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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Art and filth

A few people have asked me why I never sought to become a "fine" artist. For the answer, first see this article, where we learn the startling news that six members of the Walton family have more money than the bottom 30 percent of all Americans. Yet Wal-Mart can't afford to give its employees a living wage or medical benefits.

Next, see this New Yorker profile of Alice Walton, who is setting up an art museum in Arkansas. Naturally, lots of people in the art world are practicing their puckering in anticipation of the day when their lips get in range of her ass. She successfully lobbied the state to let her buy a $35 painting by Asher Durand without paying $3 million in taxes.

Here's Alice:
ā€œI know the price of lettuce. You need to understand price and value. You buy the best lettuce you can at the best price you can.ā€
Next, check out Rebecca Solnit's piece on Alice's little project:
It might not even be, as Wal-MartWatch.com points out, that the price of the painting equals what the state of Arkansas spends every two years providing for Wal-Mart's 3,971 employees on public assistance; or that the average Wal-Mart cashier makes $7.92 an hour and, since Wal Mart likes to keep people on less than full-time schedules, works only 29 hours a week for an annual income of $11,948--so a Wal-Mart cashier would have to work a little under 3,000 years to earn the price of the painting without taking any salary out for food, housing, or other expenses (and a few hundred more years to pay the taxes, if the state legislature didn't exempt our semi-immortal worker).

The trouble lies in what the painting means and what Alice Walton and her $18 billion mean. Art patronage has always been a kind of money-laundering, a pretty public face for fortunes made in uglier ways. The superb Rockefeller folk art collections in several American museums don't include paintings of the 1914 Ludlow Massacre of miners in Colorado, carried out by Rockefeller goons, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles doesn't say a thing about oil. But something about Wal-Mart and Kindred Spirits is more peculiar than all the robber barons and their chapels, galleries, and collections ever were, perhaps because, more than most works of art, Durand's painting is a touchstone for a set of American ideals that Wal-Mart has been savaging.
I have always believed that museums love artists the way taxidermists love deer. Perhaps Alice Walton is, in some sense, stuffing and mounting what is best about American culture -- best and fading.
For me, the problem with Walton's purchase of the Durand is not the work's status as a piece of classic Americana. What bugs me is that this is a painting about transcendence -- about the elevation of the spirit. If Walton actually cared about the spiritual, she'd make sure that Wal-Mart employees got fairer treatment.

Wal-Mart could easily -- easily -- pay its employees $12 an hour. (Most workers at WallyWorld earn less than $8 an hour.) Instead, Wal-Mart is rolling back health benefits even further:
# The New York Times reports that starting in 2012 all future part-time Walmart employees who work less than 24 hours a week on average will no longer qualify for health insurance plans.
# Walmart is also cutting its contributions to employeesā€™ health savings accounts by 50 percent, and premium increases range from 17 to 61 percent.
I wonder if Alice, with her billions, will ever get her claws on my favorite Durand? It's called God's Judgment Upon Gog. It's an apocalyptic work, somewhat in the John Martin vein. This image depicts a scene from the 39th chapter of Ezekiel, in which vultures and ferocious beasts swoop down on the kings of this earth. Those kings thought they would always be be protected by their armies and their wealth. Here's where they get their comeuppance.

If you click on the link, you'll get a much better view of this painting. I know you'll want to savor the details, such as the lions and tigers who tear into the mighty and the proud. There are lots and lots of these big cats. They're hungry. And they're not in a mood to show mercy.
Comments:
Who would want to be a "fine" artist, when the arbiters of the fine art world are mealy-mouthed idiots like the judges on Bravo's Work of Art.

They contradict themselves when they're not spouting a lot of words that don't mean anything, which is most of the time.

I thought I'd be able to learn something about art by watching the show, but after two seasons I haven't learned a damn thing, except how silly these people are.

Carolyn Kay
MakeThemAccountable.com
 
Boy, do I read you.

Even the largest places of public art are not so public anymore.

Here are the recommended admission prices to the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

(Start of MMA content)
Admission
Fee includes same-day admission to the Main Building and The Cloisters Museum and Gardens. There is no extra charge for entrance to special exhibitions.

Recommended
Adults $25
Seniors (65 and older) $17
Students $12*
Members (Join Now) Free
Children under 12 (accompanied by an adult) Free

To help cover the costs of special exhibitions, we ask that you please pay the full recommended amount.
(End of MMA content)

While I understand that these prices are cheaper than other entertainment venues (i.e., Broadway), there are also other expenses:

1. Unless you live in the area of Madison and Fifth Avenues in NYC, it is not so easy to get there by public transportation. The subways are either at Lexington Avenue or across Central Park on Central Park West. Or, if you live in Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, or New Jersey, it becomes complicated and time consuming.

2. Public transportation is no longer cheap. A subway ride is $2.25 each way. Children under 44inches ride free when accompanied by an adult. But if you have several children of varying ages or you're a tall family,forget that.

3. It used to be possible, if you got there, say a half hour before opening, to find a parking spot, but since they have added metered parking in the streets close to museum, street parking has become impossible.

4. I don't know what the parking garage fees are now, but the last time I used the garage it was about $30.

5. Finally, it is possible to enter the museum for free or at a reduced rate, but you have to tell the cashier that you can't afford the price of admission. In other words, the price becomes humiliation.

Years ago we used to go to the museum about once a month. Now, if we go once a year, that's a lot.

So much of our cultural richness is going down the tubes.

Barbara
 
Barbara: Oh yeah. Right on about all of that. The only cheap museums left are in DC, and when the libertarians take over, things will be very different.

When my ladyfriend made a journey there some years back (on a family trip, sans moi) she was told at the window that Von Gogh's "Starry Night" -- which she particularly wanted to see -- was loaned out. What bugged her was this info was not on the museum website.

Carolyn: I've never seen a full episode of that idiotic Bravo show, but I have the gist of it. If I had to test those artists, matters would be simple. I'd hold out my arm, pointing at their faces. And I'd say: "Draw an arm. In perspective. Pointing at you." Then I'd drop my arm and add the words "From memory."

If you don't know how to draw, you're not an artist -- and I don't care if your name is Damien Freakin' Hirst.

Modern art is a sick, sick game. Basically, the "art" is all about conveying ideas -- intellectual concepts. Well, if that's your game, then why make a painting? Why not do what I do nearly every day of my life, and write an essay?
 
Welcome to Death Race 2012 where the participants finish killing off the American Dream. As the 99%'s standard of living declines they have no choice but to shop the Big-Box stores ... on credit.

You have all heard of company towns, well welcome to the Company Nation. If you dare make a fuss Obama will sic the Pinkertons on you.
 
For some of us, the coming revolution might be, if not fun, at least satisfying-- in dish served cold sort of way.
 
I wonder what old Sam Walton would make of it all - would he approve?
Looking at that image of God's Judgment upon Gog a couple of lines from Lost in the Stars" popped into my mind:

But I've been walking all the night and the day,
Till my eyes get weary and my head turns gray.
And sometimes it seems maybe God's gone away,
And we're lost out here in the stars.

 
Watched an interesting documentary on the advice of my son--The Art of the Steal--about the Barnes collection in Philly, reportedly the most important collection anywhere in the country. The behavior of the so-called 'art patrons,' art foundations and politicians was beyond despicable. But ultimately successful is breaking Barnes' trust and making sure the money machine would be thrown in high gear for the tourist industry.

It was never about 'the art,' only the profit. Everything and everyone is a commodity in our Brave New World.

Peggy Sue
 
Fine piece.

Harry
 
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