45th ZAGREB SALON

 

 

 

45th ZAGREB SALON

 

08 May – 30 May 2010

 

Croatian Association of Artists

 

All gallery spaces

 

90 artists, 5 performances at the opening, side events

 

Curator and the author of the conception: Branko Franceschi

 

BRANKO FRANCESCHI: THE MARKET

 

The idea to dedicate the 45th Zagreb Salon to the art market theme came spontaneously at the meeting of the Initiative Committee, gathered in order to define the elements of public competition for the conception of Salon as a guarantee of its better quality. The discussion that had developed within the Committee comprised mostly of artists, soon turned into a brisk critic of curatorial conceptions in general and particularly of their trendiness and lost touch with the real issues of artistic discourse like – as pointed out by Slavomir Drinković, academic sculptor, dean of the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb and president of the Committee – the local art market. Thus the dice had been cast. The director took over the task to transform and execute this theme into a form compatible with the manifestation itself. Has the inherent critic of previous manifestations come in due time or not, will this Salon justify the assumed ambition or not – these are the questions that remain open, but the fact remains that the Organisational Committee has unanimously confirmed the orientation of the Salon towards the exploration of local issues of the art market within its absolute predominance on the international scene.

However, we have to tackle briefly the curatorial dissection of the art market phenomenon, namely the discussion about the measure in which relations between money and the essence of art have affected the cultural landscape of the contemporary civilisation. The brilliant essay Art Values of Market Values? by the American art critic, poet and philosopher Donald Kuspit, tackles exactly the reality and essence of mechanisms of the hypertrophied international art market where artefacts are being resold for multimillion dollar amounts. According to Kuspit, the realisation of always higher prices at the auctions indicates to the fact that commercial value of artefact has suppressed its until recently undisputed spiritual value. The work of art has become a flywheel of profit and that is precisely why it is bought, collected and, ultimately, created. Everything went downhill when the art work ceased being perceived as a unique complex of aesthetic, ethic and cognitive values, but instead became the safest investment with three-digit index of growth in relatively short time period. The system is simple: bigger investment, namely the financial value of an art piece, bigger the profit. Basically, finance has stopped supporting the art, but the art has, marking the victory of capital, started to support finance. The realised value of an art work as its external value has finally substituted all of its inner values and has become the key parameter of the artistic merit. In the essay The Art Market Explained, American art critic and publicist James Panero will find a cynic metaphor for the high-octane phenomenon of the art market in the fate of Andy Warhol’s painting 200 One Dollar Bills that at an auction in 1986 was valued at 385.000 $, while at the other auction in 2009 its price reached 43 mil $. An illustration of two hundred in the meantime devalued dollars has become, disregarding the formal quality of the roughly executed motif, a high-priced representation of cash value. Kuspit will, on the other hand, further develop his thesis of the supremacy of money over art through the analysis of available lists of art works sold at highest prices, thus disclosing the proportional relations between global market value of art works and national economy status or, in other words, thus showing how the economic and political performances of certain countries affect the commercial success of their artists. Global financial success of Chinese artists coincides with always more pronounced economic predominance of China. If we accept Kuspit’s thesis of country’s economic credibility affecting the commercial credibility of its artists, Croatian artists won’t have any significant success soon. Harold James, historian and professor at Princeton University, in his symptomatic article Due to the crisis the value of art is growing (as translated by a web portal) points out the interesting phenomenon of the growing commercial value of art targeted by the representatives of finance who create value through stock exchange or mega successful representatives of entertainment industry who achieve the same by defining lifestyle trends. Unlike the production oriented traditional economy that, in expressing the rationality of business, based the investment in art upon the endorsement of traditional values of historic styles until modernism, these two industries will demonstrate their visionary acumen, the ability to recognise future values as well as their dynamic business audacity exactly by investing in the contemporary artistic practice with seemingly uncertain commercial future. Such investments are secured, as already mentioned, by forcing the market with enormous prices during the auctions, when the dramatic ritual of bidding always results in continuous growth of material value of the artefact or better to say, investment. Such was the case with, for example, works by Damien Hirst. Paradoxically, the tendency to annul the commodifying art object in search for the true creative act and signification at the end of the century of avant-garde artistic movements resulted in annulment of its essence in money, that ideal commodifier. 

