Tuesday 9th of August 2022

fragrance of love….

Art is an essential expression of human creativity. But today’s high-end art fairs are a carnival of consumerism for the ultra-wealthy rather than a celebration of creative expression.


Mr Leonisky, artist ordinaire, would dispute this statement. High-end art HAS ALWAYS BEEN "CONSUMED" BY THE ULTRA-WEALTHY. Think kings, queens, nobilities and religious organisations (despite Luther) being the patrons of highly gifted artists who did not mind being paid for services. We, the pleb, including the ordinary underpaid undervalued artists, have to plagiarise our tastes and choices to the second and third tiers of artistic creation, via "movements" or "style definitions" that make us recognisable on the local market place. Meanwhile what started as "new" ideas in art soon become absorbed by the bourgeois and then the ultra-rich as commercial value is placed on artistic items. Many artists don't make the cut of recognition as revolutions soon become passé. Some people buy art as an "investment"... this kills me but as Rod Steiger would say: "this feeds my family...".

Gauguin expressed thus: art is plagiarism or revolution.... Art that is engaged in political revolution will be despised by the rich and remain valueless in terms of cash — and will not provide any artist with a mean of survival, unless he or she is sponsored by the state or an organisation that "does not buy the art". The poor cannot afford revolutions these days. The political systems control too much the gamuts of expression via enormous machinery of spying on individuals, as well by the fact that that there are less poor than well-off people in the Western world, and by sheer artistic laziness unable to find "independent" grooves that are not obscured by self-gazing and delusions that we call "creative expression".


So, let's continue this exploration of Art-Fairs:


After a general chilling during COVID, the global arts scene is cascading back. Art sales have rebounded, surpassing pre-pandemic levels, and art fairs have emerged from hibernation with events popping off around the world. Last month, Frieze New York returned to The Shed at Hudson Yards; Art Basel is happening now; and The Armory Show hits Manhattan’s Javits Center in September.

Understandably, the art world today looks different from the way it did two years ago. Before the pandemic, art fairs accounted for 43 percent of all global art sales. This plummeted during the pandemic, supplanted by online sales of both physical and digital art. While business has rebounded with the return to in-person events, art fairs are less profitable than they once were. And while this may spell trouble for the events in the long term, extravagant, celebrity-filled art fairs, at least for now, are back. Gwyneth Paltrow, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Abel Tesfaye were all glimpsed at Frieze LA in February.

Lest the presence of actual art at these events fool you, art fairs are fundamentally financial ventures. Their unconcealed purpose is to connect galleries directly with buyers in a convivial, fashionable setting. Collectors (and the curious public) tour booths, network with gallerists and artists at dinners, and mingle at various sponsored events.

But, while art fairs have never pretended to be about anything beyond sales, they also lend a pleasing, aesthetic veneer to the expansion of global capitalism. Disguising the humdrum business of portfolio diversification beneath a glamorous sheen, art fairs have succeeded in transforming plain old assets into something “obscure and expensive,” as Cat Marnell describes Midnight Orchid 72 by Susanne Lang. Art fairs, in other words, have become crucial places where the kleptocratic project of global capitalism gets a face-lift.


Suffer a Vibe Shift

Started by dealers to rival auction houses, art fairs were once largely trade events and long stood at a remove from both pop culture and from whatever was happening at the cutting edge of finance. Art Cologne, the first fair organized by a consortium of galleries, began in 1967. Art Basel was founded as a rival in 1970. While other fairs slowly followed, for the next several decades, these were comparatively restrained affairs. But Art Basel Miami Beach, which began in 2002, broke the mold. It debuted a higher gloss event where art was no longer the main attraction. Galleries held showings at shipping containers on the beach, celebrities attended, and sponsors held parties at nightclubs. The event now proudly advertises itself as the “Superbowl of the art world.”

