Thursday, 19 November 2009

Feel the width

In the wake of Brit's musings about his attic-based art collection, comes news of a great idea making it easier for us all to get that self-defining piece of art that we too can enjoy in the privacy of our attics. 20x200 is an online business that's seeking to sell 200 prints of an artists's work for the amazing starting price of $20 each.

As well as providing an element of exclusivity, the editions are limited to add a bit of urgency to people's purchases: buy now or you may miss the boat. The works probably won't appreciate in value, but then if you get lucky and buy something from an artist who later makes it big, who knows?

I think it's a noble project with the good old-fashioned mission of taking art to the masses. Of course, as Brit points out, it will probably be the desire to look cool and interesting that in most cases propels someone to make a purchase (especially if they can drop the words 'limited edition' into conversations with nervously impressed friends and, to be frank, those they'd like to bunk up with). Jan Bekman, the founder, is quite up-front about this:
“I want anyone who’s educated and even remotely affluent to feel self-conscious if they don’t have an art collection that they can talk about.”

All well and good; anything that sounds idealistic but appeals to people's baser instincts should do well.

However, I do have a concern about the economics. The artists (again, laudably) will receive 50% of the proceeds, leaving $10 for 20x200. So they stand to receive $2000 in revenue from each edition. That doesn't seem a lot to me for sourcing, printing, stocking, scanning, fulfilling, etc. the product (not to mention customer service: they're willing to recommend art that goes with the sofa). Perhaps they're planning to bait and switch, selling the more expensive, larger prints available for the same works for up to $200? Whatever, I'm sure they've done the numbers and must be looking to make it work through pretty huge volumes. Good luck to them.

Below is Feral House 7 by James Griffioen, for sale at 20x200 and which I've seen elsewhere recently but can't remember where. It's an abandoned house in depressed downtown Detroit.




H/t: Felix Salmon.

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On the programme referred to in Brit's post, The Art on Your Wall, they revealed that the most popular print in the country is this image of Ullswater. The interviewees who owned the picture thought it looked romantic or restful.

Am I the only person to think of death, when I see it? I mean, apart from the depressive, funereal colour tones, surely piers or jetties are bridges that don't go anywhere? They represent a full-stop or at least a major interruption. I picture a Virginia Woolf-type figure wandering off the end, her pocket full of stones. Or perhaps a Viking longboat being pushed off, flames licking the bier.

I can't imagine the million (really) prints sold to date were all sold to people who thought, 'wow, what a lovely reminder of death - must get that for the sitting room'. So I wonder why I do? (Before anyone wonders, I assure you that I'm not clinically depressed or even non-clinically down-in-the-mouth).

29 comments:

Brit said...

Agree on Ullswater - the jetty looks like a diving board for suicides (a Hockney-ish absence?). A ghostly corpse floating in the lake would complete it.

Of course this probably says a lot more about us than it does about mass-market art.

Bunny Smedley said...

Is it possible that you simply recognise the Ullswater print for what it is, which is a keyed-up, dumbed-down pastiche of Caspar David Friedrich? It's all there - the truncated [in this case, absent] foreground, the brutally symmetrical composition, the emotive colour. Hence you tend to read the image, not unreasonably, as high-to-the-point-of-putrescence German Romanticism hauled out again for our own times - with all the clunkingly obvious nihilistic death-symbolism that implies. In your case, this burden of meaning trumps what less sensitive observers might feel about the picture, which is that its fourth-wall fictive space makes their lounge look bigger, while the colours go with the settee. Moral of the story: it's good that semi-free markets and semi-free societies turn up art that caters for all sorts of taste, or lack thereof.

Of course I am only writing this to pass the time as I wait to read what Sean makes of your mental state!

Gaw said...

Yes, but why is it that others - you know, the common people - don't seem to see this too? Or is the lure of thanatos more widespread than we know?

Sophie King said...

Isn't there a scary bit with a jetty in Jaws - "Swim, Charlie, swim!".

Gaw said...

Our posts crossed Bunny, but I should have known you'd possess the key. Who would have thought you could smuggle some 'high-to-the-point-of-putresence German Romanticism' into IKEA's poster department? Mind you I did once see in one of their room-sets 'Guernica' occupying a whole wall. Not great to stare at whilst eating your beans on toast TV dinner.

