As it has happened every month for more than two decades, Simon Tovey sent me the Catalogs of the forthcoming auctions at Phillips, where he works. We know each other since I decided that the contemporary art was not art and if art was my passion that was not the right place to hang around. It was then that I decided to put my quite impressive art collection for sale. At the time mine was an impeccable taste, if by impeccable, we understand, the kind of painting that new money longs for. It was already difficult to work with Sothebys and Christies because their marketing plan has been based on rejections. For that, they hire rich kids far too spoilt to do business with. Phillips was different because you can still have a negotiation and get something that might position your piece better. What I got for my flagship Cory Arcangel was the cover of the catalogue of the Contemporary Sale and a ridiculously high estimate. It was a gamble and I did not give a toss for the artist or his gallery. The half indigenous self made art advisor (that is me) was going to leave the art world slamming the door to the horror of three gallerists that insisted that selling works was equivalent to murder probably because it meant that they might get their true market value in front of the whole market: Maureen Paley and Nicholas Logsdail looked at me in shock. It was the day of my birthday of 2013. February rurary 15th and the painting did not sell but I ending getting much more than I had paid for. The work was decorative despite all the scientific and IT jargon used by the artists. They were mere commentaries to Abstract Expressionism. Another postmodernist parody turned into gesture.
One category that caught my attention in the last auction that took place a few days ago was The Now Wow. Thr type of art object to be auctioned there should be of interest because were the paintings sold to the mid management of the London financial boom of the 1990s and 2000s that with the recession, allowed them to see the light. They are awful. At the time, their owners’ coffers were overflowing with money from their bonuses of the end of the year. But now, all of a sudden, fearful of how inflation would affect their Knightbridge mortgages, they are desperate for cash and the works that, until very recently, decorated their walls and were sold by prestigious galleries need to be sold. The problem is that those pieces were mass produced since the 2000s which makes the question of pricing a self fulfilled prophecy.
I must say that I was at the forefront of the wave that shaped, for the worse, the hopes and livelihoods of, at least, three generations of young artists. Not to mention, neutralised any possibility that art changes reality. There was something fraudulent about the way those images were marketed. Sales people in galleries were trained to lie and when I got fed up of it all, I realised that I could not have them as my habitat. Theirs was a corporate imagery that practitioners like Cory Arcangel or Tony Cragg seemed to feel much joy working for it no matter how boring and homogenous they became. But it was a graduate from the Royal Royal College of Art called Katy Moran who caught my attention and would be the work my vest return on investment.. She offered me three at a ridiculously low price and I bought only one because I was abroad. The works were ornamental, pedantic and bad in the sense that there were (here we go again) postmodern gestures on previous art. In my case, she said that she got inspired on a Goya that I guess must be one of the Gallitos Ciegos where he parodied the majos and majas at court entertaining themselves and parodying those below them they were afraid of. I bought it at one thousand pounds. Two years later I sold it at…
… 20,000 GBP multiplying by twenty its original price. The issue is that I made up that list of exhibitions which means that neither the gallery or artist checked. That piece was not in those places where it said that was exhibited. I made that up or got the information wrong, I do not remember but no one checked. If the provenance is from an owner that bought it from Switch Art and that was not the one who bought it from me, this means that this piece changed hands, at least, four times since 2013. It was always treated as a speculative investment.
That sort of painterly painting used to be the topic of conversation in super boring dinner parties where everyone talked about the new (mortgaged) flat in Islington and their taste in art. It must be remembered that since the beginnings of the property bubble with Tony Blair, the only way classes could interact in such an alarmingly classist society as this one was through their apparent knowledge of art that was acquired during their weekend visits to Tate Modern or stupidly claiming that every person has the right to extract meaning from a work of art. Of course they do, but answering such idiocy is a right too. The young post+young British painting produced after the 2010s, either carried no meaning or blatantly bordered the literal. Which means that all the responsibility for generating meaning depended on the viewer (and whatever he or she said was believed to be good enough). That New Democratised Anti Academic viewer had a sense of intelectual entitlement that paved the path for the Me Too era. On the other hand, another belief was imposed that derived from Second Generation Feminist art theory that claimed that quality was an ideologem concoctem by patriarchalism to keep women way. But that was hardly the case in 2020.
But there was one work that caught my attention: Lot 15. Kate Pincus Whitney’s Paradise a la Carte/Parrilla en Boedo (2021). For all out there who do not know what Boedo stands for, it is a traditional lower middle class neighborhood associated with the culture from below derived from the immigration waves of the beginnings of the century, mostly in theater and literature. This painting shows another trap of the system because it is her art gallery who is offering it at auction instead of the secondary market. There are different possibilities but in the present climate mainly two. Either her market shrank and the gallery wants to make her visible through a spectacular move or the gallery is trying to include her in the obvious boom in the making of art of the 40 something generation. In both cases, there is a big chance that it was the gallery who put it in the market and how bought it trying to draw attention to her. There is a new bubble being created of youngish women artists that all of a sudden end up being auctioned at three times or more than its estimate. In this case from an estimate of 3 to 4K pounds ended up multiplied and sold at almost 16K plus commission. In this climate and with such a bad painting, this is odd. Or… maybe as I said earlier, not.
