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Making, Art

How does a price tag change a work's value?

February 28, 2012, 12:00 am

Money is a pedestrian way to value art…I mean life…I mean art. I voice this truism Sunday afternoon, walking up Canyon Road with my baby mama.

She huffs a laugh, and says, “Duh.” So I’m compelled to explain.

“I don’t know what to do about it,” I say. “Artists need to make a living, but is money the way? We use the same currency for rent. The art is in the experience, though, isn’t it? It’s in the struggle and the ecstasy.”
Let me rewind further: This conversation began Friday night with the Under Thirty-Five exhibition at Zane Bennett Contemporary. A work by David Nakabayashi conveyed something personal, mythic and metaphysical. So I looked at the description for a title, but was distracted by the price. Equal to or lower than the other pieces I found absorbing—Heidi Pollard’s “Bitter Lake Ghosts,” Tamara Zibners’ “Chalkboard of Discontent”—the price actually embarrassed me.

Over the weekend, the show stayed with me, entering a dialogue that I imagined, involving the 5 Submerging show at the Exhibit Space at La Tienda; Theaterwork’s story-collecting project in Mora; the Santa Fe University of Art and Design’s graphic arts department; and the Austin, Texas, band The Lonesome Heroes.

J Barry Zeiger explained to me that his mixed-media, found object works in the 5 Submerging show come from a desire to create with as few materials as possible; he’s given up the prospect of becoming a famous, wealthy artist, but he can’t stop making art. Theaterwork Artistic Director David Olson wept as he portrayed students in Mora who felt powerless and forgotten; he doesn’t take a paycheck from the company. The chairman of SFUAD’s graphic arts department, David Grey, described how communities use design to communicate and change the way residents feel about the places they live; his students are eager to describe Santa Fe. And The Lonesome Heroes’ Rich Russell told me how he and bandmate Landry McMeans had mixed their most recent album, Daydream Western, in a tent; on tour, they stay in each town for a couple of days, wanting to know the people for whom they play.

My experience with Nakabayashi’s “Deep Water” at Zane Bennett was ephemeral. I accept that. What I continue to struggle with is the way the cost reduced the piece to something of a fixed value that may or may not find a “home.” Like much of the work in Under Thirty-Five, it deserves a sophisticated collector who takes pride in her ability to make it accessible to others. Though Zibners’ series of inkjet prints, How Bad Can It Get, parodies the nightmares of parents and lovers—a car crash, a rape, breast cancer—I wouldn’t hang any on my wall except to expose my guests’ inability to live in the moment.

“What if we treated galleries like museums?” I ask my baby mama. “Artists and venues could be paid to show interesting work.”

“But then it’s still a place that you go to see art,” she says, explaining that art needs to be better integrated with our surroundings.

“True, and it’s not like there’s a deluge of money for the arts right now,” I say. “Maybe it’s time someone asked the wealthy to invest in their communities; we could create jobs laying new brick, adding colorful flourishes to bland adobe, building public spaces to commune with art and each other. Treat everything as art, as process—meaning the objective is beauty and function, not efficiency.”

“I just don’t think money matters anymore,” she says.

I view this philosophical point in the context of our financial reality—a child on the way, her unemployment, my income reduced by half since 2008. Our lives would be easier if I made even 5 percent more, but I’m not sure a sum adequately depicts the value I place on my work or my experiences. I just wish I had more time.

The Lonesome Heroes
8 pm Sunday, March 4
319 S Guadalupe St., 982-2565

5 Submerging
Through March 15
Exhibit Space at La Tienda
7 Caliente Road, Eldorado,

Under Thirty-Five
Through March 23
Zane Bennett Contemporary
435 S Guadalupe St., 982-8111

Follow The Curator on Twitter: @mji76


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