I predict Sean will reckon I'm just not getting enough.

Gaw said...

Sophie, it seems the number of disturbing images you can stick at the end of that pier are pretty limitless.

Brit said...

Yes, but why is it that others - you know, the common people - don't seem to see this too? Or is the lure of thanatos more widespread than we know?

Well exactly, there's no reason to conclude that the 'common people' are buying this print for any one particular reason. Indeed, the popularity suggests it's a picture with lots of different kinds of appeal.

And if even if every one of the million buyers did so because so purely because it was 'nice', that would still only be a small percentage of the population and you couldn't conclude that most common people are insipid cattle, because most people in fact have not bought this print. Tempting, mind.

Gaw said...

Does popularity suggest lots of different sorts of appeal? What about the lowest common denominator argument?

I wouldn't accuse the common herd of being insipid catttle (who do you think I am, Appleyard?) They might, in fact, be very insightful beasts with a higher appreciation of the picture than this old bull, whose vision has probably been distorted by an exposure to a rather hysterical German Expressionism.

worm said...

Perhaps you saw the detroit photo on my blog Gaw? I posted about that series a while back, v.cool stuff. I bought a photo from 20x200 about 6 months ago, I dont care if it ever has any value or not, I just bought it because it was £20 and it is ace.

Gaw said...

Ah, so that's where I saw it. I actually did a search of your blog (the blogspot one) but couldn't find it so assumed it must have been elsewhere. But it did seem like one of your intriguing posts.

If I had any wall-space I'd probably be in the market for one. It does seem a great idea.

Brit said...

Does popularity suggest lots of different sorts of appeal? What about the lowest common denominator argument?

No way of knowing. This is the problem with everything. Christ, nothing makes sense any more.

One thing I have learnt is that it's devilish difficult to find any actual Ordinary People. Even when you think you have, when you get to know them they invariably turn out to have some form of madness.

Bunny Smedley said...

It's a pretty strange business, though, this whole enterprise of hanging something up on the wall and looking at it.

Why do we bother? Decoration, self-definition, pleasant associations, conspicuous display, religious devotion, good manners, convention, habit ... we can all make our own lists, perhaps, while noticing a distinct lack of any simple, unitary answer.

All of which is why, although I think 'ordinary people' - and Brit is right, they're invariably mad as a hamper of cats once one actually gets to known them individually - generally have shockingly bad taste when it comes to art, I don't think it matters at all. Not everyone, after all, cares much about art.

Why should they? Art serves plenty of purposes, many of which are also served by other pursuits - which brings us back to my initial point. Which is to say, I think some people get from what they wear, or what they drive, or from sport, or bell-ringing, or alpaca-breeding or what have you, many of the same thrills and pleasures and challenges others get from art.

It's these alpaca-breeders and others who, I strongly suspect, buy the Ullswater print, because they put about as much effort into thinking what to put on their walls as I put into, well, alpaca-breeding. But their decision to focus their critical efforts elsewhere does, at least, keep auction prices down. Truly, tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles ...

worm said...

what an excellent reply Mr.Smedley! Do you by any chance wear a cravat?

malty said...

The problem with art today is its availability, what happened to the good old days when it was all squirreled away in private collections, Swiss banks, palaces and churches. We plebs had zero access, we knew our place. Now the bloody stuff is everywhere. You can tell five kilometers out that you're getting near that Picasso museum, hundreds of punters trolling about with cardboard tubes in their mitts, and you've just passed that advert for spiral ducting, the Pompidou centre.
A surfeit of pictures, that's the problem, saturated, soaked, dripping with the stuff.
Old Gerhard has the correct idea, keeps personal control over all of the prints from his work, availability simply limited by price.
Unlike the Picasso tribe, enough prints to wallpaper Paris.

When a painting is held in a private collection and we peasants are allowed only an occasional tantalising peek, hidden fruits baby, the lure, the air of mystery.

Possibly the most alluring portrait ever painted is Michael Sweerts a young maidservant this picture is in the Kremer collection and only occasionally released for exhibition.

