■THIS LITTLE PIGGY WENT TO MARKET The stock market is all about confidence: a slight wobble here, a rumour there will turn a bull market into a bear market, causing share prices
to fall. And no institution is immune from attack by short sellers: three days before the two-day sale of Damien Hirst’s work on September 15 and 16, Sotheby’s shares fell by 8% when analysts predicted that it would flood the market and cause his prices to tumble. ‘It’s very simple,’ New York dealer Asher Edelman was quoted as saying, ‘the Damien Hirst will fail. The view of Monday night is very sceptical.’ How wrong he was. As anyone interested now knows the sale made a staggering £111m. Bulls, bears and a golden calf: it is not among his signature animals, but Damien Hirst’s aesthetic menagerie has included a bear in a work illustrating a nightmare scenario that featured cans of booze, fag ends and an unmade bed. This
was back in 1997, some time before Tracey Emin’s own infamous My Bed. And Hirst has, of course, made more than one work featuring cows and calves, but until now he had not made a work featuring a bull. Strictly speaking, it is a bullock, while the work itself is titled, with Hirst’s penchant for Old Testament religiosity, The Golden Calf. Predictably, this was the top lot and, equally predictably, it fetched the highest price, a cool £10.34m. And so a perfect circle is closed: Hirst satirises the art market while still selling out. Interestingly, Edelman used to be a market player – he even taught classes in the art of corporate raiding at Columbia University and was a model for Gordon Gecko in the 1987 movie Wall Street. Hirst probably saw the movie when he was a student; Gecko’s famous motto, ‘Greed is Good’, used to be thought of as encapsulating the spirit of the Thatcherite 80s but serves equally to characterise the Noughties. Ironically, Edelman has now opened a gallery in Manhattan, thus completing another circle. So, if the market is all about confidence, what does the Hirst sale say about the state of the art market – bear or bull? It is impossible to guess what Hirst’s success – in terms of
sales – means for the rest of the market since he is an exception. The trend is thought to be downward since the circle of bidders, even including as it did several from new markets in India, China and, of course, Russia, was still very small. Michael Corris, in his contribution to the feature on the future of art education, writes that the art market is ‘holding its breath to see whether art is indeed recession-proof’, and whether it will really ‘outperform the stock market, property, precious metals, oil and commodities’. This was written before Hirst’s sale, but he is probably still right. Hirst’s trick is that in addition to offering investors something called ‘art’ under his own well-established marque, Hirst simultaneously offers them most of those other things as well – diamonds, precious metals and commodities. Moreover, the more individuals and institutions invest in Hirst’s work, the more is vested in keeping up its value. It is a win-win situation. Or is it? Curiously, in terms of confidence in Hirst’s art as art, his market success suggests the opposite: the higher the production values, the higher the price. The question of the aesthetic value of the art does not come into the equation. ❚
■THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION As a result of the government’s post-Thatcher policy of commercialising all public services, and its reliance on market forces to decide outcomes, individual teaching in higher education has in many art schools been replaced by half-baked mass production. Even the interview prior to enrolment has been abandoned by some colleges. At present, when democracy is in decline, and individuals’ and communities’ views are regularly overridden in favour of the interests of big business, small and medium-sized local art schools continue to be closed down or are swallowed up by larger universities in the interests of so-called economies of scale. Large universities as a result have numerous levels of highly paid chiefs and, especially when funds begin to run out, a diminishing number of overworked and stressed Indians. Following the government’s example, these large universities are run by micromanaged methods. This results in many hours wasted in form filling and box ticking, at the expense of teaching hours and job satisfaction. University status for art schools might raise standards and be a source of pride, but the evidence suggests that it
is more about snobbery, and creates a demand for bogus research in order to attract additional funding. Because they have become enterprises rather than institutions, universities seek out chairmen, directors and rectors from the media, politics and big business because they are household names. Their boards of governors are increasingly made up of accountants, lawyers and directors of multinational companies at the expense of artists. At least until the 60s, the figurehead principals of art colleges were eminent artists or designers. They varied considerably in their willingness to involve themselves in the dayto-day running of their establishments, but their contribution was usually appropriate and they were often very popular with their staff. Now, however, when vacancies for these posts occur the successful applicants will be expected to raise much of the finance for their universities, as well as running them. This would seem to limit the choice to individuals with friends in big business. Due to their lower status, further education courses are poorly funded, and foundation courses are incapable of preparing sufficient numbers of suitable students to satisfy degree courses.
Some degree courses are therefore obliged to include some foundation content. Narrowing and concentrating the content of courses into what amounts to training rather than education allows parsimonious government to systematically reduce the duration of courses. More students can be crammed in and costs are reduced. In time, degree courses will be done in one year, and their status further devalued. The managers of our universities will no doubt have observed the growth of private colleges. Your correspondent Maurice Carlin (AM319) put the case for this alternative approach well in his account of the setting up of the Islington Mill Academy in Salford. This option – setting up a small independent course – is a trend in the UK, but several of my friends are now running courses overseas in the Raffles group of colleges. They are seriously run on business lines, but comparisons between teaching conditions here and in these new ventures have proved unfavourable to the British evolutionary approach. ❚
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