To the question ‘what is there in common to artists, gallery owners and collectors?’ some people will answer ’art’, others say ‘money’ and everybody will be right. Both books of Anne Martin-Fugier ‘Collectors’ (Actes Sud, 2012) and of Judith Benhamou-Huet, ‘Artists always loved money ‘ ( Grasset) have a common difficulty to find a logic, a morality, a system, and even a story in the relationships between money and art. It is undoubtedly what makes them exciting to read: are we finally going to know what to think? Who corrupts, dominates the other one? Who is stronger than the other one? Who won?
Is there an artist who does not think of money? Among the great masters under review, from Dürer to Damien Hirst, through Van Gogh or Chardin… Judith Benhamou-Huet did not even find one. But, nevertheless when they paint, there is a moment when they forget the money their work will provide them, or not. They are in the creative euphoria, in the madness.
In the same way, the collector, at the moment he falls in love with a work, forgets its price, its speculative value: he likes it, he wants it, and, generally, even before knowing who did it, when it was made, and how much it costs. In wild life, this collector could be able to kill in order to acquire it. The thing that prevents him from doing t, is this brilliant invention which exactly took us out of the wild state: money. Contrary to what is usually admitted, the need for money, and even the love of money, saves the artists from madness.
Judith Benhamou-Huet reminds us that the image of Vincent van Gogh miserable and unknown by all was a myth: he had no real money problems. And it is his premature death, as well as his brother Theo’s death, that prevented them from realizing what they had prepared: one of the most fabulous speculative great feat of art history. The author of ‘TV Warhol’ and the ‘ Most expensive Works of the world ‘ resumes with carefully phrased rearks the anecdote of Picasso counting and counting again hundreds of banknotes locked in a suitcase (after Newton’s suitcase, we see what important men can hide in their suitcases!). She dares parallels which are as so many jumps between ancient masters and big contemporary values: Murakami and the Greco, Zeng Fanzhi and Canaletto, geniuses for making money, certainly, but money didn’t have the same value in the 16th century as today, and the artist doesn’t have the same status, in different times and civilizations.
That artists need money to live (and to create), nobody doubts about it ; that they have “always loved money”, such an assertion is worth only if it implies a noticeable modification of their work, and if you can establish this influence. The book is too short to draw conclusions on that question, except in the last chapter dedicated to Magritte, where Judith Benhamou-Huet draws a parallel with the contemporary artist Wim Delvoye, a Belgian too. More than Picasso or Dali, after Duchamp and before Warhol, René Magritte opens the most dangerous way as “producer of pictorial ideas”: he is not selling painting any more, but an idea ; he makes us leave the usual world where the value of a work lies in the recognition of the artist’s work, to introduce us into the uncertain field where it is the originality of the thought which matters, and its blinking on the wall which the collector buys.
What art history tells us, is also the story of the relationship between mankind and money, its brilliant creature always more dominant. Anne Martin-Fugier published in 2010, ‘Gallery owners’ with interviews that also are portraits, and which, by the diversity of the tastes, routes, characters and fortunes, weave a very optimistic cultural landscape, where passion competes with perseverance, where generosity competes with perspicacity. By describing gallery owners, collectors or artists, our two authors, each in her way, make us like the ‘rich people’.