Gaming Belief: The Modern Art Scam and Money Laundering Tax Racket
I have no proof. There is little evidence that the Great Art Bubble of the noughties (2000s) was a colossal and arguably ingenious scam orchestrated by a "monopoly art cabal" which somehow managed to destroy the common sense of late 20th and early 21st century museum and gallery goers.
But the hints are there. They are there in spades. Whatever the motives of the Impressionists may have been, it cannot be contested that late 20th century "art" descended into an abysmal chasm of feces-strewn hideousness the likes of which could never have been foreseen, predicted, or imagined by iconoclast counter-luminaries such as Marcel Duchamp or even Jackson Pollock.
Gaming belief is the term I use to describe the manipulation of common faith in such things as fiat currency, organized religion, and the value of art.
I spent months scouring all of the Manhattan galleries I could find in 2011 in search of something I could consider good art. Yes - good art. Not relatively good art. No, not good ugly art. No, not "intelligent," "poignant," or "socially responsible" "art," but simply art which I found beautiful. Forgive my lack of sophistication. But I found almost none.
A tin [of the artist's feces pictured above] was sold for €124,000 at Sotheby's on May 23 2007; in October 2008 tin 083 was offered for sale at Sotheby's with an estimate of £50-70,000. It sold for £97,250. The cans were originally to be valued according to their equivalent weight in gold — $37 each in 1961 — with the price fluctuating according to the market.
What I could not understand was how many of the galleries I visited could stay in business. What were they selling? The used plastic supermarket bag on a wire hanger that I saw in a West Side gallery? The pile of dust swept up from the street I stumbled upon in a gallery in the Lower East Side? For how much??
Someone told me that the galleries were often run by "rich" art-aficionados who didn't care whether or not they made a profit. But that somehow didn't ring true - for regardless of any possible socio-political agenda which may motivate a minority or majority of art industrialists, and also regardless of whether or not they care about making money from their business, surely they must care about art!?
So the reasonable deduction from all of this rampant and unfounded hypothesizing I found myself engaging in was this: people are using this "art" to evade the tax man. It's simple: I sell you this bag of dog waste that Damien Koons scooped up from the gutter in the Bowery which is so relevant and your insurance agent assesses it at $1,000,000 and you have an instant non-taxable commodity. Okay - maybe it's taxable - but it's "art" so it falls through all kinds of loop holes. Then you turn around two years later and pass it onto your "friend" who happens to have an apartment in TriBeCa you want to buy. You two strike a deal in which you transfer the now famous bag of dog excrement to your friend for three million dollars and he sells you the apartment at a steep discount for one million. He saves on capital gains, you get a $4,000,000 apartment for $1,000,000; he owns the perceived value of the dogshit container, and your apartment is still worth four million on the books.
Call me naive. But humor me for the thirty seconds my analogy holds up because I still can't wrap my head around the art market, and the cognitive dissonance is destroying my peace of mind.
It's hard to say where art bottomed out. But I think it's safe to say that the Southern Californian artist Paul McCarthy (no, not the Beatle) took art down to an inexcusable level, descending far lower than any other tantrist I'm aware of. I had the misfortune to witness his nightmarish monstrosities at the now-closed Guggenheim Soho back around 2001. His art is designed to make the viewer physically sick, and is so disturbing it actually caused me to feel like vomiting. Transformative as that may be, I'm just not sure that nihilistic destruction is what I want to be spending my time experiencing.