Buoyed by the popularity that contemporary art began to enjoy in the late 1980s and 1990s, Miami transformed the art fair into something with mass appeal. Over the next two decades, art fairs would proliferate around the world. Art Basel, now owned by James Murdoch, has expanded, first with a fair in Hong Kong in 2013 and now with a new eventthis October, Paris+ par Art Basel. Frieze has also become a global empire with fairs in LA, New York, and London. Frieze Seoul will debut this September. What were once only sixty events two decades ago have ballooned to nearly three hundred today.

Art fairs are fundamentally financial ventures.

These events have not only supercharged the art market, with art fairs growing to represent nearly half of all global art sales by 2019, but they also created an international party circuit. As Michael Shnayerson writes in Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers, and the Rise of Contemporary Art, the major art fairs dotted across the world are “also social hubs for an international crowd with an exceptional level of endurance.” Wealthy art enthusiasts — Clare McAndrew’s annual art market report calls them high net worth (HNW) collectors — commingle with a retinue of celebrities, influencers, venture capitalists, NFT ghouls, and everyday onlookers. As Noah Horowitz, Director Americas for Art Basel Miami Beach, told Artsy in 2017, with contemporary art fairs “we get VIP rooms, private jets, champagne, and Sylvester Stallone.” Stallone, notably, has been a regular at events such as Frieze LA.

In short, today, art fairs have as much to do with social media, drone light shows over Faena Beach, and parties at Broken Shaker than they do about artwork. They are events in their own right. And through it all, they have transformed the business of buying into a capitalist celebration.

But fairs have also increasingly become laboratories for brands. Indeed, fairs provide platforms for luxury goods companies to partner with artists, further elevating the art market in the eyes of buyers. Through this process, luxury goods receive the exalted imprimatur of contemporary art while art becomes effectively transformed into a lifestyle product. And everything is for sale.

 Golden Age

As art fairs have exploded, so have they become increasingly attractive to brands. Those sutured to the art fair circuit are generally rather predictable: high-end beauty products, luxury cars like BMW, jewelry, watches, Champagne or luxury spirits, and designer clothing. Their presence, indeed, is the product of the conscious marketization of art as luxury and luxury as art that both worlds have long sought to cultivate. As Federica Carlotto, founder of cultural branding consultancy SALT, told Sotheby’s in 2019, “Art and luxury have a long history of influencing each other to create timeless, aspirational experiences.” Her course at Sotheby’s Institute of Art on the “cross-pollination” of art and luxury is indeed indicative of attempts to align the two.

At art fairs, luxury brands aren’t simply sponsors. Rather, fairs have leaned into increasingly bizarre collaborations with brands, commissioning artists to create works that function to advertise products while also being capable of being appreciated qua art. Effectively reproducing a strategy from journalism called “native advertising” where ads are slipped into what is otherwise informational content, luxury brands have similarly created branded art that, in many respects, looks and feels like the real McCoy.






At Frieze LA this year, cognac house Bisquit & Dubouché commissioned Glass Room, an installation Jillian Mayer. Supposedly meant to evoke a cognac snifter, the work “explores transformation and highlights the amorphous nature of an oft overlooked material that dominates our everyday.”


HERE WE SHOULD MAKE ANOTHER DETOUR VIA Fragrance of Love by Max Lake....


First Len Evans, then Max Lake. Australia's Hunter Valley, within easy reach of Sydney, was for many years home to two of Australian wine's strongest characters. We lost Len Evans in August 2006, and Max Lake at his home in Sydney yesterday [14 Apr 2009]

Max Lake was an outspoken surgeon who did not suffer fools at all, and founded Lake's Folly winery way back in 1963. Although it now has nothing to do with the Lake family, Lake's Folly was Australia's first high-profile small winery selling to devotees via a mailing list, and was the highly successful pioneer of both Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay when they were novelties in New South Wales' premier wine region – and much of Australia. His influence on the Australian wine scene has been far-reaching.  

