Before we are dragged kicking and screaming into the final depths of this fiasco, let me fill you — the lay reader — and YOU — the dealer, the collector, the market analyst, the auction house specialists and dept heads, the museum directors, and savvy curators — let me fill you all in on what’s at play here.
In the art machine there are many everyday practices that people on the outside might view as scandalous. Things like “buying in” and “bidding up” and the oft times ruthless, classist, and underhanded vetting of clients and buyers for artists whose work dealers like me are promoting and protecting. I’m going to tell you right here and now, peepers-in will look at what I do and they will think they see a scandal. But inside the art machine, it’s fucking protocol.
Inside the art machine no one gives a second thought to all this. This is not scandal. Nor is it scandal when a collector stores and sells art overseas in order to avoid taxes and regulations — or to shift items deemed cultural property even: in HERE, where I live and work, this is not scandal. It’s wealth management.
I tell you this to direct your attention to a very fine point. The finest point: inside the art machine, scandal is about the work. Disrespecting the work is high crime inside the art machine.
I cannot stress this enough: disrespecting the work is just about the only thing that I can be accused of (pertaining to my role as a dealer) that can hurt me. Call me a bully, a blacklisting press-manipulating price fixing opportunist: I, and my peers inside the art machine could care less. But tell my collectors, tell curators and museum directors — hell, tell the lay press (which, sadly is key) that I have no respect for my artist’s work? That! That, my friends, is scandal.
And rightly so. Rightly so.
However: a disaffected artist is not proof against me. And my failures, my attempts to gather him up and bolster his reputation in the lay view? Well, call that a strategic blunder, if you must call it anything right now. Call it that, and that only, and I can hold my head up. Just don’t say I’ve tried to sell him out. Please don’t say I’ve tried to sell him out.
Have I tried to sell him out?