons
Andy Warhol came before Koons and was famous for many things that Koons is famous for; he cultivated his own image as a celebrity, the themes of his work included ready-mades, the cult of celebrity and the media and mass culture, he didn’t make his own work instead he had a factory like system in his studio and many assistants and technicians would make the work on his direction and sometime without his direction.
Damien Hurst came after Koons. He became famous for exploring the theme of death through the use of dissected animals in tanks. This is a slight departure from Koons’ upbeat colourful celebrations of childhood, sex and desire but the idea of using objects to represent concepts is the same. Moreover, Hirst also uses assistants to help him create his works. Hirst also cultivated his own image as a celebrity although perhaps in a more anti-systemic or punk style than Koons and Warhol. Like Koons, Hirst is an artist that was not afraid of working the art market and has also become very wealthy as a result.