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An interesting story appeared on the Reuters site at the end of 2012 about a ‘plague’ of fake sculptures appearing on the art market.  The story is written with the angle that such ‘knock-offs’ are harming the sculptors who are being denied their rightful income because of the fakes.  Now in some cases this will be true, though the article only includes a couple of examples, and then artists who seem to have very organised marketing and distribution operations of their own.  Whether this is in any sense representative I do not know (but doubt it).

However, the sub-text behind all this is less the interests of the artists than the structure of an art market in which ‘authorship’, ‘authenticity’ and ‘provenance’ are the key foundations of value construction and maintenance.  There have, of course, been fake sculptures around for donkey’s years, but the difference now is the capacity of 3D scanning and printing to reproduce works identical to, but much cheaper than, the originals.  In one of the cases mentioned, that of a bronze founder keeping an original Jasper Johns mould and producing his own ‘originals’, the fakes are not technology-driven, but the others are. (On which see: http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/The-culture-of-the-copy-7517).

What this means is that certain aspects of the art market are finding themselves roughly where the music industry found itself as i-Tunes was launched:  in denial.  Just as the capacity to digitally copy and transmit music has transformed (but not, as predicted, killed) the music industry, so art markets will have to adjust to a very different mode of transmission of their core ‘objects’.  Whilst there are clearly some established artists that will lose out in this process, it is also important to note that, as with music and e-books, the new technologies allow access to a market currently stitched up by the network of gallerists and the super-rich clients they serve.  The Reuters article does not mention the huge barriers that the current structure of the market places to anyone trying to distribute (let alone sell) work outside of the gallery/client system.   The article does mention the increasing recourse of (some) artists and gallerists to legal sanction to prevent the ‘fakes’ – apparently with limited success.

In addition to the implications this has for the art world, this has resonances closer to home.  The academic publishing industry is currently in the throes of trying to develop an ‘open access’ model that will allow immediate public availablity to publicly funded research whilst maintaining both their profit-margins and their stranglehold on the academic publishing market.  This will be achieved by agreements with funding organizations and government that the results of their research ‘must’ be published in open-access journals, with fees levied on authors to have their articles ‘processed’.  Even before this intricate system of intellectual robbery comes in to force, publishers are already extracting fees from authors to republish their own work (e.g. placing a version of a published article – even if significantly altered – in an edited book can cost an author up to about £1000).

Just as artists are increasingly altering their practice to adapt to the changes (and opportunities) presented, so are academics (and many others).  The debates within the established industries look increasingly delusional as ever more complex and/or draconian means are sought to protect a system that is already collapsing.

Why is this of interest here?  Well, not only does it have a direct bearing on my own work, but the bigger picture here is a clash of two xenospaces.  Both the art and academic publishing markets rely heavily on the xenospaces of offshore finance and wealth to maintain their turnover.  Academic publishers in particular have become some of the most profitable companies  in existence because they not only control a virtual monopoly over their (i.e. our) product (guaranteed by governments and universities too stupid to stand up to them), but also make extensive use of offshore location to minimise tax exposure.  These ‘traditional’ xenospaces, however, are now being challenged by the capacity of artists, academics and others to open up their own ‘market’ spaces entirely independent of and in opposition to the establishment. The market is dead, long live the market….?

It would be naive to suggest that this was in any sense entirely ’empowering’ – not least because of the lurking presence of the likes of Apple and Google in all this.  But it does mean, rather satisfyingly for the moment at least, that these industries’ desperate attempts to defend their narrow interests and vast profits, appear as efforts to shut the stable door on a horse that is already long gone.

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