Less is more.

malty said...

Scharmer said that she looked melancholic, what do you think?

worm said...

I think she looks slightly guilty for having done a little fart.

Gadjo Dilo said...

The photo of Ullswater is truly horrible, and I can't believe that I'm the first (am I??) to comment that it's Munch's Scream without any of the excitement. (But I should probably confess that photography is perhaps my least favourite art form anyway.) "Anything that sounds idealistic but appeals to people's baser instincts should do well" - perhaps it really is as simple as that!

Gaw said...

Bunny: I think this is a convincing analysis if only I believed you wouldn't spend a great deal of time and thought in deciding which was the right alpaca for you.

Worm: 'Mr Smedley' is a lady Bunny, though I don't think this need discount a predilection for cravats.

Malty: I like art being everywhere, myself. What I don't like so much is that so many others seem to as well. Most exhibitions are such a bun-fight it's about as pleasant as going to a football match.

That is a lovely portrait and unfamiliar to me. And I wouldn't have thought Worm's theory would mean she isn't also thinking something profound; walking and chewing gum and all that.

Gadjo: Gosh, yes it is very Screamy so we have to include high-to-the-point-of-putrescence Swedish Expressionism as well. (Just realised I described CDF as a German Expressionist instead of German Romantic - I apologise. Moo.)

Gadjo Dilo said...

(Now you know he's Norwegian, you're just teasing me ;-) ) Photography, I'm afraid my father put me off it... I do enjoy people like Ansel Adams though, I wouldn't mind one of those framed.

(Mrs) Bunny Smedley (female) said...

Gareth, might it be possible that 'a lady Bunny' sounds just that little bit too Soho, with or without the cravat?

Oh, and I just haven't found the right alpaca yet ...

malty said...

Gaw, her eyes hold centuries of sadness, she is saying 'I am one of the betrayed'
she carries that with great dignity, her composure is astounding, Sweerts at least on a par with Vermeer and the Kremsers arguably the greatest collectors of Dutch painting.

Gadjo, your'e right about the scream only it wasn't Edvard's, it was me. I once, whilst windsurfing on the lake in a January storm was blown onto the shore with a broken mastfoot, had to wade three miles around the shore, pushing the broken kit, including negotiating around that jetty with metre high waves caressing my backside.

The Kremser collection may be on the road again 2010 / 2012

Gaw said...

Gadj: Ooo arr. Norwegian, like the parrot. Another art solecism. No credibility left.

Bunny: Ah, Soho's infamous dance of the seven cravats. As the Sunday scandal sheet reporters used to say, 'I made my excuses and left'.

Malty: Thanks for the tip - I will certainly look out for that exhibition.

worm said...

I think the popularity of the pier photo and things like the mona lisa, and even perhaps the music of coldplay, lies in the way that they seem to hint at something profound, yet are blandly obscure, so people with no confidence in their artistic 'opinions' can see whatever they like in them, safe in the knowledge that they can never be 'wrong'

Gadjo Dilo said...

Malty, you're clearly quite an adventurer, and I imagine it's pretty cold out on Ullswater! How does one subscribe to your blog(s)? It's seems that they're by appointment only.

Worm hits another nail on the head - and how about Enya??

malty said...

I Keep them underneath the burkah Gadjo, any publicity would ruin my career, as a wrinkly. In truth, I am a passenger.

Brit said...

I did think that about the Mona Lisa (that it was overrated, a self-perpetuating myth), until I saw it and realised that it really is astonishing. I was expecting ant-climax and was surprised not to get it.

Gaw said...

Brit, I'm amazed you managed to get a peak at it through the massing crowds. I couldn't get near - it's easier to witness, say, an ant climax.

Brit said...

It's very bad form to take advantage of people's typos, Gaw, even if, as in this case, you do it wittily.

Funny you should say that though. I appear to have blogged, at one time or another, about everything in the universe..

Gaw said...

Brit, if you keep this up for a few more years you will have constructed a library of monstrous, Borgesian proportions. It should be quite a virtual edifice.

By the way, the term 'ant climax' may haunt me for quite a while.