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ART and GMMT, an editorial

The prices paid for items in "gourmet" stores are amazing. The very same items sold in gourmet stores, at times the exact same product in the same containers, can be found in small local delis, supermarkets, or discount stores for half or even a third of the price. There is no difference between the items once they are taken out of the store. It is the gourmet store itself and the act of buying from it that gives the added value to the item. Like a living reenactment of a weird Brecht play, an absurd psychological drama is played out by the shopper and the gourmet merchant. Paying more for an item than it is actually worth, an act of extravagant waste, affirms the shoppers feelings of affluence. As only those with excessive wealth should reasonably afford to shop and dispense of their funds in a frivolous manner, the gourmet shopper’s ego is empowered with sensations of superiority by the act of wasting money on the grossly overpriced items. The gourmet grocery is, in fact, an absurd market of delusion.

The same holds true in the world of art. Thousands of high quality paintings can be found at reasonable prices in small galleries, magazines and artist studios all over the world. Still, the wealthy collectors of high-end art go to the gourmet galleries like Mary Boone, Gagosian or Pace and buy artworks at obscenely inflated prices. Just like the product from the absurd gourmet grocery, if you took a painting from these absurd galleries outside of the gallery, and compared it to a painting created by an artist from a normal gallery, you would be hard pressed to see the difference. Yet the discrepancy in value between these two paintings could be well over $100,000.

Initially, it is the artist who establishes the value of the artwork. For example, in a group show for unknown artists, two artists could bring in two similar paintings. One artist could claim their work to have a value of $4000, the other could claim their work is worth $50,000. Assuming neither of these two artists has ever sold a painting, the reality is the value of the two works is the same, and that value is $0. The actual value of the artwork becomes the amount that someone actually pays for it. A deluded artist can claim his work to have an extraordinary value, but unless it can be sold for that price, it is inherently worthless as a product. Magically, at the top of the art world, the same valueless product can be transformed into a valued commodity and sold for absurd prices.

Like the scenario enacted in the gourmet store, an absurd psychodrama is played out in the high-end gallery, this time between multi-millionaire art collectors and fine art dealers. The artwork for sale is no longer just an artwork, but through association with the gallery-museum-media triad (GMMT), has become a conduit for the enhancement of ego. A multi-millionaire art collector will never walk into a small independent gallery and pay $150,000 for a painting, even if it is better than a painting backed by GMMT, because only art backed by GMMT can transfer the sensation of superiority.

As long as collectors are duped by this system and do not have the confidence or creativity to acquire works from independent artists, nothing will change. GMMT is a self-supporting structure, as such it has no internal mechanism or motivation for change. The sectors within GMMT work together, passing money and endorsements between each other. The preservation of the system is for them a no-brainer.

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