I rarely open these catalogs. Unlike their counterparts in the English countryside counterparts where there is the thrill of possibly finding a lost gem in the middle of nowhere, in art fairs and contemporary art auction houses everything tends to look the same. Can anyone tell what is the difference of a work by Annish Kapoor and one by Tony Cragg, if we go to the upper tiers of the market. They have become a sort of template that not only looks dated, but even worse, it is boring. More than boring, uncool.
So when I opened Phillips catalogue I saw an example of how bad it could go if the elements of identity politics combined with a culture of victimization and a constant celebration of oneself became desirable objects. To make things worse, this has been weaponized from the North as another opportunity (as we saw in Petitgas in the previous post) to infantilize the South and, in some cases, even stealing their ideas. The latter is a huge topic and three examples come to my mind. Argentine conceptualist artist Oscar Masotta wrote about dematerialised art and Lucy Lippard appropriated it as one of the great US Conceptualist moves with the help of academia as a weapon of legitimisation of that sort of vandalism.. Also Argentine Luis Wells found with his colleague, the also Argentine Kenneth Kemble the destructive art movement and when invited to Scotland to a World Congress of that art, he was blatantly ignored. In the Phillips catalog another example of that kind of vandalism to Argentine culture happens but at a lower level and it is Pincus Whitney.
Kate Pincus-Whitney’s Paradise à la Carte: Parilla in the Boedo (Capital City Buenos Aires) follows a template which, to give her credit, is hers. The problem is the chasm between what the concept promises and the visual evidence. The perspective collapses onto the viewer’s space and shows a table filled with typical porteño (that is from Buenos Aires) dishes. The perspective differs from her previous paintings and apes that of local artist Pablo Suarez who was one of the senior referents of the Rojas Group, an attempt to perpetuate the ethos of the alternative Underground scene under the institutional aegis of the Universidad de Buenos Aires. The painting in question is La Terraza that has the exact viewing point, composition and theme. This apparent homage to kitsch as a Neo Baroque language that was wagged by local queer artists to flaunt their rejection of parliamentary negotiation of sexual rights. in what could be an hommage to the Neo Barorque kitsch that was adopted by local queer artists during the 1980s as a way of opposing academicism as equating patriarchy. From left to right there is a picada de queso with Roquefort, a cheese platter. There is also a Virgen de Lujan, a local Virgin Mary that looks like a rocket and a pastry called Alfajor Jorgito, an industrially produced sweet that Argentines consider as a delicacy but it is actually disgusting. The items belong to the popular culture that, I dare say, does not really represent Boedo but a condescending idealization through hyperbole of that culture. There is a grill on the table with an asado and un sifon. A market painting of sorts derived from Flemish XVI century paintings by Pieter Aersten or Joachim Beuckelaer. However, Phillips chose the following quote by the artist to allow the prospective buyer/to make some sense of it:
“Stylistically I have always been unapologetically maximalist, colorful, and loud. I engage formally and obsessively with paint and wood carving. I work from a combination of life and image, and really think of the canvas as a stage for all of life’s dramas. When it comes to my style, it has always been the natural way my hand interacts with material. I honor that. It’s funny, I have always been able to paint and draw hyper realistically, but I like to engage in a more initiative and ritualistic manner with my materials. I think my stereo blindness also plays a huge role my style, especially the way I deal with space and depth. I play a lot with the Gestalt principles of perception and neurological depth cues. I have a natural fluency in flatness. As my work has evolved, the literal figures may have left, but I still think of each of my pieces as a portrait.”
Her unapologetic loudness is balanced, however, with a very traditional composition. Then comes the YBA legacy, when she says that the canvas is a stage for all of life’s dramas but far from drama, in her work there is homogeneous accumulation. What Pincus is unapologetically loud about capitalist accumulation and maybe that is why such bad painting has a place in this auction and such a place. The link to disability is interesting but she doesn’t do much with it instead she gives us the meaning of the work but there is no visual evidence to support it. In her own words, the still life is a disembodied portrait of the person she is allegedly interacting with which in this case is no other than an Argentine idealized to the point of the grotesque. That stereotyped way she sees the Argentine friend through an ideal projected by the state of what an authentic argentino is defined through conspicous consumption. We passed from the modernist dictum of art about art to a late capitalist taste in art as allegory of the fragmentation and atomisation of our ideal. A cynic, utilitarian and loveless generation.