Artworks by specific Western artists are high in demand and sell for several million to affluent art collectors all over in the world. Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons are just a handful of them.
The ongoing debate whether they produce their works themselves gives the impression that some of the world’s best selling contemporary art is nothing more or less than a mass-produced financial good.
Owning art as an object of prestige, implying suspicious consumption, goes back in history to the Roman city Pompeii, shortly before the Vulcano Vseuvius laid the city in ashes.
Colourful, figurative and a variety of unique wall paintings, as well as mosaics, inside one’s atrium and in other rooms was very common. They were commissioned to show off one’s wealth and to buy oneself in the upper class.
The houses of the Romans served as private spaces and provided room for friends and clients on a frequent basis. The less money the owner of the house had, the more illusionistic – in a more contemporary term – shiny was the artistic décor on their walls.
Today, nothing different is the case. People still buy expensive art to show it off on their walls. However, different is that investors and dealers also buy and resell the art quickly to gain money out of the transaction.
A couple of contemporary artists, like Damien Hirst, the entrepreneurial father of the YBAs, have well adapted to the obsolete principle of patronage: One orders and buys, – but does not have time to critically analyse, or to discover the intrinsic value of the artwork; also, not to presume a deeper interest or knowledge in the purpose of art itself.
In order to get away from the image of mass production of expensive art, whose worth is determined by market forces, we should be concerned with that leading art galleries and dealers are making use of recent marketing trends of Coca-Cola or Starbucks; such as writing one’s name on the object of desire.
Will art collectors soon find their names written on artworks to make them seem unique? Does this help, and is that a good thing to differentiate high-selling art from popular art even if the artist, whose own work it is supposed to be, has not even laid a finger on the piece? To me, it simply sees as if we were returning, to a battle over authorship between artists and their helping hands, namely between craftsmen and printmakers, back in Early Modern Holland. Or, have we in fact never got rid of this issue?