Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The shock of the old

How is contemporary art getting along we hear you ask. Not too bad, if you're a billionaire. The last rush of big-time evening Contemporary Art auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie's has seen a return to rooms-full-of-gold prices. In a week of high intensity auctions, works by Andy Warhol cranked up $200 million, that’s $260 million where we come from. 

As one auction commentator declared with a completely straight face, “There’s a huge demand for Warhol under $10 million.” Even a single Brillo Box by Andy Warhol would send you to the bank for $NZ3.4 million so if all the Brillo Boxes (not including the copycat ones) were put on the market, they would now be valued at $NZ384 million. Also during the week a Lichtenstein painting “Ohhh…Alright…” cost the new owner $NZ55.5 million a new auction record for the artist. 

But hang on a minute. If Warhol and Lichtenstein were still alive they'd be 92 and 97 respectively, and all the works we've been talking about were made over 40 years ago. 

So when a contributor to Nicholas Forrest's Art Market blog asks why the word 'Contemporary' to describe the long-toothed art described lot descriptions, auction titles, and PR blurbs you get the point. Given that the word Contemporary in most other fields refers to something relating to the present time, the suggestion is we should dedicate the word 'Contemporary', when it comes to art, to the art of now instead of sending it back to gather up the past.

How about the auction houses adopt Twentieth Century Art to describe all the old 'contemporary' work, and leave Contemporary to the Twenty First Century. For now anyway.