Friday, March 14, 2014

Adam Gopnik Talk: "Is Art more than an Investment?" Armory Arts Week, 2014 ADAA + Boston Baked Beans

Adam Gopnik gives "The State of the ART WORLD" at the ADAA's ART SHOW.

Armory Arts Week, 2014
(Arts Week Coverage #2)

Armory Arts Week in New York City is one of the most intense weeks for any person immersed in the contemporary art world today. Along with the gigantic Armory Show at piers 94 & 92 (55th & 12th Ave. NYC) there are a half dozen, or so, other good satellite art fairs, some quite large. Plus there's the hundreds of art shows at the many NYC galleries. It is an impossible feat for a single person to see it all.

Out of the four intense days of Armory Arts Week, the best hour I personally spent was at Adam Gopnik's talk about the art world as it exists today. - Jack A. Atkinson, editor

Interesting inlays in the 1880's Park Ave. Armory ceiling
decorating the auxiliary room where Gopnik gave his talk.
Adam Gopnik was the scheduled speaker for The ADAA Art Show. He spoke to a standing room only audience on March 7th, 2014 at 6pm in one of the ornate auxiliary rooms at the Park Ave. Armory, in Manhattan. Adam Gopnik is a art historian and writes for The New Yorker magazine where he has won three National Magazine Awards for essays and criticism.

The lecture and interactive discussion mainly looked at rolls of the current players in the ART WORLD: the "Art Sellers" (gallerists & auction houses), the "Art Influencers" (the art historians, critics, professional art consultants, and the curators), the "Artists", the "Art Collectors" (museums, private and corporate collectors). 

Gopnik started his talk by saying that all of the problems within the arts started with Galileo (1564-1642). His work brought on the dawn of the age of Science and Technology challenging the Humanities (Arts and Letters) as the apex of intellectual thought, although there has never been a time in human history and culture where the arts did not matter. The humanities define humans more than anything else our species does, but science and technology has urged us to analyze everything and look for the cause and effect. 

Gopnik shared a personal thought, "I have recently sent my son to a very expensive East Coast liberal arts college. Even though I am one of the most ardent supporters of the humanities as being the best foundation for all careers, I have recently questioned if it is smart to pay $50,000 plus a year to send my child to an institution where the main activities seem to be smoking weed, having sex and watching old movies!" Still the world of commerce and careers is always improved through exposure to the aesthetics and thoughtfulness found within the humanities. Gopnik's father taught English at the university level. It was the mantra in his household that the pursuit of teaching, especially within the arts, brought with it financial sacrifice. The up-side of a career done for the greater good was the opportunity to immerse yourself into a passion near and dear to your soul. 

The study and production of art today is ultimately linked to "The Art Sellers", but more importantly, the art market relies heavily on "The Art Influencers", people who have a deep and professional level of knowledge in contemporary art and all of art history. As in so many "Professional Careers", i.e.: the Law, Medicine, etc., "The Art World" at its core, is based on intense and specifically focused knowledge. It requires participants to know critical information about the key philosophical backdrops supporting each current and historical artistic movement. Plus they must understand the intimate interrelationships between each specific movement and their various accompanying philosophies. How and why did each piece of art come to be created? How was the artwork influenced by the work of others? Most importantly, the timeline of art is a continuum and in an interesting way, all art overlaps.

Today there are two great players in the art conversation, the "Sellers" and the "Influencers". Art is essentially a priceless cultural contribution of our times, but the question now is, "Has the market run away with the flag and today the "Sellers" dictate what is good or bad, appreciated or not discussed?" Gobnik enjoyed the privilege of spending a day alone in a gallery room analyzing "The Scream" by Edvard Munch (1863-1944) before it was auctioned by Sotheby's for $120 million in 2012. 

"The Scream" by Edvard Munch being auctioned
by Sotheby's for $120 million in 2012. 

Because a large part of the value of any artwork comes from the "Influencers" and the marketplace looks to them for advice, Gopnik wondered if the high price received by Sotheby's should raise the intellectual bar for the amount of attention the "Influencers" place on this work of art and it's creator, Munch? His conclusion was: the auction market is made-up of museums and the best collectors - people who through their actions, demonstrated they value this work as being one of the most important of our time. Nothing raises the market value of an artist more then having pieces included in important collections.

