Have you read me?
Art today is in a precarious position. In order to survive artists must participate in an elaborate system that is increasingly becoming a point at which Wall Street, Madison Avenue and government converge. The embarrassment and the corrosive effects of such a system may well prove to be dangerous to creative life in our culture.
Evidence of the interlocking elements that make up the art world today is obvious in reports of increased corporate investment in painting and sculpture as a hedge against inflation, and a new interest on the part of individual buyers in the business value of art. For a long time there have been wry comment in the artists’ milieu about a kind of elegant decorative painting that can be called art-for-banks. Now those banks are advising individual clients to follow their example.
Those are a couple of the opening paragraphs of “The Selling of American Art,” an unsigned, undated, unmarked, 9-page essay I came across the other day in a miscellaneous clippings section of Dore Ashton’s collection at the Archives of American Art. I can find absolutely no mention or reference to it online, and I don’t just mean Google.
Obviously, it sounds like it could have been written yesterday, but the paper’s references to Harold Rosenberg’s last published interview [In Portfolio, vol. 1, 1979] and the December 1980 edition of Artworkers News [!] probably hint at its actual date.
It’s a pretty incisive and prescient indictment of the emerging art system, right up until the somewhat incongruous suggestion that then-underappreciated [or under-collected?] painters like Richard Diebenkorn and “the late Philip Guston” represented an alternative path out of the corporate art trap.
Ashton was a rare critical defender of Guston throughout the artist’s lifetime, and his inclusion makes me think she is also the author of “The Selling of American Art.” I really should have asked her about it when I had her on the phone.