Thursday, May 14, 2009

Backlit

Having just returned from a crosstown bus trip during which I was the trapped audience of one end of a blaring cellphone conversationalist blogging aurally about her poor patients at Mt. Sinai and then via call waiting about her roommate’s boyfriend’s appalling personal hygiene, I was not exactly receptive to yet another email inviting me to become a Facebook friend.

Besides one’s virginity which doesn’t seem to have the ‘currency’ it once did, and will inevitably be the subject of an all-too-imminent reality show contest, perhaps the only thing once can give away and never get back is one’s privacy. The concept of privacy, in this tiny cyberworld, is virtually non-existent. What one chooses to withhold seems rather a game or dare for the paparazzi…and rather arbitrary when one posts nude photos indiscriminately but chooses not to discuss the location of the wedding. Besides, by the time the event actually takes place, there is a healthy chance that someone has already intruded on the marriage.

What is more debilitating and exhausting is the totally compulsive dissemination of information that is not only scarcely worthy of casual small talk, but begins to encroach upon obscenity as it occupies a larger and larger platform. We all remember how the man Gulliver, when he took on the proportions of a giant, was observed to have these large pores and bad smells. Ditto for the gargantualization of cyber trivia and froth.

Sifting through the trash has become a task which bogs modern culture to the point where it has become the very substance of not just friendship but culture itself. Television… scripted or unscripted, for the most part, has deteriorated to the calibre of an overheard cellphone conversation. Gossip is no longer a page six indulgence, but an industry. Perhaps a religion. Our gods and heroes are not Herculean but Warholean.

While we're on the subject of art, witness Jeff Koons and his toxic band of misled thieves. At least Mr. Woolworth and Mr. Penney had the restraint to charge coins for such goods. Perhaps the sheer size and the slick deluded genius of Koons' marketing team convince him he is entitled to add many zeroes. I guess he is unable, like Gulliver among the Lilliputians, to smell the stench of his own output. Does anyone note the irony of unprecedented recent perfume and scent branding? They rival fashion sales.

Which brings me to the spring art auctions. In my home, it has been a Mother’s Day tradition that I get the afternoon ‘off’ to wander unencumbered by strollers and whining adolescents through the wares of the auction houses. Something I looked forward to, indulged in. This year even the champagne/strawberry fest at Philips couldn’t entice me to taint my Sunday with the pretentious pedantics of the auction house staff and the blathering art consultants leading still-solvent hedge fund boys through the racks like Syms salesmen flogging cheap suits to make their pathetic quota.

This year there was something almost desperate about the shows. The goods were, for the most part, lacking in quality, although mercifully reduced in quantity. Still, let’s face it... when a rare bronze sculpture appears in simultaneous sales in the same city, same season, days apart… well, one begins to wonder about the whole damn game, and the fact that the archived body of work of so many artists does not come close to the numbers of claimed owners. My own teenager has questioned the Basquiats… and the Warhols… well, Andy himself signed many he swore he never painted. The signature and the work… not always one and the same. But once an artist has passed, works surface like memoirs and mementoes from dead rockstars’ ex-lovers.

Does it make a difference? Did anyone else notice how garishly ‘backlit’ the star lots at Sotheby's were? Like the diamonds in their jewelry department which do not quite have the same lustre at home, they seem to have employed the same bluish-halogen over-lighting which made each image coincidentally look just the way it does on one’s computer screen, which is undoubtedly the way most of the buyers know these images. So they are not disappointed by the reality of canvas and paint when they see them ‘in the flesh’ as it were. And why should they not employ ‘staging’ techniques…we use them to market expensive real estate, our own selves, these days…why not works of art?

So prices have begin to deflate. Unfortunately like a slow leak in a Koons balloon, there will be a slowish letting of hot air. The ‘stagers’ will see to this. Hopefully the detritus of this market will find a safe place in the dump among evaporating stock certificates and falsified bank statements and will not cause the death of any innocent turtles.

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