Money continues to pour into art, and with it, stories multiply about art’s manipulation by callow titans of finance. Speaking of the recent decade, one pundit said not so long ago: “The conversation has turned from ‘Is art an asset class?’ to ‘Art is an asset class,’ and then to ‘How do we take advantage of art as an asset class?'” Art funds, for example, promise to allow the non-expert to benefit from the soaring market without having to actually know anything about the subject, while tax-exempt “freeports” swell with works purchased but never displayed.
The specter of “art as investment” provokes the excitement that comes from being able to pick out a clear villain: what could be a better example of the evils of capitalism for art than the businessmen subordinating aesthetic virtue to the icy logic of profit? In a recent essay, sharp-eyed artist and art theorist Melanie Gilligan emphasizes that the age-old commodification of art has taken “a new turn” because works have become terminally “financialized.” She encourages us to see the “connections between capital’s looting of the forces of production and art.”