There was no Black Friday advertised at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, but word is that they might start offering a gift card of sorts. I’m not much for using gift cards (I feel pressure to go the mall) nor do I frequent the auction houses (too much historical thievery for my taste), but I do make a point of giving objects of art as gifts during the holiday. For some, though, buying art can cause a good deal of anxiety.
Many wonder: Why bother? Others worry they will be judged for their taste and simply retreat (to the mall). Why is their no similar consternation over picking out a blouse for Aunt Rosie as there is over choosing a piece of art? Let’s forget the pressure, relax and enjoy the process of exploration. But more importantly, we need to buy art from living artists as a necessary protest against the corporate conglomeration that is the big-bucks “art world”!
When it come to prices for recent artwork, the earliest shock waves were felt from the sale of Maurizio Cattelan’s La Nona Oralso (1999). It sold in 2006 for $3 million, and many would agree that the sale began a new era of art collecting versus art appreciation. (It didn’t help the controversy that the piece is a life-sized wax figure of Pope John Paul II being hit by a meteor.) Prices soared. Now with this month’s recent Christie’s auction where bidding for Édouard Manet’s Le Printemps (1881), began at $18 million and finally rested at $58 million (not including premium), we are in the realm of that 1% of the world who hardly need to worry about what to buy Aunt Rosie. But the pressure for price-points trickles down.
It is possible to buy good and pleasing art, to support an artist and to perhaps make a small investment – all without buyer’s remorse and sweating if you are sufficiently deconstructing the commodification of the art world. We can’t let insecurities or the big gallery markets or even the weird international art-fair circuit (and I make weird art – so there) hinder us from seeking out and buying affordable fine art. It’s out there! Some are upset that galleries have – for all intents and purposes – posted “cash and carry” signs for holiday shows. These folks chirp with disdain that buying art for the holidays (that is affordable, but mediocre), might be a bad thing – that when pieces are ready to be sold right off the wall, they are kitsch. I disagree with the thrust of their argument. What’s wrong with making fine art more affordable?
If you’re worried about being judged for your taste, allow me to remind you of the wax pope being hit by a meteor to boost curatorial confidences. Art is truly subjective. And often originality is delimited by knowledge. Who really follows trends in art besides big collectors anyway? We ordinary folk want original, handmade art pieces that will fit into and beautify our personal environments.
So, YES, it is worth it to buy art! Just do it! Embrace the “little picture show” – tissue paper and all! Buy those ceramic mugs with the funky glaze! Who cares if it’s called, “craft” or “real” art? If it’s an exercise in expressing beauty, which will forever remain in the eyes of the beholder, and if you think the person for whom you are buying it will love it – just buy art!
And if you’d like to ratchet it up a notch, then walk into a gallery and speak to someone about an investment piece for your home, grandchildren or life partner. There are many of us who would support the arts better (read: buy big pieces that we love), if we had the dinero to do so. If you do, you needn’t rely on the big auction houses or <gasp> ebay. In Rhode Island, there are at least 35 galleries where you would be greeted like an old friend and given a wonderful education about local painters, sculptors, jewelers, fiber artists and ceramicists, to inform your purchase.
The holidays are about creating memories! Buying art spreads happiness as well as a few dollars. Let’s not get too self-congratulatory at the prospect of our explorations, but we can afford to pat ourselves on the back if we avoid the corporate mass-produced junk of little long-term value. Support local artists and buy pieces that speak to you, that confuse you, that intrigue you, that get you thinking – pieces that you like to look at and your friends and loved ones will know that you put thought into their gift. Embrace creativity in all its forms because imagination is an underrated miracle maker. Use this holiday season as an opportunity to express yourself and your inner curator.
However, before you buy that 6-foot-tall, gold-encrusted, resin-dipped-Jeff-Koons-esque-hotdog-in-a-bun-sculpture for your Aunt Rosie, you might want to consult her first, or at least measure her doorway and the space between her couch and window, where you imagine it will go.
A list of galleries that sell art in Rhode Island (not exhaustive):
Just Art Contemporary
Mad Dog Studio Gallery
The Artists’ Cooperative Gallery of Westerly (Westerly)
The Donovan Gallery (Tiverton)
The Mill Gallery at Lorrainne Mills
Wood-Gerry Gallery (RISD)