I Learn Something Every Day

This comes from the comments on a piece on Clyfford Still. The comment is by Masistios. Looks like he’s done his homework:

Some readers will no doubt be artists wondering how any painting by any artist ends up with a price tag of $61 million, let alone the abstracts of Clifford Still. No doubt they might also be keen to know if they can emulate such success with hard work and the ‘genius’ of their own endeavours. By focusing on just one single example from the recent round of auctions during Frieze week, I hope the following information provides some insight and perhaps a helpful pointer or two.

The entry level is around £10,000 or $15-20,000 US; if your paintings sell below this price, then console yourself with the thought that they are probably being bought by ordinary people who are buying them because they actually like them; above that, the story is different; it’s about market and media manipulation, investment, gambling and of course, profit….vast, vast profit.

Any self-respecting contemporary modern gallery, keyed into national media and located in the trendiest of major world capitals should be able to bluff an entry level price for you from their customers / investors. Firstly, they’ll shift your paintings around to participating partner galleries in other capitals and farm you out to publicly funded gallery showrooms – to give you an “international” flavour with, the merest (though misleading) hint of actual “popularity”. These exhibitions – together with a tasty media story – will get the money snowball rolling.

OK, enough waffle, let’s look at some details. During Frieze week, Charles Saatchi sold a painting by Iraqi born artist Ahmed Alsoudani for £713,000, which he had bought in 2008 – only three short years ago – for a reputed £20,000. Is Mr Alsoudani the new Leonardo? A Raphael of our times? Well possibly, greatness is, in these troubled and confused times, sadly in the mind of the beholder, but I tend to think that the way in which he has been marketed over the past three years might have more to do with the spectacular price rise.

“ Ahmed Alsoudani’s work depicts a disfigured tableau of war and atrocity”

read the publicity for one recent exhibition.

Another exhibition in 2009, by his London representative (Charles Saatchi, by coincidence) was (somewhat misleadingly I feel) entitled

“New Art from the Middle East”

Wow, you might be thinking, poor bloke, an impoverished, ignored artist who probably suffered under Saddam, fresh off the plane from war torn Bagdad, anxious to get his art to a more appreciative and sympathetic western audience. If that’s what you’re thinking, that, I suggest, is what you’re meant to think.

Except that Mr. Alsoudani (born 1975) left Iraq at the age of 19, in 1995. So it’s not new and it’s perhaps debateable how much “war and atrocity” he had actually seen. Certainly not enough to send him shooting off to the West looking for an outlet for his emotional pain. He spent a few years in Damascus – still no apparent interest in art – and then seems to have fallen onto an arts course after moving to New York in 2009. He finally graduated with a masters in fine art as recently as 2008 – yes 2008, the same year as Charles Saatchi bought those paintings for £20,000 each.

After a couple of shows in New York, Mr Alsoudani was picked up by Goff & Rosenthal, who have since financed his move to Berlin – the new “must have been” location to be stamped on the CV of any serious contemporary artist. Throughout those long, long three years of his career, he has also been represented and promoted in London by the Saatchi Gallery.

From £20,000 to three quarters of a million in just three years. In a few more years, with continued promotion, media coverage and more appearances at major galleries (no doubt a career retrospective at the Hermitage if Saatchi has anything to do with it), his paintings will be changing hands in the low millions. Forty years after that, who knows, $61 million? By which time, of course, he’ll naturally be considered an “iconic and influential genius” and not just a chancer who can barely muster a scribble who just happened to run into the right promoters with contacts among the right investors with the right story at the right time.

He’s probably a nice bloke – I know I would be if I could knock out paintings in an hour or two and sell them for that much – but I hope nobody would be daft enough to try to suggest that a $61 million price tag justifies a faith in inherent artistic genius, especially not daubs like these – or Stills.

I hope this has been a helpful insight – now go get em new graduates!

I’ve just added this Ahmed Alsoudani so readers have an example of the work Masistios brings to our attention:


About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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