Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Cash cow

Several days behind the times this may be, but a post on Nick Southall's blog Auspicious Fish about the Saatchi warehouse fire reminded me of a few other things I wanted to say.

Nick wrote: "I can't help but feel that it serves him right; not because I have any malice towards Saatchi, I just think it's quite beautiful that all this art which he was treating as a pension plan, an investment, a bond, financial capitol rather than cultural documentation, has been destroyed by an airily tossed cigarette or a gas leak or whatever it was that caused the fire". Irrespective of the quality or "artistic value" of the works which were destroyed, it's disappointing to see art treated in this way. OK, Saatchi might be a very important and influential patron in the British art world, but his purchases can hardly be regarded as altruistic and directed towards sustaining and promoting these artists when their works are stuck in a warehouse and viewed as an investment, simply as something to make money out of. Saatchi seems to have been happy just to know that he owned them.

Nick continues: "I like the idea of art being temporal anyway (sculptures should be touched, paintings exposed to light + air - how things react and change and decay over time is as much what the art is about as the actual things themselves; decay is as much a part of an object as its colour or molecules or whatever), and this art, preserved, hidden, banked upon, is now the most temporal of all". Part of the reason that I have a problem with people who buy cultural artefacts as status symbols and investments is that they're so reluctant for them to be "used". Books should be read, art should be seen, music should be heard - however rare or "valuable". Placing these objects in a glass dust-free case (whether literally or metaphorically) effectively denies the possibility of deriving enjoyment from them. And this instance is worst of all - a whole host of works bought and then shut away in a warehouse. Whatever you think of Tracey Emin's tent, that's not what should a patron of the arts should do; buying is only half the responsibility, if that - it's ensuring the pieces remain on public display that really matters.

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