Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 10, 2018

The commodification of art examined in 3 documentaries

Filed under: art,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 1:05 pm


The three documentaries considered chronologically in this review deal with various aspects of the commodification of art. Opened on October 19that the Quad Cinema in New York, “The Price of Everything”, an HBO documentary directed by Nathaniel Kahn, explains why paintings by the old masters are now auctioned off routinely for fifty million dollars and up. Now available on Youtube for $2.99 and worth every penny is “Art Bastard”, a tribute to artist Robert Cenedella who turned his back on the auction houses and posh galleries that are held up to scrutiny in the first film. Finally, there is the 2009 “Art of the Steal”, directed by Don Argott and now available on YouTube for free, chronicles the liquidation of the Barnes Foundation collection by the unscrupulous museum potentates, foundations and politicians in Philadelphia that its founder Albert C. Barnes loathed. That the documentary can be seen for free probably reflects the eagerness for its makers to get the broadest exposure.

I strongly advise seeing the three films in tandem since put together they will give you a keen sense of the cultural decay of late capitalism that puts a price tag on everything. Essentially, the commodification of art is just as injurious to the body politic as fracking, a profit-seeking assault on the environment that was fostered by Governor Ed Rendell, who also led the assault on the Barnes Foundation when he was mayor of Philadelphia. All the people you hear from Sotheby’s and Christie’s in the first film and the smooth operators who paved the way for the destruction of Barnes’s legacy are exactly those you would hear bemoaning Donald Trump on MSNBC. At least Donald Trump doesn’t have their fake patrician pretensions.

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  1. You can’t be hanged on a petard, which was a type of artisanal bomb thrown during the French Revolution. Nor can you be “hoisted” on one. To be hoist by one’s own petard was to get blown up by one’s own bomb. Good thing for a journalist to know.

    Comment by Howard G. Skillington — October 11, 2018 @ 12:24 am

  2. Apparently, FWIW, “hoist” as in Shakespeare is the past participle of the now-obsolete verb “hoise”–to raise or lift up. For all practical purposes the obsolete “hoise” and the archaic “hoist” as pp are variations of the same word, so the substitution of “hoisted” for “hoist” really isn’t that far off the mark. Would it have bothered Shakespeare, who probably knew both forms? Who knows? In the old days, real men such as Ernest Hemingway and Wallace Stevens might have come to blows over this if sufficiently drunk. Nowadays the worst that can happen is a bit of eye-rolling.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — October 15, 2018 @ 11:54 am

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