Mark C. Taylor: Is Modern Finance Ruining Modern Art?

“As art becomes a progressively abstract play of non-referential signs, so increasingly abstract financial instruments become an autonomous sphere of circulation whose end is nothing other than itself.”—Mark C. Taylor

In a piece for Bloomberg View, Mark C. Taylor, author of the forthcoming Refiguring the Spiritual: Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy, argues that the art and financial markets mirror each other.

According to Taylor this is not a new phenomenon unique to our present form of finance capitalism. As the overall economy has moved from industrial to consumer to financial capitalism, a parallel process has occurred in the art world, which has undergone three stages the commodification of art, the corporatization of art, and the financialization of art. In this essay, the first of a series, Taylor considers the work and careers of Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, two artists keenly aware of art’s place as a commodity and a business. Taylor argues that whereas Warhol’s appropriation of consumer icons and his factory system of mechanizing art challenged, Koons’s art is crafted to reassure. Noting Koons’s former work as a stock broker, Taylor argues, “Unapologetically embracing banality and freely admitting his ignorance of art history, Koons sounds more like Joel Osteen than Marcel Duchamp….Having learned his trade on the floor of commodity exchanges, Koons does not move beyond the commodification of art.”

Taylor then considers the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, who has created a company that employs 70 people, which produces everything from key chains to Louis Vuitton handbags inspired by his art work. Taylor concludes the piece by suggesting that Murakami’s ambitious mixing of high and low and art and commerce, which represents the corporatization of art, “does not express the fundamental economic transformation that has taken place since the late 1960s. As financial capitalism expands, the production of tangible goods is increasingly displaced by the invention of intangible products. This is as true in the art market as it is in the stock market.”

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