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Art in the form of a commodity takes concepts and ideas, and turns them into material goods, causing art to become collectable and sellable (Throsby 3). There now has become a global market for art, where it is has become measurable through capital, demand and sale. The art market is a system which gives objects wealth through reputation and status, and reinforces the role of economy in art. The notion of celebrity as well takes flight in the art market, where well known artists are given a brand within the marketplace. Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons are examples of artists who have value attached to their name, through their reputation and status of their careers.
Art and the economy are linked, where criticism and promotion of art changes the unknown value of art to valuable creations of economic capital (Taylor 5). This is where the critic's role comes into play, where it is their job to find the next celebrity artist. By giving an artist praise it automatically endorses them, creating conversation in the art market, triggering collectors to buy such art (Taylor 5). Art, which was once considered priceless, has now become a material commodity, where celebrity artists such as Warhol and Koons have commented on, and mocked the commodity of art through their pieces, but have financially grained from its popularity as well.
Warhol and Koons have both made use of pastiche and parody to make comments on the world and society. Through shock value, spectacle and humour, these post-modern artists have been able to mimic the world of commodity production. Much of social reality is commodified, as it is packaged and branded with products. By art reflecting this "reality", it becomes a mirror of itself, making commodities re-representations of themselves (Smith 165). This causes the works of these artists to be ironic. What is most conflicting about their art is that even though themselves are commenting on commodification, their art has become commodities in themselves as they are displayed in world renowned museums and are auctioned off for millions of dollars (Mattick 967). Not only do these artists question art but they question the notion of the author too.
If an artist has nothing left to create, than the only thing that remains is objects to select from (Mattick 970). Duchamp used this idea for his readymades, which changed the way art was looked at. He did this by recontextualizing everyday objects into artworks. By taking an object, such as a urinal, and signing it, it became art. Duchamp started a movement for others artists, where they took his inspiration of recontextualizing and used it to create their own pieces of artwork.
Jeff Koons has taken this idea of readymades, by taking everyday objects and giving them the status and value of art based on the artist's choice to do so (Schneider 290). They as well have been created within the structure of the art market, where his pieces have become commodities themselves (Taylor 8). The subject matter he chooses for his art is very banal, where the ordinary is made into art (Rapolt 81). An example of this is where he used Hoover vacuum cleaners, to create art. In his series The New, where he displays Hoover vacuum cleaners in Plexiglas containers with fluorescent lights. This shows the ironic displacement of an ordinary household product in an exhibit, commenting on consumer products while gaining a large profit from essentially vacuum cleaners. Where Duchamp wanted to challenge the idea of art and the institution of it, Koons chooses to use mass culture to change objects of consumerism into even more popular art commodities (Schneider 291). This makes his art not only recognizable for the images and objects he chooses to use but also creates a recognizable brand for himself.
Andy Warhol's silkscreen paintings of consumer goods provided a precursor for Koons' own silkscreen series of Hulk Elvis. Warhol introduced art that was linked to commodity culture. He did this by using commercial techniques and subject matter to create his art, all within the institutions of high art (Mattick 977). Warhol's silkscreen paintings lacked any presence of an author, where any notion of an artist was replaced with duplicate copies of images from mass media and pop culture. These painting were created more by a machine than by a human. Through this, he stripped personality and identity of the artist and purely focused on the image. The obviousness of his subject matter becomes implicit in how his silkscreen paintings were so commercially produced.
This method of producing his paintings resulted in mass produced representations of mass produced products, such as movie stars like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Campbell soup cans (Bergin 350). Even though the representations of the products in his silk-screens were different, they all became similar as he used the same technique to produce each one of them. The images Warhol created commented on and reproduced a world focused on consumer goods and advertising, which is constantly being forced upon society. The lack of identity Warhol created by duplicating images, causes viewers of Warhol's art to only consider the image produced by him and nothing else (Bergin 350).
In Warhols 100 Campbell's Soup Cans, the cans are reproduced copies mimicking commodification and the process of it (Bergin 351). Warhol produced images of objects, just like machines produce cans of Campbell's Soup. His art are representations of mass produced consumer items, where teams of assistants helped him to make his art. Ironically, Warhol called his art studio the Factory. (Bergin 359) Unlike Duchamp, who wanted to become separated from society based on commodity and high art, Warhol wanted to become a part of commodity culture (Schenider 283). His art became a paradox, where he commented on cultures over exposure to consumerism yet he gained wealth and fame from representations of it. His art became a commodification in itself, as originals began to have immense value, and copies of it could be bought and sold for profit. This can be literally seen in his silkscreen 200 One-Dollar Bills. He created a relationship between art and business, where the sale of art and the sale of commodities were not very different from one another (Mattick 980).