He was also a prolific writer and early self-publisher, specialising in the sense of taste, combining what he learnt professionally with what he learnt in the world of wine. His book Scents and Sensuality (John Murray 1989) begins 'This is a book about smell and taste, their pleasures and excitements, their attractions and repulsions. It spans food, wine, perfume, intimate odour, emotion, orgasm, and immune response.' 

Born in 1924 of an American mother and Australian father, he was brought up in a cosmopolitan Sydney household, not least because his father ran the Australian branch of Metro Goldwyn Mayer. He claims it was when his father exiled him to the bush after a particularly trying bout of naughtiness that he first became aware of the rhythms, and scents, of nature. He was only 16 when he began his medical studies and he published his first paper, on the hypothalamus, when only 18. The fact that he graduated top of his year in clinical surgery did nothing to quieten him down and he enjoyed a 40-year career, eventually specialising in operating on the hand. 

By the 1960s he was also writing about wine and his tally of books on wine, food and the senses includes such titles as Vine & Scalpel and The Fragrance of Love. He was a big noise in the Wine and Food Society of Australia – and further afield. You always knew when Max entered a room. 

Very much his own man, he was never caught up in the corporate mainstream of Australian wine, but he was chairman of judges at the Hobart wine show and I had the – pleasure? task? – of judging under his beady eye in the late 1980s when we filmed an episode of Channel 4's The Wine Programme in Tasmania. Those with very long memories may remember the contrast between the whiteness of my lab coat and the blackness of my teeth. 

Max was always great fun, and achieved far more in his life than 20 more average lives. As James Halliday wrote in his Wines & History of the Hunter Valley (McGraw Hill 1979), 'He is one of the few genuinely free, or lateral, thinkers I have ever met, capable of finding the unexpected in the most mundane event and in developing complex theories which seemingly occur to him in the same second as he articulates them.'





To all who labored to teach me

Wise tolerant men

Patient intuitive women

Curious children

Animals and plant friends


Dedication in Frangrance of Love, by Dr Max Lake who was an artist of the first kind, realising his own FOLLY....




art in the trenches of culture….

Issues of inequality, class, and exploitation have come to the forefront within the art world in recent years. Marxist art critic Ben Davis believes that the politics of culture are changing as a result.


Visual art produced during the neoliberal period has become increasingly alien to working-class and middle-class people, while its role as an investment opportunity and social club for the elite has ballooned. At the same time, a current of critical and explicitly political art has emerged and grown within and alongside the commercial art market. In the past decade, this politically charged current has become a central tendency of contemporary art, raising new questions regarding how to think about the relationship between art and politics.

In 2010, Marxist art critic Ben Davis wrote a pamphlet entitled “9.5 Theses on Art and Class” as part of an exhibition called #Class, organized in response to the vapid and money-saturated state of the art world. His book of the same title, expanding on the pamphlet’s ideas, was published a few years later, provoking a renewed discussion around the role of class in the world of contemporary art.

Since then, Davis has continued to develop his ideas about art and its political significance, writing in publications like the New York TimesNew York magazine, the BafflerJacobinSlateSalvagee-flux journal, and Frieze. Davis has been the national art critic for Artnet News since 2016. In 2019, Nieman Journalism Lab reported that he was one of the five most influential art critics in the United States.

Jacobin art director Ben Koditschek sat down with Davis to talk about his latest book, Art in the After-Culture: Capitalist Crisis and Cultural Strategy, and how the relationship between art and politics has shifted in recent years. They discussed recent museum worker organizing in the art world, the artistic value of NFTs, debates around cultural appropriation and solidarity, and the new for-profit art museum culture.


Your first book, 9.5 Theses on Art and Class, was about the importance of class dynamics in the art world. How has the conversation developed since then?


