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Journal

Words do this to us. They feed us even before we see. They build expectations. They are things too. And they lead us to see other things in a certain way. Words activated like and paired with the visual are the message.

Money vs Art vs Money & More Money

Andrea Chesney

While lots of stuff, not all of it shiny and pleasant, is going on the world, from the kidnapping of 276 girls to heating-up zones of bloody war strife to the bites, penalties and desperation via a hurtling ball in Brazil, the Whitney opened a Jeff Koons retrospective.

Much to-do has been made about the cost of this exhibition. No expense spared! 1% and 99% be damned, jobs news eghh, because if it's 11 a.m., it's museum party time somewhere! How can one help but employ a little side-eye right about now?

Kathryn Tully’s editorial on Forbes.com makes this point about the Whitney’s effort: “In short: Jeff Koons is famous and his art is expensive, so come and see it.” Apparently, the “look it costs a super lot!” Whitney media push is working, as art bloggers and commentors talk about the cost with varying degrees of joy and madness. Which equals: more free press.

This exhibition may well be the $$$ diamond-encrusted Victoria’s Secret catwalk-bra event of the museum year. ( Look! Balloon dogs!) 

The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art offered a similar Koons retrospective in the summer of 2008 just before the recession hit. (Trying to view this from the perspective of cash, bucks, coin.) Similar press? More scree-sounds of dazzled human primates, or wallets slapping hedge fund haunches as people struggle to get in before the cash bar closes? (Okay, being snarky now.)  Well. Jason Farago of The Guardian on June 25th contrasted the ’08 and ’14 events and tossed in the tidbit that Lehman Bros. filed for bankruptcy a week before the ’08 Koons show closed. Farago however describes the ’14 show as an “orderly even hesitant” show — saying the surprise is “its modesty — no dollar signs. no star worship…”

So, is the point the art, or the splash? Or, the media, and future prices? Or….as usual, perception? Is the cost itself the ad for the show? Or must we now consider this:

Did "No Expense Spared!" become the new screamy circus tagline for the art world last week?

For contrast, hie over to the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia this summer to view “the other” new exhibition that’s getting a lot of national press for its brilliance (NPR to WSJ) as a “landmark show” versus repeat pressadelic extravaganza.  Curator Benedict Leca's “The World is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cezanne” opened a week ago, has been embraced and even model/photographer/magazine publisher Helena Christensen graced the premiere. (It moves to the partnering Art Gallery of Hamilton in Canada in the fall.) But **crickets** on some art blogs about that exhibition.

Takeaway at the moment, though still thinking about it and looking for more salvaging input: Splash still talks, honey, and the Whitney flung its sprinkles knowing this. Work it, baby — because it works. It's not the art.

It's the drinks, the new wings built like spun sugar castles for fewer visitors, even if not quite paid-for while development offices make more anxious calls and have more donor chicken lunches, and marketing touts biggest best-est ever...above all, is it the money?