Koons has acted in direct relation to Warhol with his Hulk Elvis, where he makes reference to Warhol's Elvis (Vernadoe 359). Where Warhol chose to use popular icons as a source of material like Elvis Presley, Koon chose to use a popular consumer icon, the Hulk. This connects to Baudrillard's concept of the simulacrum, meaning a copy without an original, where an image refers to nothing but itself (Pearlman 20). Baudrillard commented on representation, where "we no longer judge our images in terms of how well they resemble our experience; we judge our experience in terms of how much it resembles our images" (Vernadoe 391). He argues that due to a culture saturated in commodification and copies, the distinction between what is original and what is its copy no longer exists.
The large, glossy, colourful Hulk Elvis is a perfect example of this as it becomes a symbol for the commodification of images and brands, and the industry of advertising and consumerism. The purpose of these works were intentionally made for sale, so literally it exemplifies the shallowness of a consumer culture and addresses the obsessions society has to objects and the buying of commodities (Shneider 280). Hulk Elvis, and many other works by Koons, represent and becomes a part of a commodity culture through the mass-produced medium itself. Koons comment on commodity culture ironically makes his products high-art in the art market and is therefore lacking in its original function to comment on art itself. Instead, his products function as re-contextualized representations of objects that have been created for the purpose of viewing and consumption (Shneider 281).
When a form of human expression becomes commodified, the art sold in a global, economic market, makes it easily accessible for everyone, yet when culture is monopolized for mass production the uniqueness and "aura" of the art disappears, making it no longer a form of self expression. According to Adorno, the commodity of art becomes standardized, where the distinction between art as a form of expression and art in the form of a business becomes unclear (TINA 162). Art becomes immersed into the business market, conforming a consumer's idea on what high, cultured art is. When a dominant culture industry uses mass production to acquire power over society, they place ideas of culture onto society that serves their economic interests. (Adorno 13).
On the other side of this argument, Benjamin argues that art in the form of cultural production can become part of a democratic system as it takes away the "aura" of art (TINA 163). By mass producing a famous piece of art, it becomes assessable to everyone. Stores can sell affordable posters of a Warhol and hang it up in their room to admire. Instead of having to go into an art gallery or museum, which can be intimidating and associated with class and status, you can look at a piece of art in the comfort of your own home. This allows all classes to enjoy art, where they won't be judged in the confines of an institution. Art becomes something that someone can own, not just something that is admired by people who are "educated" in art (Snyder 141). Therefore art that has become commodified takes away the exclusiveness of art (TINA 163).
By taking away a paintings uniqueness or individuality it takes away the authority and privilege of it and creates it into something very universal (Snyder 140). People don't have to travel to a different country to see what a famous painting looks like; they can go to their local poster store and buy one. According to Benjamin, mass produced art can help portray the world as it is, changing the attitudes of classes (TIAN 163). However, much of this art becomes absorbed in the art market, becoming commodities in themselves. Art made to reveal the world becomes popular, giving it value and therefore causing it to become a part of the mass market (Snyder 135). Contrasting to this, Adorno argued that by art becoming a commodity it takes away expression and identity of an artist, as well takes away the liberating act of making art (Adorno 18).
By creating a market for art, it leads to a hierarchical system based on the demand for art, reflecting differences in class, where the wealthy are the only ones who can afford to buy it (TINA 164). Their interest further encourages the demand for art and thus, further maintains the hierarchies of class created. Art has always been linked to class, where artists would be hired to paint kings and queens, to establish them as important and powerful individuals (TIAN 164). This history of art has been passed on to art today, where the art market has controlled what art will sell and to whom. Those who have enough money to buy art create the demand for it. Those who cannot afford these pieces of art cannot become involved in this demand for art. This interest shapes the art world into what the powerful and privileged want, where their interests are the only ones acknowledged. Art exhibits are financed by the wealthy, so art that is shown at the exhibit will only show the ideologies of this dominant group (TINA 164). Exhibits show what they find to be good art, making others have to conform to this bias of art. Therefore, the commodification of art is only powered by the money of the elite.
Buying and owning culture communicates an identity to others, where culture is linked to class, and our understandings of art and culture become a social construction (TINA 169). Critics and the wealthy decide what "good" art is, therefore they have good taste due to this. Buying and owning culture is an activity that expresses how we want others to see and perceive us. Owning a Warhol or Koons, doesn't just mean you own a piece of art, it also means you own the image of the piece of art perceived in society (Smith 170). Therefore art as a commodity is based on the economics of status and social class (Throsby 18). This raises the question; can art truly be a form of expression and protest if there is always a market for it?
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