The system for evaluating art and its importance appears to work in the United States. We are the art capitol of the world and in New York we are surrounded by artists. Are some people left out or unable to create their work due to finances? Yes, but our system seems so much better than the French and the Canadian systems, where funds are distributed to artists to support them and their work. But it doesn't seem to be working for either country, they are not leading the art world. A question came from the crowd, shouldn't artists be leading the conversation here in the art market, rather than the "Sellers" or "influencers"? Are galleries leading the conversation simply to promote their stable of artists, for their own personal gain? Gobnik reminded the crowd that the market and the price of a piece of art make us stop and consider each artist and what they are saying, but when galleries turn to cheerleading, they have gone too far. Pure hype is not good for the artists in the long run. Ultimately there must be a consensus between the "Sellers" and the "influencers" for values to last past the short term and certainly over time.

Gopnik added another personal story. When he took his kids to the Chelsea Galleries for a day of art viewing, he always gave them a budget and let them take notes to mentally spend up to their fantasy dollar limit during their gallery tour. He learned from this game, nothing focuses your attention on art, the thinking behind an artwork and if you truly appreciate it, more than considering a purchase. Spending money focuses the mind like only a few things do - thoughts regarding value, enjoyment and worthwhile content call you to action or make you decide to walk away.

- The "Sellers" hold most of the cards as to which artists get exposure, but there are many casualties along the way. Once in the spotlight an artist promoted by "Sellers" must have an Act 2 and an Act 3 to survive. 
- The "Artists" are still the thinkers, the creators and the reason there is an Art World, they are the ones who actually make the cultural contributions. Artists mostly suffer from the inability to articulate easily and clearly what they are trying to accomplish. 
- The "Influencers" make their mark through intellectual endorsements. One "BIG" review, in the most important media of the time, can secure an artist's career for a lifetime. 
- The "Collectors" including the museum collections finance the whole system.

Ultimately our Art Market, in the United States, works because each of the players is important and no one group can outsmart the checks and balances of the system, over time.

Is ART more than an INVESTMENT? 
Most importantly the humanities (the arts) are exactly what the word implies, they reinforce the joys of being human. The least important part of this entire art world puzzle is the investment aspect in the art market. Art purchased as pure investment is a huge gamble and can go either way - it can be a home run or a giant bust. Art ownership only considered as an investment or as a hedge on inflation, in many ways, takes away the joy of this unique business. 

Is ART more than an INVESTMENT? The financial approach to art is just the ETHER of the ART WORLD, nothing of importance in comparison to the contribution the artists and their artworks make to our "REAL WORLD".

Beautiful 1880's light fixture
at the Park Ave. Armory.
(Source: A visit to the ADAA Art Show and Gopnik's talk. Information in the text is from hand written notes and covers the speaker's comments in spirit, but except for the quotes, the text is not verbatim.)


We served these beans at a special New England themed dinner party. Nothing has ever taken more time to prepare, but few things have been more delicious!


2 pounds of navy beans or great northern beans (pick out rocks, rinse and soak over night)

1 large onion, halved then sliced and individual rings put in the bottom of the bean pot

1 large onion quartered and set into the beans at the top of pot

2 tsps of kosher or sea salt in pot

1/4 cup of dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons of dry mustard

2 bay leaves crushed and added to the bottom of the pot

4 whole cloves in the pot
1/4th teaspoon of cinnamon
4 canned plum tomatoes
shake of tabasco in pot
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper in pot
1 tsp ground of black pepper in pot
pour beans in the pot
cover with 5 cups of water or veg. broth
top with 1/4 cup molasses
top with 4 pieces of salt pork


- Heat oven to 275 degrees F.
- Soak beans in a container overnight in just enough cold water to submerge them completely
- Place the onions, tomatoes, dark brown sugar, 1 tsp salt, pepper, cayenne, dry mustard, crushed bay leaves, 6 whole cloves, cinnamon, plum tomatoes and tabasco sauce in the bottom of the bean pot
- Pour in beans
- Pour in water (give the pot a stir)
- Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt on top
- Pour 1/4th cup of molasses over top of beans
- Push the quartered onion into the beans
- Place salt pork on the top of the beans
- Cover, place in the middle of the oven, on the middle rack and cook low and slow at 275 °F for at least 8 hours, up to 12 hours.

Until Later,  

ARTSnFOOD, is an online publication dedicated to "The Pursuit of Happiness through the Arts and Food." ™ All rights reserved for all content. Concept, Original Art, Original Text & "Original or Assigned Photography" are © Copyright 2014 Jack A. Atkinson under all International intellectual property and copyright laws. All photographs were taken and/or used with permission. Artworks © individual artists, fabricators, respective owners or assignees.

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