It’s developed like a house on fire. I think that book was well-timed. It came out in the immediate wake of Occupy Wall Street. I remember, as a socialist, really feeling the sense that people were talking about class all of a sudden. Occupy attracted a lot of artists, and intersected with different kinds of struggles in art, like the Sotheby’s art handlers. There was an actual solidarity action with those workers organized out of Occupy. I was involved in the Occupy Arts and Labor working group, and I remember that there would be breakout groups like “artists and gentrification,” “organizing art workers,” and “creating new forms of protest art for solidarity.” Thinking about it now, each of those topics became major threads in the more general art conversation, post-Occupy.

There’s also a difference between then and now. The internet and smartphones weren’t new then; they existed. But the critical conversation around them was really new. Internet culture and web culture just blew up to such a huge extent in the last decade. As a result, the position of the cultural producer has exploded in significance, and the conversations about the politics of culture have changed, even if people producing on internet platforms have a very different relationship to those institutions than artists have to museums or galleries. “Content producer” is technically the fastest-growing category of small business. These are major cultural shifts that very few conversations in the art world predicted.

The position of the cultural producer has exploded in significance, and the conversations about the politics of culture have changed.

I would say one other thing about how the art world’s conversation around class has changed since then. The scandal that triggered 9.5 Theses on Art and Class was this blowup at the New Museum over an art collector on the board who was also going to show his collection there. It’s kind of amazing to think back to a time when that was the big scandal. It at once predicts a whole series of anxieties about who runs the institution, who’s in charge, who determines the rules of art, and feels a bit small now.

The discussion about the deep problems with the way the art world works is on another level of seriousness. In some ways, this new book is trying to respond to some of the dilemmas that have arisen with the mainstreaming of the political conversation about inequality and class and exploitation within the arts. The conversation has advanced hugely but has also left us with a bunch of new problems.



In the original pamphlet, you point out that art serves the interests of the ruling class. Over the last ten years, explicitly political art has become a major part of the mainstream art world. What do you make of that?


To understand the work that “political art” is doing, it’s important to look at the period of time that we think of as neoliberal — the defeat of the left labor social movements. The art market became really big business in this same period that, in the nonprofit sphere — the biennials, the museum — art got more committed to institutional critique, community-based art, and questions about representation. So, stepping back and looking at the big picture, you can say that what appears as political advance on one level also serves a compensatory role, that it kind of cushions the blow, giving progressive energy a sense of forward movement at the same time that society went backward.

But even in the last ten years, since my first book was published, there’s been a very rapid intensification. There was a mainstreaming of what they call “social practice art,” which is art that’s often indistinguishable from social work. It developed its own institutions and alternate art world, sort of a third stream outside the biennials and museums and the art market.

The art market became big business in the same period that, in the nonprofit sphere, art got more committed to institutional critique and questions about representation.

And then, intensifying further, there was a turn toward more direct forms of art activism, which has developed recently into a conversation about museum abolition. To me, this language conflates the prison abolition conversation and another conversation, which is about how you deal with the fraught aspects of the museum, in a way that feels unproductive.

I think the dominant conversation has swung really rapidly from apolitical to hyperpolitical, but in a maximalist, abstract way. People are trying to make social progress on the terrain of art without any sort of sustained, larger organizations or movements. And that produces a very abstract and confusing conversation.


Can you expand on how you view the recent wave of museum protests?


If you’re Marxist, I don’t see how you could be against protesting very rich people who are genuinely nefarious. And some of the best and most exciting activity in art has been drawn to this. But things went very rapidly from protesting individual donors to asking, “Well, you know, aren’t all rich people bad?” And then you move from that to the idea of abolishing the museum, because its funding makes it structurally compromised. And I’m definitely not a museum abolitionist, just strategically. In my observation, these protests have been best when they’re very targeted at a specific person or raising awareness about a specific issue.