The spectacular quality of international art market, its ability to recover during the recent economic crisis relatively quickly compared to the industry and, most importantly, the dictate it had used to establish the value system of contemporary art scene, have reflected in the local media through the series of articles analysing the local situation. In transition period, alongside the standardly mysterious Croatian collector, gradual disappearance of middle classes, „dealers“ who operate in apartments, cash transactions and generally trading in, to say the least, grey area as well as the unstimulative tax politics, some positive phenomena have appeared, like corporations aiming to create collections, ambitious collectors like Marinko Sudac and Tomislav Kličko, whose collections both in volume and concentration successfully challenge the public institutions and always growing number of young artists successfully represented by international art dealers. Albeit some positive examples, the unregulated Croatian market is, by general assessment, inundated by forgeries and, after the war, stolen artefacts as well. Therefore the warnings about the necessity of expert appraisal, certification and obligate receipts appeared. Without regulations and efficient control mechanisms, in survival economy everybody is coping as they can: artists sell in ateliers, dumping prices instead of dealing with art dealers who, on the other hand, sell for cash, without receipts, and so on. All transactions remain unregistered and just as any other business carried out within the grey area, remain obscured. Therefore the art works stay out of reach of both professionals and public, hidden at unknown private locations. Private galleries, struggling for survival, sacrifice their exhibition programs or discontinue their activity and act only as brokers thus cancelling their public role. The artists who achieved international success are only migrant workers keeping their local addresses and social benefits. Public institutions without insufficient funds and their proverbially disinterested employees cannot contribute to the stabilisation of the art market and definition of some sort of value system. The listing could go on forever. However, the situation is devastating not only for the artists. It also generates wider and farther reaching cultural damages. A mature artistic environment that can actively add more value to the quality of life and general prosperity, distinguishes itself by balance and synergy of creative energy and its perception through the fulfilment of cultural needs which, on the other hand, create, form and service public and private initiatives. While the liberal capitalist society is reaching the extremes of market domination and private interests that will shape its cultural profile, our society is reaching the other end of the scale, coming close to financial collapse because of the growing budget deficit. Profits realised on illegal markets (whose values were created by the budget dependent institutions) never influence the budget from which artists’ social benefits are financed and thus push the budget closer to the breaking point which could result in suspending the operational cultural system as we know it, harshly affecting the artists’ livelihood and quality of life in Croatia. Certain paranoid self-isolation of the local art market presents another set of problems. As in all other countries of ex-Yugoslavia, in acclamation of national art the market has completely closed itself into autochthonous value systems, valid and sustainable only within itself. Systems upon which well established private galleries and locally successful artists still draw nice profits, but which will be unable to endure the pressure of international market after the integration of Croatia into the European Union.

Covered tradition or traditional cover-up of local collecting is an excellent case study of anomalies of the local art market. Wherever the art market is regulated, collecting always represents the combination of financial power and subjective taste as premeditated foundation for personal social promotion. Culture wise, collecting as representation of civilised condition, indicates at the economic strength and historical criteria of a particular society. Collectors fulfil their personal and social mission of assisting the art only if they are aware that the artefacts, albeit being their property, really represent spiritual and cultural asset of the whole society and thus oblige collectors to protect them and make them accessible to the general public. Why it is not like that in Croatia has been thoroughly explained by the exhibition and its catalogue Croatian modern painting 1880-1945, conceived and realised in 2006 by the art historian Igor Zidić in Klovićevi dvori in Zagreb upon request of Deči Gallery. Historic circumstances of three wars and revolutionary overturns ending in usurpation and/or nationalisation, former imputations for bourgeois deviations and possible financial controls, burglary and theft of today, all resulted in the requests for anonymity submitted by 90% of the owners of exhibited artefacts. Although collecting through history has always had an enlightening role, assuming and aspiring to give collections public character, in Croatia mistrust between public and private is deeply rooted. Collection is something that will rather be kept hidden, instead of something to be proud of. Zidić’s exhibition showed paintings that had been rarely or never seen, thus indicating the importance of public character of private collections and, hopefully, announcing change in the relationship between society and ambitious individuals. Even to the author of this exhibition, as one of the indisputable connoisseurs of the period, the artefacts were mostly unknown, a real cultural treasure that intensified interest and enabled a new and more precise evaluation of oeuvres of the eminent representatives of Croatian modernism that, until now, had only been judged by the works included in collections of public institutions. Naturally, all of those also have their roots in private collections, because the art of collecting, as Zidić calls it, can only be approved by thorough presentation in a public institution.

However, it is exactly this self-isolation of both collectors as art market champions and patrons and art market itself that has, paradoxically, saved us from the fate of art on the international market. Although the price index for paintings by Vlaho Bukovac, commercially most successful Croatian artist, has reached 100, still the desire for good investment has not overcome the original impetus of collectors, ranging from sheer delight in watching the painting to the expression of national pride. The time will show if reason for the lack of commercial success of Croatian artists at the international market lies in this isolation or financial inability of Croatian collectors to buy art works by international star artists.

This overview of the complexity of art market (or sheer listing, as I might call it) indicates how demanding is the form that Salon has to fulfil in order to present a platform upon which will be initiated the dialogue between artists, public, buyers, collectors, art dealers, institutions and administration, unified in their attempt first to define strategies and procedures of regulation and stimulation of local art market and then its breakthrough into the international market. Therefore the manifestation is conceived as a central exhibition, as compulsory for the Salon, around which the accompanying events will be developed. They will include presentations of private galleries that are trying to change the usual local concept of gallery-cum-store, more or less appeasing the taste of general public and selling whatever is demanded for. There will also be a series of public presentations and lectures on relevant topics like art fairs, quantification of value of artefacts as well as social importance and role of collecting. Special hope is placed on meetings of expert groups that should bring artists, art dealers, and representatives of government institutions and business in order to design new initiatives like promoting the participation of private galleries at international fairs or defining the tax strategies that would stimulate investments in art.

