Yellow, Red, Blue Oil Painting by Rothko
The economic crisis of 2008 changed the way that many markets operate, their pace, size and reach. However one market that has not slowed is the art market. In November, Sotheby’s enjoyed the most successful night in its storied history, selling almost $375 million worth of Abstract Expressionist and Pop Art. Like many markets, the art market is based in word of mouth and on the knowledge and history of previous sales. There is an aura created around an artist and their works based on these prices as well as in relation to supply or, uniqueness of the works of art based around ‘security.’ As Adam Davidson argues, “art isn’t gold, or any other commodity in which units can be evaluated objectively.” Yet, is the way that the art market functions really that different from other markets? What is it about the art market that has allowed it to remain relatively insulated from other markets and experience growth during this downturn?
In order to examine the way the art market functions I want to look at two examples, and in particular to explore how key determining factors (such as uniqueness and ‘security’ of investment) alter the works of art and how they are sold (or not) within the current art market. I want to firstly focus on the works of Mark Rothko. In 1967, a red Rothko sold to the National Gallery of Berlin for $22,000. Over the last few years, Rothko’s work has sold at auction at extremely high prices. For example in May 2012 Rothko’s Orange, Red, Yellow sold for nearly $87 million. There are many explanations for Rothko’s increasingly high sales. One is the suggestion that Rothko was born in Russia and that is works are being bought by new wealth in Russia. Another notion is that the large size and blocks of bright colors appeal to people as objects to hang in their homes and, as such, his work is easily recognizable. The high prices of Rothko’s works have fuelled even higher prices in later auctions and have been supported by the inclusion of much of his work in permanent museum collections (Tate Modern, National Gallery of Art and the Museum of Modern Art). His works are now deemed ‘safe’ for investment at a moment in time when many investments are not.
An image from Bridle’s Dronestagram
In a recent article, Brad Allenby and Carolyn Mattick argue that the ‘rule book’ of international warfare needs to be rewritten to include of the use of new technologies, in particular drones. Drones sit in an ambiguous legal space because they are unmanned aerial vehicles that are often used to fly in a restricted airspace. Compounding this problem is that the use of drones is largely undocumented as a matter of national secrecy. Nevertheless another layer of technology, social media, is now providing a battleground for visual accountability. On the one hand, I want to draw attention to the use of Instagram to highlight the use of social media to inform – and critique – the use of drones through layered representations of their targets. On the other, and competing with this critique, we must look at the use of drone target visuals released by governments to communicate the drones precision and safety. These examples are a way of demonstrating how social media produces a visual politics that can be used to highlight the use of these new military technologies. This contestation for visual accountability may be the social inroads to in fact see the target. The target I am alluding to here is not what the drones see but the frameworks that that legitimatize the actions of these drones.
An image uploaded by ‘zigzagzilla’ to the review section of the ‘Avery Durable View Binder’ on Amazon.com
Amazon.com provides a number of feedback spaces. These kinds of spaces are the communicative loops that situate digital consumption. Recently we have seen a number of variations in the form of these reviews. Critically, these reviews include ones that take the form of explicit social commentary and go beyond the particularity of a simple product review. This practice drew me to the thinking about economies of review, as parables for digital communication and consumption. Can such reviews challenge spaces of consumption, transform them, go beyond their commercial logics? If so, could we be reviewing these goods not just on their functional or symbolic usefulness, but on how their production is embedded in social, political and ecological vectors?
In the early days of Amazon.com staff would write the reviews of the books were being sold. Over time Amazon developed an agreement with publishers and newspapers to copy their reviews of books onto Amazon.com. This method evolved into the system of feedback we know today whereby customers themselves are able to create an account and write reviews. Not only can you review products, but also review specific comments of other reviewers. In addition, other customers/reviewers are able to rate the review according to ‘helpfulness’ and, as a result, the reviewer will be ranked in relation to other reviewers. The top 1000 reviewers often receive perks from Amazon such as discounts.
I would like to now distinguish four ‘types’ of reviews. The first, perhaps most obviously, being the ‘genuine’ review that is written by a consumer with the interest of informing the public about the product. Here, “self expression” and “enjoyment” seem to be the driving factors of review writing. Reviewers of this sort do not appear to earn a income from their reviews, but see it as a way to express their opinions about a product in a space where others can used their advice in order to make decisions regarding consumption.
Source: Talking Points Memo
In his 2011 article New Media, Web 2.0 and Surveillance Christian Fuchs argues that our life on the Internet, specifically as embodied in the practices and ideology of Web 2.0, is being expropriated as a “form of personal mass dataveillance.” For Fuchs, social networking sites, such as Facebook, are prime sites to explore this shift. The ‘dataveillance’ of these digital social spaces present us with a complex matrix of motivations, communication logics, and economic interests – represented in individual users and ‘social’ platforms themselves. Driven by notions of ‘friends’, Fuchs sees Facebook as a Foucaultian “panoptic sorting machine.” Of particular interest to him is the notion of economic surveillance; in other words, the ways in which everyday practices of our web lives are being captured as information capital. But what sort or notion of autonomy sits at the heart of this critique? The lingering question is: Are we condemned to social lives of digital exploitation?