PRICE v VALUE
1: MIDAS TOUCH
“Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” (Andy Warhol)
“The sleep of reason produces monsters.” (Francisco de Goya)
For almost twenty-five years, at an altitude of 13 km and travelling at an average speed of almost 1000 km/hour on board a Boeing 727, a canvas depicting the socialite Edgar Renoir and the model Nini Lopez sitting elegantly at a Paris’ theatre box, visited several cities from Vancouver to Aberdeen, Mumbai to Dubai, never leaving the plane. Occasionally when the painting was admired by tycoons, oligarchs and Miss Universe candidates alike, the owner of the Renoir might have pointed at the signature, casually remarking on the price of the acquisition: $10 million. That owner, Donald J Trump, current President of the USA, eventually was made to understand that the changes in humidity, luminosity, pressure and temperature would surely damage the work irreparably. The painting was removed from the plane and it is currently residing at Trump Tower, hanging behind Melania’s desk.
La Loge. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1874.
The fact that the Renoir in question, as are most of Trump’s collection of French Impressionist paintings, is fake (the original ‘La Loge’ is kept safely at the Courtauld Institute of Arts in London) seems not to have ever bothered his owner. And why should the President be bothered about authenticity? After all, it looks exactly like the original. What really matters is the price that, disingenuously, he claims to have paid for it.
Not far from Trump Tower, rises the headquarters of Sotheby’s New York auction house. It was here that a collaborative work by Damien Hirst and Banksy, ‘Keep it Spotless’ was sold in 2008 to an unknown collector for $1,700 000. This isn’t a ‘fake’, although the meaning of authorship cracks open if we consider that it merges Hirst’s industrial reproduction practices ‘defaced’ by Banksy’s easily copied spray-painted stencilling.
Keep It Spotless. Banksy/Hirst, 2008
Could the unknown collector be the President’s favourite daughter Ivanka, perhaps purchasing it compelled by the thought of the dozens of immigrant maids working at the Trump’s casinos and hotels brushing hers, her husband’s and her father’s tax records under the artworks? After all, she has declared her love for the Banksy’s, Hirsts and Koons of the world. Ivanka’s credentials as an avid contemporary art collector are well documented, as three million followers on her Instagram account can testify, by virtue of the 768 posts in which she and her family nonchalantly posed at their several homes over a background of pieces by critically acclaimed avant-garde ‘enfants terribles’ such Nate Lowman’s ‘Bullet Hole’ silkscreen, that she bought for $665.000, or Dan Glenn’s ‘Chewing Gum’, a bargain at a mere $578.000. Of course had she actually owned ‘Keep It Spotless” she would had let us know by now because clearly she wants everyone to understand that her, unlike dad, she really loves cutting-edge art.
Yes, we are left wondering how someone as busy as Ivanka Trump (business woman, socialite, author, fashion model, fitness fanatic, beauty perfectionist, practicing Jew, part-time wife to a trophy husband, mother of three, full time daughter and de facto First Lady ) finds the time to keep up with the ever-changing world of contemporary art. Time being money, Ivanka doesn’t need to sweat; as many other very, very busy people do, she pays hard cash to get someone to find out what exactly it is that she actually likes. And she likes whatever it may be that, according to teams of well-heeled taste experts, a cosmopolitan intellectual woman ought to like. And not just any well-heeled experts but the art expert Alex Marshall, son of Patricia Marshall, herself the most influential and powerful art adviser in the world. Ivanka’s Instagram posts are therefore certified bona fide beyond the questioning of not just us mere plebs, but comfortably within the strict scrutiny of standards imposed by the art world’s elite.
Ivanka Trump for Instagram
So what is it that the Marshalls trade on? The experts are selling to the merchants their intellectual authenticity. It doesn’t matter how inauthentic it is, as long as it feels authentic to their clients. The appearance of intellectual finesse is worth a lot of money.