The main exhibition is based upon the public competition with one and only condition: the submitted works have to be created in the period between two Salons. In order to avoid possible conflict of interest as well as to secure a fresh overview of the scene, members of the jury are mostly international experts involved in the art market, either professionally or as collectors. A chance to present works of Croatian artists to four interested people from this line of business was another bonus. The members of the jury, Josie Browne (Max Protech Gallery, New York), Anna Daneri (Fondazione Ratti, Milano), Hans Knoll (Galerie Knoll, Vienna) and Sanja Vukelić (collector, London/Zagreb), had a difficult task to choose out of 350 heterogeneous entries those that would form a high quality and versatile exhibition. All other submitted entries will be presented at the interactive station placed in the exhibition hall and will be offered for sale, too. Salon is conceived as a selling exhibition or introduction of a model of legal purchase of art works and, perhaps, an encouragement for (re)establishment of Zagreb art fair. Although Salon will pursue the theme or the art market and art galleries as phenomenon, it has been decided that at the same time it has to remain realistic. Hence the idea of introducing the commercial component or offering the exhibited works on sale, with fixed 10% provision for HDLU as the organiser of the event, in the face of recession. Finally, a hybrid form has developed from the fusion of art fair and conceptual exhibition with many possibilities to observe tiny social shifts marking every segment of our society in its rapid compliance to the norms of western democracy. The reality check at the basis of the idea also presumes the public display of all brutto prices of exhibited works. Although the project initially won wide support and good response, most of the commercially established artists didn’t respond at the competition. Apparently the acquired positions are not to be examined. The submitted material also indicates at still strongly present ambiguous stance of Croatian artists towards the commercial aspect of the artistic context. Roughly half of the submissions are context specific works cynically commenting on capital or contrasting “art” against “commodity” while referring to, quote, traditional saying that money corrupts people. We believe that these works, in synergy with those that represent a realistic response of the artists to the profession of their existential choice, will create a versatile and spirited edition of Salon, impressive both for its theme as for the presented art. However, it would be more important to make the most out of the given frame and moment and try to create that utopian balance of all various impulses created by the unexplainable and unrelenting human need for aesthetics.

 

Finally, another question has to be addressed: during the recession (which will doubtlessly affect if not budgeting itself, then surely the quantity of approved programs and operational resources), is it possible at all to have exhibitions focused exclusively on the interpretation of cultural phenomena and echoing the socio-economic relationships instead of sheer reviews of artistic production in some particular period? In our cultural system, exhibitions and above all manifestations of national significance, represent the most powerful and the most visible media that artists together with supporting professionals, institutions and administration can use in order to actively effect betterment within their domain. Regardless of necessary changes in the social perception of the domain, questioned sustainability of the existing system or its necessary change, the time has come that those existentially interested show their vision and explore the possibilities of a more functional cultural system or reorganisation of the existing one. Following this discourse, the 45th Zagreb salon is trying, within its time and organisational frame, to present a model of the art market as it should be. Transparent display of terms of the offer of all segments of the live artistic practice is only the external manifestation of deliberations on a uniform regulation of all segments of the cycle which starts with the artistic creation, continues with all aspects of its public perception and consumption and ends as a spiritual and existential feedback for the artists. Therefore, along the problematisation of issues regarding the sustainability of the present model on both public and expert level, additional marketing efforts will aim at the animation of the visitors as potential buyers and their reaction will be an indicator of the times to come.

The meaning of its existence the 45th Zagreb Salon finds in contributing the change.

 

Branko Franceschi

 

Bibliography:

          Harold James, „Zbog krize cvate tržište umjetnina“/“Due to the crisis the value of art is growing“, Poslovni dnevnik online, 10th Oct, 2008

          Patricia Kiš, „Skirveno blago: remek-djela iz privatnih zbirki“/“Hidden treasure: masterpieces from private collections”, Jutarnji.hr

          Iva Koerbler, „Panika na tržištu umjetnina“/“Panic on the art market”, Nacional, no. 438, 2004

          Donald Kuspit, „Art Values or Money Values?“, artnet Magazine, 2010

          Nina Ožegović, „Najveći kolekcionar suvremene umjetnosti“/“The greatest collector of contemporary art “, Nacional no. 446, 2004

          James Panero, „The Art market Explained“, The New Criterion, Volume 28, 2009

          Marijan Špoljar, „Zašto je korisno kupiti umjetničko djelo za tvrtku“/“Why it is useful to buy an art piece for the company”, Lider press, 2008

          Ivo Vrbić, „Umjetnine“/”Works of art”, mup.hr

          Igor Zidić, „Hrvatsko moderno slikarstvo 1880–1945. u privatnim zbirkama“/“Croatian modernist painting 1880-1945 in private collections”, Deči Gallery, Zagreb, 2006

 

 

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