Art And Money

Money has reared its ugly head several times recently. Last week it was announced that Anthony McCall’s Column, a spiral of steam that should have risen six miles into the sky, “just couldn’t be done within the budget or the timescale on this site” according to the BBC report. What upset many people was that half a million pounds had been spent on the project.

Artist's impression of Column

An artist’s impression of Column

The British-born, New York-based Anthony McCall, an internationally renowned artist who is known for using mist, light and projection to create ethereal “sculptures” in mid-air, said: “It is with profound disappointment that we have decided to draw our project to a close. My team has worked long and hard but, due to the many regulatory and technical challenges, we have not been able to bring Column to completion.”

However, Councillor Jim Crabtree, who represents Bidston and St James on Wirral Borough Council, said it was “a complete and utter waste of public money”.

“They should have done their homework before committing £500,000, especially given what we’ve got going on today – people starving, we’ve got food banks all over the place. How many people could you feed with £500,000?”

My question is what has happened to this ‘wasted’ money, Councillor? A significant part has gone into the local economy, trying to overcome those ‘technical challenges’. Local artisans, technicians, artists and so on have been employed on the project, so, I’m sorry, Councillor Crabtree, I have to disagree with you.

The second article about art and money I saw recently was  one by Hyperallergic contributor Jillian Steinhauer which in turn discussed an article by The Stranger‘s art critic, Jen Graves. The two discussed whether or not prices should be mentioned in art reviews. No firm conclusion was reached, though a poll of 301 readers of the original item suggested three quarters thought they should. There was quite a discussion from commenters,  one of whom thought that “a simple postscript along the lines of “John Smith showing at Jane Doe gallery, Jan 25 – Feb 20, works from $2,000-$8,000″ would be sufficient” while another said “It’s not a matter of whether it is right or wrong to mention a price in a review. It’s simply a distraction. It short circuits your critical opinion, preventing you from actually looking at the work.”

Recently, Helen South discussed on the eternal problem of “Pricing Your Art”. She includes a link to another contributor Shelley Esaak who asks “Do You Like Expensive Art Better?” Esaak admits that “just because I don’t understand buying and selling art strictly on investment (rather than personal pleasure) terms doesn’t mean that’s not the way the world works.”

Finally, I was concerned by a headline in this morning’s Daily Telegraph which discussed “Mrs Miller, the Culture Secretary, … demand that leading figures in the arts show ministers the “value of culture to our economy”. In a broadside bound to provoke anger in the arts world, Mrs Miller will say [in a speech at the British Museum] that projects must “demonstrate the healthy dividends” that taxpayer investment creates.”

After some discussion about austerity and cuts, I was a little less perturbed when the article continued “However, [Mrs Miller] will warn that the Government will only fund “participants – not bystanders” in the arts. “I come to you today and ask you to help me reframe the argument – to hammer home the value of culture to our economy,” Mrs Miller is expected to say. “I know this will not be to everyone’s taste but in an age of austerity, when times are tough and money is tight, our focus must be on culture’s economic impact.

“To maintain the argument for continued public funding, we must make our case as a two-way street. We must demonstrate the healthy dividends that our investment continues to pay. That’s the argument that I, as Culture Secretary, intend to make at the Cabinet table, and in our negotiations with Treasury – and I need all your help in that endeavour.”

So it at least appears that Mrs Miller is on the side of the Arts, but needs support from the Arts Community itself.


About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website
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7 Responses to Art And Money

  1. They managed £10 million to send off an ex prime minister!

  2. Pingback: Daytripper – Part 1 | notes to the milkman

  3. Ann Jones says:

    Even without the $10m on Thatcher’s funeral to put this into perspective, the column was such a great idea it was surely worth trying to make it happen. You’re right that the attempt will have involved spending money within the region; succeeding would have brought in a huge amount more (I know I’d have made a visit and I’m certain many, many others would have too).

    I’m really sad it’s been cancelled. It was a hugely ambitious undertaking and I really wish McCall and the team working on it had managed to pull it off.

    • There are occasions when one multimillionaire pays another multimillionaire a huge amount of money for the transfer of ownership of a painting from one to the other and all that happens is that one bank account diminishes and the other increases. Nothing is actually done with the money. Now it could be argued that that is a waste of money. Here, as you say, the money was invested in the region and, if it had been successful, what would have been the return? I believe that Sea Odyssey, with its Giant Little Girl puppet, brought about £20 million into Liverpool economy.

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