More on censorship in a piece in today’s Guardian. It is interesting not only because it reveals that even the frankly anodyne Damien Hirst is being censored by the new masters of the contemporary art market, but because of what the piece says about the nature of ‘globalised’ art. Hans Ulrich Obrist is quoted decrying the homogenization of contemporary art through the power of these huge buyers, but the piece also hints that both the work and its audience are predominantly European. That being the case, the predominant forms of ‘censorship’ at work here are driven by the commodification of particular types of art object (with a marketable kudos derived from their place of production rather than their quality or content) and by the importation of the ‘experts’ along with the objects. The whole of the ‘art market’ bought as a package.
Regarding this as a threat to free expression – even with the cases of moral/religious censorship raised in the piece – is to suggest that the European art market is somehow ‘open’. However, whilst it may be relatively open compared to the likes of the UAE, the art markets in London, New York and elsewhere have always operated their own modes of censorship and exclusion.
For example, I was indirectly involved with the short-lived feminist artists’ group ‘Fanny Adams’ in London in the early 1990s. (My ‘involvement’ was mainly as driver, if memory serves, though I did come up with one or two slogans). Fanny Adams analysed the content of the various private and public galleries and discovered, not very surprisingly, that over 80% of exhibitions went to male artists, despite the overwhelming majority of fine art graduates every year being women. I suspect things have improved slightly since, but probably not that much.
Truth is that the stuff that finds its way into the auction houses and galleries for purchase by the super-wealthy of the Middle East is multiply ‘censored’ long before they even get to see it. And there is nothing new about this at all. Their further censorship probably won’t make that much difference, however irritating it may be for the individuals concerned.
Ironically, because of this ‘market censorship’ these new super-collectors will probably never even be aware of the much more interesting work being done by those artists and curators who are either excluded from, or who deliberately avoid, the mainstream art market. A recent exhibition in the Bukowski’s auction house in Stockholm – curated by Maria Lind and including my alter-egos goldin+senneby – explored some of these issues in all sorts of interesting ways. Excellent catalogue available here.