Just to be blunt, abolishing the museum is not a cause with any kind of mass support. It reminds me sometimes of demonstrations where you see people with signs saying, “General Strike to Bring Down Capitalism,” and you just think that it’s more about affirming a radical identity than about whatever the immediate cause at hand is. I think people within museums are really aware of how they’re compromised now, but protests of the museum hit a point of exhaustion if you can’t answer some of the basic questions. If you say you’re here to support the workers at the museum, but you’re calling for the abolition of the museum, that’s a contradiction. You can’t get beyond the contradiction without larger movements that change the calculus in terms of funding and public support for art.

If you say you’re here to support the workers at the museum, but you’re calling for the abolition of the museum, that’s a contradiction.

Some of the most exciting activity for me has been the organizing by museum workers. I think that’s one thing that could change the calculus. It’s been really exciting to me to see how this activity in the museum has intersected with this new wave of labor organizing more broadly. There was this week at the beginning of April when the Amazon warehouse here in New York organized and the Starbucks Reserve Roastery organized, and I got three simultaneous announcements of museum protests. Philadelphia Museum of Art workers occupied their steps. The Whitney Museum workers flyered their benefit, protesting for a contract. And the Anthology Film Archives workers were striking for a better deal.

To me, the most hopeful thing for advancing politics within museums is that you have a larger labor insurgency that completely scares powerful people into making good on some of the liberal civil society promises of the museum.


About three years ago, you said you were working on a book about cultural appropriation. In the book that was just published, there’s a long chapter about it, but it’s not the book’s focus. What happened there?



I just decided it wouldn’t be productive to do a whole book about cultural appropriation. I spent so long working on that essay — I think I started it first and finished it last. It’s a subject that’s all about who gets to speak, and I decided that it was better not to be the white guy writing a book about cultural appropriation. At the same time, I didn’t want to retreat from the subject either. The book is very much about thinking through what happened in culture in the last five years, and the question of representation and authenticity has pretty much been the most dominant topic.

The current socialist position on cultural appropriation seems to me to be to point out that cultural mixing is natural and to hope that the more hard-line critique of appropriation just goes away. But the term “cultural appropriation” — kind of by design, the way the media uses it — is a category so broad that it can sustain limitless discourse. It’s a fuzzy concept. Everybody pulls a different image out of it, so that one person hears “defending cultural appropriation” as “defending racism,” and another hears it as defending the potential for solidarity against racism. And that’s a recipe for producing endless waterfalls of content. I don’t think it’s going to go away.

The term ‘cultural appropriation’ is a category so broad that it can sustain limitless discourse.

The debates about appropriation that opened up in the last decade were very upsetting and alarming. They were at a very high emotional pitch, and they seem to me to be completely destructive of a lot of forms of solidarity politics that are very valuable. But I don’t think you want to be encouraging socialists to read anyone who brings up appropriation as a complete anti-materialist. As Marxists, we should be looking at the material factors that shape this conversation, figure out where people are coming from, and ultimately move toward some sort of coalition.


How do you propose to do that when the conversation seems opposed to social solidarity and bridge-building?


I wish I had an easy answer to that, but I don’t, because my starting point is that these are not just intellectual errors. I think that the way the cultural appropriation conversation has emerged in the recent period is a symptom of the new levels that the commodification of culture and the instrumentalization of culture by politics have reached. That’s what I try to lay out, and those are objective factors. They are going to affect the starting points of lots of people entering politics. You can’t just wish them away.

There’s a stereotypical “woke” side, and now there’s a stereotypical “anti-woke” side too, but I see them as mirror images of each other that are being trained by our media and political culture to read each other for superficial signifiers. And, consciously or unconsciously, that’s the product of an agenda to divide people. I don’t think you can just concede an essentialist politics either, to pretend that only conservatives or bigots object to the way the cultural appropriation conversation functions, or to only focus on points of agreement. Because there’s a backlash coming, and it’s been the right wing mainly that’s been picking up massive amounts of energy from being the dominant critical voice when people who are confused and alienated google “Why is cultural appropriation bad?”

The way the recent politicization of art has unfolded feels neither satisfying to people as political culture nor satisfying as artistic culture.

