Art in the Age of Commerce: The Mona Lisa Curse
What television has to do with art heists, JFK and Andy Warhol.
By Maria Popova
Over the past half-century, renowned art critic Robert Hughes has watched a certain story unfold in culture — a story of how commerce changed our relationship to art and, in the process, what art stands for as cultural currency. In The Mona Lisa Curse, an ambitious documentary temporarily available on YouTube in its entirety, Hughes — curmudgeonly and keenly insightful as ever — traces the evolution of the art world’s devolution. From archival footage of Hughes, once a suave TIME critic, in his 1960’s prime to insider accounts of some of the greatest art events and deals of today, the series is as much an exemplar of investigative journalism as it is an absorbing and eye-opening piece of cultural storytelling.
I’ve seen with growing disgust the fictionalization of art, the vast inflation of prices, and the effect of this upon artists and museums. The entanglement of big money with art has become a curse on how art is made, controlled and, above all, in the way that it’s experienced. And this curse has infected the entire art world.”
Apart from drugs, art is the biggest unregulated market in the world, with contemporary art sales estimated at around $18 billion a year, boosted by regimens of new-rich collectors and serviced by a growing army of advisors, dealers and auctioneers. As Andy Warhol once observed, ‘Good business is the best art.'”
The Kennedys managed to turn the Mona Lisa into a kind of 15th-century television set — instead of 1.5 million people looking at one image flashed on 1.5 million screens, you had them all looking at it on one screen, which was the picture itself, and that was the only difference. They didn’t come to look at the Mona Lisa, they came in order to have seen it. And there is a crucial distinction, since one is reality and experience, and the other one is simply phantom.”
Published September 9, 2010