untangling the awkward relationship between art and money

Fast cars and art: the BMW Art Car show roars into Grand Central Station

New Yorkers will be treated to the questionable privilege of being able to view ‘artworks’ by some extremely famous names in a free exhibition at Grand Central Terminal from 25 March. Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rauchenberg, Stella – they’re all on display.

I used air quotes there because I remain rather sceptical about the value of these projects.

Of course there are some pretty dog-ball obvious benefits to the participants. BMW gets invaluable free publicity – I mean, here I am, half a world away, writing about their vehicles. Under normal circumstances, I would give a flashy, Eurotrashy car no more than a passing glance. Also, what better way to gloss up your brand than to be associated with some of the most stellar names of the 20th century? In Grand Central Station, no less, with a captive audience of fifty-five gazillion people trudging past on their way to and from other places.

For their part, Grand Central Station management gets to stage an exhibition that, I presume, costs them little or nothing. Meanwhile, they can promote themselves as champions of the proletariat – bringing great art and great names to the people – improving the lot of the downtrodden commuter masses. 

And as for the artists? It’s pretty safe to assume that they were all paid handsomely for their endeavours, even though I reckon Andy really phoned it in with his effort. At least Warhol and his fellow Pop artists, and Frank Stella I suppose, could justify the process as an extension of their practise – engaging with forms of mass production.

My problem with this is that it is an insult to the viewing public to insinuate, as this does, that the only way to get people to look at modern/contemporary art is to negotiate a very uncomfortable liaison with an object that has mass appeal… Oooeerr… A fast, expensive car… And it’s painted!…. By a bloke whose paintings sell for millions of dollars…. Ooooo…. Colour me impressed! It’s appealing to the lowest of low common denominators. I’m a staunch advocate of encouraging and facilitating access to art, and for breaking down social, economic and educational barriers that preclude many people from enjoying art. But this is neither good, nor particularly interesting, art. Besides which, it just seems silly.

Then again, perhaps my judgement is coloured by the fact that our very own Ken Done is one of the sixteen “world’s most respected artists”  who have been asked to create an Art Car since 1975. Andy Warhol… Robert Rauschenberg… Frank Stella….and…. Ken Done. And, sadly for Mr. Done, who has been preternaturally commercially successful during his career, as the brilliant boys from The Chaser have shown in their hilarious spoof of ‘The Da Vinci Code, Ken Done bashing has become a national pastime. 

Images: (Warhol) http://www.luftwaffemotors.com

(Ken Done’s Art Car) http://www.kendone.com.au/projects/bmw.asp 

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