You need to create some form of political culture that slows down the conversation. It’s not a satisfying answer, because the problems are so immediate, but I don’t think there’s another way. This also comes up in the book in the section on online organizing. You need to be online for range and reach and visibility. Politics has to care about those things — but social media inherently puts you into destructive structures where the most inflammatory forms of argument are what dominate.

This is also a problem that might be helped if there were outside movements with concrete objectives. For instance, during the Bernie Sanders campaign, some of these debates cooled down, because people were on the same page for a little while. And that just put some of the bullshit into perspective.


You mentioned a right-wing backlash a moment ago. What do you see coming?


Before Donald Trump got elected, there were these right-wing provocateurs and memelords, who had this rallying cry that the right wing is the real punk rock now. And everyone, including me, made fun of them. But the art world has done a really good job of making that look true. And the way that the recent politicization of art has unfolded, I think, feels neither satisfying to people as political culture nor satisfying as artistic culture.

The mainstream cultural conversation now feels very inhospitable to an awful lot of people. From the left and right and from the center. And the Right is clearly benefiting most from that. I don’t think people realize how widely the “virtue signaling” critique has circulated, and it’s a result of putting so much emphasis on advancing progressive values on the terrain of commodified culture, which over time naturally causes people to view them as inauthentic, as branding or PR. There seems to be this idea that progressive ideas are winning by making cultural consumption more and more politicized, when actually I think they are losing, getting more and more hollowed out.

There is a question of displacement — asking culture to do something it can’t do. Culture is not structurally disposed to solve the political problems it has been tasked with. As a result, you get a very strange conversation that feels overcoded with moralism.

Culture is not structurally disposed to solve the political problems it has been tasked with.

There are a lot of younger people who are really alienated from mainstream culture now. And what happens to that alienation is not clear. I personally know artists who are trying to find a way to politicize that alienation in a left or socialist direction. But there are much bigger — diffuse, but sometimes organized — right-wing cultural entrepreneurs who’ve set up sophisticated conveyor belts to take that alienation in their direction.

Just as an example, for the last year, there’s been this whole conversation about NFTs. There’s the hyper-speculative casino side to NFTs, but they also hook a large audience because a lot of NFT art presents itself as just fun and as self-consciously irreverent — everything museum culture isn’t. Art people look at this stuff and are like, “This is completely worthless garbage culture.” And a very deep part of me agrees with that. But then I go to a biennial, and I see a pile of carpet samples, and the label says it’s about fighting colonialism. And I can inhabit, in my head, the mental space of the young guy who goes to the show and says, “You say my culture is talentless and phony?”

I’m more interested in the conversation at the edge of art than the conversation at the center. That was how I picked the subject matter in the book. I think the conversation between inside and outside is more important than the conversation within the art world itself.


You take a lot of cultural developments on the outskirts of art very seriously. I was especially intrigued by your discussion of Big Fun Art — like the Museum of Ice Cream, the Museum of Sex, or Meow Wolf.


Yeah, the new for-profit art museum culture.


And then you have traditional museums on the other side, which, as you describe, are increasingly moving toward that model.


The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam just opened its own Van Gogh immersive experience.


Why do you think that is such a generative idea?


Well, there are two reasons. I really like an essay by Raymond Williams called “Culture Is Ordinary.” One of the things he talks about in that essay is that you have to have some kind of belief, as a Marxist, that people know what they want. They might not get what they want, but at some level, people are after what they want. And so, if there is something like the Museum of Ice Cream that is very popular, I think you should be critical of it, but not without answering the question, “What about it gives people what they want?”

My first impression of some of the Big Fun Art experiences is, “This is really dumb culture.” And not just dumb, but almost deliberately medicated — as if you’re in an environment that’s removed itself from any negative thoughts, and it is here to celebrate you. The reaction to that from the sort of people interested in defending museum culture is basically, “Those fucking self-obsessed millennials.”