Rise of Commercial Fine Art
By Heidi Lee | April 26, 2010
(image: Larry Gagosian and Damien Hirst)
Like performance art, street art is receiving critical attention with museum-quality shows opening across America and abroad. Jeffrey Deitch’s final show starring Shepard Fairey, his Os Gemeos mural on Houston Street, Jonathan Levine’s impressive 5th anniversary show, and Banksy’s show at the Bristol Museum are all examples of this trend. Street artists tend to work independently and embrace anarchistic ideals. They share an intense sense of community like the performance artists but make “anti-art”, or art that communicates with everyday people about socially relevant themes as opposed to art that is meant for an exclusive group. This practice intends to establish itself as a legitimate form of contemporary art not by subverting the art market, as performance does, but by embracing the art market.
James Jean, a Taiwanese-American and award-winning artist is one such artist who blurs the line between fine art and commercial art and who has made a very successful career for himself. Increasingly, street artists are crossing over into commercial art. Look at KAWS with his toy multiples, R. Crumb with his witty gritty comics, and Robert Indiana with his “Love” stamps–all of whom are deeply entrenched in the art historical canon.
Banksy at the Bristol Museum.
In September 2009 Larry Gagosian, arguably the most influential dealer in the world, opened a shop selling artist multiples on 988 Madison Avenue, right after the market bounced back. He clearly anticipated the rise of art and commerce. Damien Hirst, Britian’s wealthiest artist, whose work is featured in the Gagosian retail shop, rose to fame due to his ability to embrace and manipulate the commerciality of fine art (much the same way Picasso did). The artist has said: “I always think that money is a fantastic tool to get people to take you seriously.”
The logical next step is for the commercial and academic realms of contemporary art to embrace the legitimacy of editions or multiples. Many multiples from the 1960s play on consumerism, such as Claes Oldenberg’s 1966 Wedding Souvenir (cake slices) and Andy Warhol’s screenprinted Brillo Boxes. Joseph Beuys, whose first Felt Suite in 1970 was made in an edition of 100, famously said, “If you have all my multiples, then you have me entirely.” Today, the popularity of CerealArt, Eyestorm, Kid Robot, Multiples Inc, and Editions Fawbush, are all examples of this and new companies are popping up after them including 20×200 and EditionedArt, the first online consignment gallery for quality limited editions.
However, art critics and collectors still struggle to understand the artistic intent behind artist’s multiples and editioned art because it is difficult to tell whether the artists are using the market as a playground to be carefree or if they are using it as a way to critique art commerce and manipulate the market for their own benefit. Regardless, their mettle is proven with the positive public response and rising sales year after year. One can safely assume that more artists will follow suit to make good art out of good commerce.