Back in 1874, Pierre-August Renoir painted his brother and his companion at the theatre; the spectacle no longer the professionals working on stage, but the rich and famous in their inaccessible boxes. Renoir captures the moment when our gaze turns out of the show towards those watching it above us. It transforms envy into deification. Neither Nini nor Edgar are looking at the play. Edgar’s gaze is directed, through binoculars, to the audience looking back at them; Nini stares defiantly at us, the audience. The Trumps, not by machination but by plagiarism, looking-at-us-looking-at-them through the lenses of Twitter and Instagram, represent a realistic interpretation of whatever it is that we are dreaming them to be. In a world of illusion, appearances matter. Through the Trumps and via social media, Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle admires itself.
“I think there are a lot of artists that are uncomfortable now being incorporated, or leveraged, as part of the Trump brand.” says Bill Powers, the dealer that sold Ivanka an artwork by Louis Eisner via Marshall. Worried about the bad publicity that their association with the Trumps could bring, the artists, dealers and curators that were positively involved on building Ivanka’s collection formed H.A.G., the Halt Action Group, initiating a campaign called “Dear Ivanka” with the objective of asking for Ivanka to be asked to account “for the hypocrisies she embodies”. Is the hypocrisy she embodies of the same calibre as the hypocrisy that they manifest when happily taking capital from the numerous corporations that the Marshals give advice to, including investors, brokers and patrons such as JP Morgan, Leon Black, Robert Lehman, UBS, The Saudi Royal family and several Russian oligarchs? Of the identity of Marshalls’ undisclosed private clients and to whom these artists indirectly serve we can only speculate. These muddy corporations are not currently in the liberal list of unpopularity or shame, so no “Dear Saudi Royal Family” campaign then. It is the general absolute lack of values of the traders, added to the over-inflation of prices that maintains this state of affairs, where what it really matters is not the value of what is sold but what others might think of the buyer, the seller and the price paid for it. Ivanka is our Frankenstein Monster and she’s made in our own image. As much as the rest of us, she is deeply flawed, only louder. While the self-congratulating art world rages against the Trumps, it ignores that Trumpology is the inevitable conclusion of its own post-modern dogmatic narrative of relative multi-culturalism. The Trumps, Kardashians of politics, are not the cause but the consequence of a sustained over-blown culture that worships the empty, the vacuous, the expensive but value-less.
Donald Trump quotes Andy Warhol several times in his book ‘How to Get Rich’. It seems Donald can’t get enough of Warhol’s motto “business as art, art as business”. Donald, the illiterate literalist, never ventures below the shiny surfaces and to date it is apparent that he never got the ironic, bitter, cool and cynical edge that sharpens Warhol’s words. Andy and Donald met in 1980 when Trump wanted a series of artworks to decorate the lobby of his brand new tower depicting, well, his brand new tower. He wanted to commission the world’s most famous artist of the time: Warhol. Andy and his Factory team produced a series of silkscreen prints of the tower in multi-layered hues of silver, black, pure gold and diamond dust. Donald rejected these because they didn’t “colour match” the peach and gold scheme of the tower’s lobby. Warhol was furious. He expressed his contempt in his diaries and remained full of bile towards the Trumps until his death. We will never know what products of the sleep of reason we would have displayed in our galleries and museums had this partnership worked out differently.
Trump Tower. Andy Warhol, 1981.
The urge to show possessions to others is a fundamental quality of the human animal. Status matters to social mammals and we are skilled at crowning this importance paramount. We aim to surround ourselves with beautiful, rare artefacts. More importantly, we want others to know that we do. Beauty in the 21st Century trades globally, transcending differentiated cultural backgrounds. Dealers, curators, critics, collectors and speculators tightly control the art market. By proxy, this global market devalues human dignity and the essential equilibrium of nature we need to maintain to ensure our survival. Intellectuals and artists become collaborators. Street artists, gallerists, art colleges and academia all bow down at the sound of the gold of the merchants, ignoring its bloody provenance.
To this day Donald J Trump insists that the Renoir and other items of his collection are the real thing, that the fakes are those kept by galleries and guaranteed by the experts. He no longer collects French Impressionism but only portraits of himself that his charity foundation pays for. Perhaps he’s realised that this is the only one thing that he can ever be entirely sure of: that He exists. No truth, no person, no planet really matters beyond this axiom so portraits of himself are the ugly, ultimate reminders of it.
Donald J Trump. Ralph Wolf Cowan, 1987.
Words by Ramón Salgado-Touzón