Thursday, March 06, 2008

WPA Auction 2008 - Katzen

Note: I didn't apply to be in it, I'm not bidding, I'm not attending, and I'm not covering the attendance/process.

The hall outside the Katzen Museum, in the Katzen Arts Center at American University, is lined with many framed works (and a couple sculptures, too) all prepared for auction to help support the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA).

When Alice Denney first started the WPA in the mid 1970's, like most things Alice was involved with throughout her tenure as DC Art Provocateur, the WPA began with a whim and a prayer, a shoestring budget, and the hope that artists would rally behind the idea to make the thing thrive. And thrive it did. But part of what made it thrive was the novel idea that she would show virtually unknown (or at least unrepresented) artists and keep the price of the work affordable for anyone to collect. Right now it feels (and looks) like the WPA has strayed off course a bit.

Why the quip? Some of the work at auction for the WPA is of established artists and outside the price range of young collectors. This is important to note. Granted, as was heard on Kojo Nnamdi's show recently, most people don't know how or where to begin collecting, get sticker shock, and would rather pay $200 to frame a lousy print of a Post Impressionist that they know than they wold to buy a real work of art for $700, or $1000, or $3000. But, since so many of us live in homes furnished by Ikea, maybe it is only appropriate that the crappy work on the wall match the crappy furniture. But I digress.

Lenny Campello (one of Kojo's guests on that show) has been writing bits on his blog lately about "art collection," and in some of those instances it is really about art investment. To paraphrase, "buy this person's work now before it's too late!" Should that be the motivation?

With that it is necessary to distinguish between collectors and investors.

Collectors are people who buy work based on a personal connection with the work. It isn't motivated by the prospect of investment. It is motivated by the jaw-dropping awe of inspiration and epiphany; by the upturned mouth at a clever execution or proposition; by the ah-hah!; by the integrity of the object or concept or both.

Investors look for names. They get on a list for the next Jasper Johns. The namesake of the building hosting this year's WPA event was an investor - he collected blue-chip-name art investments: work that inspires at best a sigh - but at least it is a Picasso!

Buying art work should be like that silly saying: dance like no one is watching, sing like no one is listening. It doesn't matter what your friends think of the work - you are the one who lives with it in the end. People probably laughed at Castelli's clients in 1958 for buying the pieces of trash glued together that Leo Castelli was passing off as art. At one point in time Bob Rauschenberg was a nobody. The people who bought Rauschenberg's combines out of Castelli's bathtub for a couple hundred clams had the last laugh.

Hey! Artists create work, but it doesn't always mean they want to live with it for eternity. I'd happily trade some pieces for a bagel* if I knew the person "purchasing" the piece was passionate about it and felt a connection to it. Studio spaces need to remain studio spaces, and not become storage spaces (like Raoul Middleman's).

*bagels must be toasted with lox. bagels may vary.

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