I work in an auction house that specializes in modern and contemporary art, which means that people always think that I am suuuuper knowledgeable and passionate about art. I tell someone I work at an auction house and their immediate response is, “That is so interesting! What a fun job!” They go on to ask me all sorts of questions about art – why does it cost so much, who buys the art, what is an auction like, what’s really hot in the art world at the moment, what I personally like, what I think about a certain artist, just what is the point of modern art – it’s so out there! etc. etc.
The truth is, working at an auction house is just like any other job – sometimes it is really interesting; sometimes it’s really boring; sometimes it drives me crazy; sometimes I absolutely love it. And working in the “art world” means I should be able to speak about the current trends and the latest big news and have opinions about art, and I should be able to answer all those questions people ask me. Truthfully, though, most of the time, I don’t really have a strong opinion about the art itself.
I can talk around it; I can tell you how an auction works; I can usually remember the last big painting to set an amazing record at auction (see above); I might be able to tell you about the latest exhibition at that gallery down the street. But ask me my personal opinion and tastes and usually I don’t have much to say.
Given that my particular job doesn’t require me to know all the history and background of the artists on display, it’s not really an issue if I can’t speak at length about what an artist is trying to say with his or her work. But lately, I’ve found myself thinking more about how I personally respond to some of the works being put up and taken down on the walls around me.
I’ve particularly been thinking about Banksy, the pseudonymous British street artist. His works are dotted around London and his non-street art passes through the doors of my company on a semi-regular basis. But strangely, it was his recent “residency” in New York City – Better Out Than In – that made me stop and think about Banksy last month.
I became interested in Banksy’s stint in New York not because I am well-informed about activity in the art world, but because I check New York Magazine‘s website pretty frequently. I like their pop culture blog Vulture, and I enjoy reading about the latest news in NYC even though I haven’t lived there in years.
NY Mag kept track of Banksy’s recent residency, posting about where his latest artworks popped up each day. Art critic Jerry Saltz wrote a few pieces about Banksy’s work.
Reading Saltz’s opinions and looking at the images of Banksy’s work in NY, I started to ask myself what I actually thought of Banksy. At work, when the art goes up on the walls, I am often so busy with my day-to-day tasks, I don’t take the time to really look at it and think about whether or not I like it. Experiencing Banksy’s New York residency from a distance, I was able to actually think about whether or not I liked it.
And I decided I do. Sure, I agree with Saltz that Banksy is not saying anything majorly profound or anything that hasn’t been said before. But I think his work is cheeky and amusing (the audio guide clips on the Better Out Than In website are particularly funny). I like his style. And I don’t have to have really in-depth, thought-out reasons for liking him. That’s the thing about art – you like what you like – be it based on pure visual pleasure or a deeper appeal to your inner thoughts or a perceived connection with the artist and his or her vision.
So that’s that: I like Banksy.
Jerry Saltz and other art world folks might not agree with me, but whatever. Art and taste are subjective. So I like what I like. And this might even be the start of something new: forming opinions about the artwork I see week in and week out. What a crazy idea!