Combien ça vaut ? (What Is It Worth?)
«A work of art has no price; however, it can be acquired.» Egon Schiele
The wise provisions offered to help artists avoid the pitfalls of commerce and greed are plethora. One example, among many: In the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci is inscribed the following advice: « Therefore painter, be careful that the harshness of the gain not outweigh the love of art. The conservation of this honor is more important than the prestige of wealth.» Alas! The Italian master’s warning has since then often been undermined. Among the recent detours, let us reflect on Andy Warhol’s legendary crises. The bandleader of pop could become mad with jealousy at the idea that one of his productions could be sold for less than one of his friends’, whereas he was immensely well-off and very well-known. «Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art,» he conceded, by the way…
More generally, we must observe the way current creation and ancient heritage are treated, covered by the media and commonly perceived; auction records, careful examination of scores, collector’s fabulous acquisitions, the dictatorship of the market, to name but a few… According to current criteria, the essential value of art is, first of all, economic in nature. The prism is the price.
Doubtless, this fact, leading us away from pure aesthetic delight and a certain gravity, is unfortunate, even disheartening. However, it does present at least one advantage. For many artists it is a funny and cruel, fertile and profound, critical and resourceful subject. It is this matter that the Taïss Gallery offers up for exploration under the provocative question, «What is it worth? »
This question is precisely the subject of two works by Ben. The question «What is it worth? » or more prosaically, «How much?» send the viewer (not aggressively, but with a demonic sense of the absurd) back to the limits of their approach. For Price, the anguish which corresponds to the sacrosanct «buying power», has today become a subject of obsession. To regard the world consists first of all in looking at labels, hoping for bargains to widen the field of possibility, to budget life. The pioneering work of Jean-Paul Albine is a stimulating demonstration of this drift— it was he who created the bar codes 337731 and developed a language that pirates the standards of global consummation.
With an imposing installation inspired by a photograph and recalling, through the use of recycled materials, the monumental sculptures of the nineteenth century, he insists for his part on the relativity and volatility of values. Those that we believe (or wish to believe) absolute, like so many landmarks, fluctuate constantly. Thus, he applies four figures of conceptual art to the standard of NASDAQ, reminding us that the culture of dematerialization, aesthetic on one hand and technological on the other, has seen a stunning parallel valorization. A fragile bubble…
Finally, Thierry Bruet’s painting adheres to the figurative tradition of genre scenes, and highlights extravagant social gaps with a clever mind and formidable graphic control. In the exhibition halls, two modest young female visitors have worried expressions in the middle of Yue Minjun and Murakami’s hilarious faces. A couple of collectors dressed stylishly, if a bit worn by time, sink into their sofa, surrounded by the explosive paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“What Is It Worth?” therefore gathers, according to very diverse artistic approaches, creators who attack the current economics of art head-on – a sensitive subject in a context where differences in prosperity are extremely large. In addition to being a turbulent and inventive exhibition, this event aims to hit the conscience and even to submit a fundamental problem to it: What is meant by the value of art?
A challenge that is… very rich!