Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why is this man walking?

In the New York Times:

One of Alberto Giacometti’s best-loved bronzes, “Walking Man I,” has broken the world record price for a work of art at auction, selling to an unidentified telephone bidder for $92.5 million, or $104.3 million with fees, at Sotheby’s in London on Wednesday night. The previous record was $104.1 million, paid for a 1905 Picasso, “Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice),” at Sotheby’s in New York in 2004.

The article doesn't probe enough. A more interesting question is why is this man walking now?

Sotheby's had expected between $19-28 million, based on the sale of another Giacometti in 2008 for $27 million. Accidents happen, but it would be naive to assume this record sale is just about an isolated investor enamored of Giacometti's work.

As the price kept rising, the bidding narrowed to just two contenders...

And why would it rise in the first place?  

Art = capital!

The buyers bidding for Walking Man reflect a particular way of accumulating and exchanging capital. The art market represents the possibility of circulation & exchange of value, more particularly surplus value.  

Walking Man reflects the imperative of capital: to reproduce itself and grow.

According to Marx, capital grows by creating a surplus. How? Labor produces value and a surplus. Labor-power is a fundamental cause of surplus value. It harks back to a relationship of exclusion between people, over things, which is the contradiction at the heart of the structure of capital.

It's all ACCUMULATION. As capital accumulates, money ----> capital and surplus value ------> more capital. It winds about a centre in an enlarging continuous circular motion.

So, coming back to our title/question, which prompts others: Is it the lack of confidence in the global economy? Is culture a "safer" way to do business? Does art offer tax-protection at a time of possible bank regulation?


Anonymous said...


jehan alonzo said...

He’s walking because commodities must move, they can’t stand still.

Yes, bourbaki, the circuit of capital accumulation is a self-moving, expanding spiral. It’s a vicious spiral, since it’s based on exploitation: the theft of surplus value from living labor.

Which is to say that capital is dead labor-power, the fossil of labor, sweat frozen into a grinning death’s head. And so commodities don’t just walk, they dance, like table legs at a seance: “the life, moving of itself, of that which is dead.”

The $104 million dished out by phone is a dead fossil of commodified labor and the blocked life possibilities of anonymous toilers.

Still, that’s not art’s fault. Capital commodifies everything and turns all production into commodity production. Art’s semi-autonomy doesn’t save it from this fate. This man can’t walk away from that.

If we think of Giacometti, we could image that this guy is pacing: walking circles that now are tracing the invisible song-lines of capital, as everything sellingly must.

This is generalized fungability: he’s striding fast but going nowhere. The master logic of capital, the global social process: “the ever new production of the always-the-same.”

That is to say, my dear friend, that he is waiting for Godot. And who among us is not?

But why is he walking NOW? Ah, there’s the rub. Why is he pacing with that sandwich-board sign: “We buy your gold.” Crisis, what crisis? Did someone say spending freeze?

Get on down the road, walking man. To free art from capital, why that would be… revolution.

Feminista said...

Judging the two auctions, Picasso's in the 90's and Giacometti, people must be asking if the Swiss is better than the French. The jump to $103 million is an eye opener.

miamibourbaki said...

Thanks for visiting, brother.

. said...

Well who can possibly follow Jehan? Maybe Sartre? I first read this when I lived in Miami, and always liked it:

From Jean-Paul Sartre, The Paintings of Giacometti in Situations, 1965.
First published in Les Temps Modernes, June, 1954.

The small statue at my feet is a pedestrian seen in the rear-view mirror of an automobile—about to disappear. In vain do I approach him; he keeps his distance. These solitudes repel the visitor with all the insuperable length of the room, a lawn, a wide glade one dare not cross. They bear witness to the strange paralysis which grips Giacometti at the sight of a fellow creature…True he is distant, but distance after all, was invented by man and has no meaning outside the context of human space; it separated Hero from Leander and Marathon from Athens, but does not separate one pebble from another.

I first understood distance one evening in April, 1941. I had spent two months in a prison camp, which is like saying, in a sardine can, where I experienced absolute proximity. My skin was the boundary of my living space. Day and night I felt the warmth of a shoulder or a thigh against my body. But it was never disturbing, as the others were a part of me. On my first night of freedom, a stranger in my native city, not having yet reached my friends of former days, I pushed open the door of a café. Suddenly, I experienced a feeling of fear—or something close to fear. I could not understand how these squat, bulging buildings could conceal such deserts. I was lost; the few drinkers seemed more distant than the stars. Each of them was entitled to a huge selection of bench, to a whole marble table, while I, to touch them, would have had to cross a “gleaming wooden floor” that separated us. If these men, shimmering comfortably within their tubes of rarefied gas seemed inaccessible to me, it was because I no longer had the right to place my hand on their shoulder or thigh, or to call one of them “fat-head.” I had rejoined bourgeois society, where I would have to learn to live once again “at a respectful distance.” This sudden agoraphobia betrayed my vague feeling of regret for the collective life from which I had been forever severed…

[Giacometti’s] figurines are solitary, but when placed together, in whatever combination, they are united by their solitude, to suddenly form a small magical society. They reminded [Giacometti] of ‘a corner of a forest observed over the course of many years, and whose trees, with naked slender trunks, seemed like people, suddenly frozen in their tracks, speaking to one another.’ And what is this circular distance—which only words can span—if not the negative concept of vacuum. Ironic, defiant, ceremonious and tender, Giacometti sees emptiness everywhere…

There is also the vacuum, that universal distance from everything to everything. The street is deserted in the sunshine, but in the midst of this emptiness, a figure suddenly appears. The sculpture creates a vacuum starting from plenum*.

*plenum: the whole of space regarded as being filled with matter.

- joni

miamibourbaki said...

‘a corner of a forest observed over the course of many years, and whose trees, with naked slender trunks, seemed like people, suddenly frozen in their tracks, speaking to one another.’

Thanks, Joni for the miamian/Sartrean connection.

Ann said...

‘a corner of a forest observed over the course of many years, and whose trees, with naked slender trunks, seemed like people, suddenly frozen in their tracks, speaking to one another.’ Thanks, Joni for the miamian/Sartrean connection.