Should Artists Confront Their Dependence on the One Percent?

 

February 14, 2012; Source: Adbusters

In this recent article, Adbusters takes on the structure that collects and displays contemporary art, noting that the wealthy top patrons of contemporary art are engaged in promoting policies that are associated with the interests of the one percent and not the 99 percent.

Columnist Andrea Fraser, an artist from UCLA, takes note of some of the names on ARTnews200’s Top Collectors list: Roman Abramovich, worth $3.4 billion, who has admitted to bribes for Russian oil and aluminum interests; hedge fund manager John Arnold, a former Enron trader who contributes to an organization trying to limit public pensions; real estate investor and education philanthropist Eli Broad of Los Angeles, worth $5.8 billion, who was a board member and big shareholder of AIG; hedge fund manager David Ganek, whose Level Global fund was the target of an FBI raid; hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin, who has contributed both to President Obama in 2008 as well as Karl Rove’s political action committee; Peter Kraus, who got a $25 million exit package for three months of work when Bank of America absorbed Merrill Lynch; and many more.

Fraser suggests that, “there has been very little discussion of the obvious link between the art world’s global expansion and rising income disparity.” She asks progressive artists, critics, and curators, “How can we continue to justify our involvement in this art economy?” Her answer is tough medicine: “Any claim that we represent a progressive social force while our activities are directly subsidized by, and benefit from, the engines of inequality can only contribute to the justification of that inequality. The only true ‘alternative’ today is to recognize our participation in this economy and confront it in an open, direct and immediate way in all of our institutions, including museums and galleries and publications. Despite the radical political rhetoric that abounds in the art world, censorship and self-censorship reign when it comes to confronting our economic conditions, except in marginalized (often self-marginalized) arenas where there is nothing to lose—and little to gain—in speaking truth to power.” She concludes, “If we, as curators, critics, art historians and artists, withdraw our cultural capital from these markets, we have the potential to create a new art field where radical forms of autonomy can develop: not as secessionist ‘alternatives’ that exist only in the grandiose enactments and magical thinking of artists and theorists, but as fully institutionalized structures, which, with the ‘properly social magic of institutions,’ will be able to produce, reproduce and reward noncommercial values.”

Remember Adbusters? According to some, the small nonprofit journal gave birth to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Claiming a circulation of 120,000 and a network of almost 98,000 “culture jammers and creators,” Adbusters aims “to topple existing power structures” and this Vancouver-based group has consistently taken on the mainstays of the capitalist economic system.

We’d like to know: what do NPQ Newswire readers think about the connection of wealth and art in a world struggling to confront and hopefully narrow massive social and economic inequities? Do you buy Fraser’s analysis and conclusions or would you suggest a different set of solutions—or none at all? –Rick Cohen

  • Shelley Hamilton

    “Any claim that we represent a progressive social force while our activities are directly subsidized by, and benefit from, the engines of inequality can only contribute to the justification of that inequality.”

    Shouldn’t the very same argument be made about all philanthropically funded progressive Nonprofits? Where do we think all the money comes from to buy those Gala tickets and Silent Auction items? If the art world is to withdraw it’s cultural capital from the 1% market place shouldn’t the rest of the progressive sector step up and develop a parallel call to action by implementing a social responsibility screen on where it’s funding comes from? Or does the philanthropic gift “wash” the evil out of the money? Hm ….