Three of the world’s top galleries, usually rivals, are joining forces to sell the $450 million collection of philanthropist and contemporary collector, Donald Marron. Selling through private galleries rather than the usual large auction houses is a huge change for a collection of such importance. Pace, Acquavella and Gagosian are going to sell over 300 works by well-known contemporary artists from the 60’s. These galleries have never been known to work together and have been in competition for major art works from the major auction houses for a long time.
I find this change exciting. Not only does it indicate a shift in power and influence in the art world away from the major auction houses, it shows a pattern of value associated with the contemporary works of the 60’s. Why? Because they understand the impact that generation had on art history – they recognize the power of the change represented by that time.
I think it is good that today’s galleries, auction houses and artists continue to chase the idea of change, and this change is inspiring competition. Competition signals an opportunity for others to play in the arena once dominated by the powerful auction houses telling the art world what to value through influence and branding.
What is missing, but will hopefully also be a result of that competition, is a continued value of art representing change. For now, it seems that galleries, auction houses, and even artists, value the different, the shocking, the new of the 60’s artists – but what is missing in their search for these things today is the concept of unique creativity that allowed the 60’s artists to have such influence and bring such change. Today’s generation is trying to replicate the 60’s paradigm but without the unique creativity and original thought that inspired it – rather repeating with new just for the sake of new, or shocking just for the shock value.
One can argue that there are very few new ideas out there – some would argue that there are no new ideas out there. In museums and major exhibitions you see endless examples of today’s artists merely repeating what has been done before.
What are artists today repeating? What are galleries and collectors looking for? The movements that grew from the 60’s searched for how to represent reality. Should reality be represented, could reality be represented, what was reality, how did the artist fit into this entire picture? This question alone drove many of the art movements from the Impressionists forward. Artists looked for a different way to answer this question and to somehow represent reality.
The 60’s movements have traveled in many directions. One movement has been defined as Abstract Expressionism. Artists included in this movement were William de Kooning, Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Grace Hartigan and Joni Mitchell. This movement acknowledges that art can never find a pure reality but rather they searched for an artist’s authenticity, and uniqueness in the work. They removed rules that an artist must follow that governed how a work of art could be understood and created. Another movement was the search for the sublime, artists Rothko and Kline feel into this category. And then there was life as art – as exemplified by the work of, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jackson Pollock.
It is the notions of the Abstract Expressionists that continue to inspire me, to create art that is uniquely defined by the artist, new to the point of sometimes shocking, independent from outside influence, free from preconceived notions. Inspired by the change of the 60’s I seek to give up the old questions related to reality but instead pick up questions about the self. This focus allows the art to be governed by the self – not by outside influence. Until an artist figures this out, they will never be able to represent a new idea of reality. And their work will never be unique and authentic, never be shocking or new, never be independent or free – never be part of the artist as self.
It is time to change the question collectors, galleries, museums and artists ask. Instead of looking for new for the sake of new, shocking for the sake of shock value, chasing the “change” of the 60’s – rather, it is time to seek the unique individuality that inspired that change. Seek the individual in the work, seek the artist’s independence, ask how are they governed – if all involved can answer those questions then perhaps we can move beyond Abstract Expressionism and art of the 60’s governing how art is understood and find today’s artists that will continue to change and shape art history going forward.