JERRY GOROSKI is the consultant appraisar to whom I refer inquiries about Scriver bronzes. He is formally trained and certified to do assessments and knew Bob Scriver as well as working for the CM Russell Museum in Great Falls. His gallery is called "Open Range Art."


Monday, August 04, 2008


Clearly in these times monetary compensation is NOT going to most artists, but rather to the great swarm of curators, directors, archivists, critics, buyer’s guides, and other managers of opinion and valuation that surround and control the artists. This is true of writers as well as painters and sculptors, though the writers now have the escape valve of blogging just as the print media has begun closing down review sections for all humanities. (This seems to accompany the closing down of humanities themselves, which are giving way to technology and the less-humanities-like sciences, with the “soft” sciences migrating over to the arts.)

Therefore, I’m going to begin positioning myself as an arts critic! After all, I’ve been watching the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel for fifty years which means about since the beginning of the current wave, long enough to have been significant changes in most everything except the actual painting. (Sculpture has taken some economically significant technical turns with aesthetic consequences.) I’m NOT going to put price tags on art nor am I going to “deal” art. Just watch and comment on others who do those things, a third circle outside the established critics, looking for uber-trends.

Recently, with real estate engulfed in floods and scandal and the stock market also submerged in scandal, some investors have looked around for a new category of acquisitions for money storage and increase. They have no interest in tulip bulbs (though ag categories like genetically altered seeds might interest some who aren’t afraid of the politics) maybe because most of these people seem to be urban. Or maybe because they don’t like to be at the mercy of weather in a time when weather in the macro-sense has become so politicized and terrifying. But art is a nice manageable sort of stuff and artists are much nicer to cultivate. (Though their wives maybe be, well, weeds. More about that in later posts.)

Several instruments of measurement of art value have popped up. David Galenson, an economist at the U of Chicago who used to specialize in colonial America (where the main criterion for the value of art was whether it were imported from England), has proposed a system like that of “valuing” research at universities. This system depends upon the scientific and academic custom at universities like U of Chicago of valuing work according to how much it is cited in subsequent professional journal articles and books. (Which is why grad students are constantly pressed to include many citations, esp. of works by their mentors, and to build their work on the cite-able concepts of their predecessors.) So Thomas Kuhn, with his definitive idea of paradigm shift, is a big winner, I’m sure, quite apart from his impact on analysis. We don’t even know who the losers of the citation competition might be, since there is no trace of them in anyone’s footnotes.

Galenson proposes that art be valued similarly by simply counting the number of times an artwork appears as an illustration or is referred to an example in published textbooks. The article to which I’m referring is by Patricia Cohen and appeared in The New York Times on August 4, 2008. She cites seventeen works of art by title in her article, all presumably top-of-the-list anyway. She also notes Galenson’s actual books for those who wish to delve further into the theories. All the works are part of the major art world in Manhattan in the first half of the Twentieth Century, a world as much rooted in Europe as Colonial “American” art, though we’re all supposed to be post-colonial now. The article ends with Mr. John Elderfield (one always refers to such persons as “Mr.”), chief curator emeritus at the Museum of Modern art, asking plaintively, “Where surrealism?”

Well, shucks, where’s cowboy art? Arthur C. Danto, art critic for The Nation, points out that art textbooks now include many more women, African-Americans, and American Indians. “The art world itself became politicized and that has affected textbooks and the illustrations.” (No need to call him “mister.” He probably doesn’t wear a bowtie either.) So now we have to consider the politics of the art, eh? Both in terms of content and in terms of the nature of the artist.

As far as that goes, where Indian art? Coming in mostly from the West side of the US, it is often surreal, abstract, inventive, mixed-media, and all the things proposed as values by the East Coast establishment (make that NORTH East Coast) except they don’t seem to have any awareness of it. In fact, awareness concentrates in the Southwest.

Consider this current cover of Southwest Art magazine:

This beautiful incised vase is by Paponee. She is not listed in, one of the websites that monitors art auctions, but Southwest Art has a nice article about her and I daresay she’ll soon be there. Still, so far, objects like these do not show up in the big Western art auctions much.

Auctions and their monitoring websites are now largely how investors figure out the value of Western art. This is true for the big Manhattan artists as well -- everyone waits to see what the French Impressionists will bring in, often millions at Sothebys or Christies or the other major auction houses. Art work with profiles as high as Monet’s water lily paintings move around the globe and sometimes end up in Japan as the latter become ever more open to the old-concept Western world in the sense of mostly white/male/European. I have not heard of them collecting new-concept Western art in the sense of the American prairie, Southwest desert, and California impressionism. Auctions seem to be a force for globalization. Nationalism, not so much.

In the meantime, some of the “cowboy” artists are now Chinese and others (including those who were always illustrators anyway) go global in the search for pre-industrial people: Mongols, Russo-peasants, Arabs, South American Indians. Maybe in time the genre will become “global pre-industrialism.” But there is an internal movement towards early industrial nostalgia: old pickups and the like.

There appears to be a steady market for the good old-fashioned horse-and-rider, esp. if it looks a bit antique like this sample on the front of “Art of the West.

An interesting development, parallel to the Wyeth family, is the number of generational artists. This is by John Moyers, son of William Moyers. Both are listed in and are members of the Cowboy Artists of America, which now tend to use the brand CA, since they seem to be reaching out to Canada and so on. One member, Oreland Joe, is explicitly Indian, though others have Native Americans in their family trees. Oreland Joe’s stone carving is more like Paponee than Charlie Russell, who remains the point of reference for many collectors, not least because of the phenomenal increments in value. Will that trend continue? Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Lance Michael Foster said...

I look forward to reading more on your ideas about art.

I was raised in Helena in the 60s and loved Bob's dioramas in the museum, and hated when they changed and got rid of most of them except for the buffalo jump.

I teach a couple art classes now at the old Helena Vo-Tech, now UM-Helena.

I went to art school in Santa Fe and being part Indian myself, got into Indian art. I did a little show at the Myrna Loy a couple years ago, but no one seemed very interested.

Please write more. We won't see eye to eye on some things, but I like your plain speaking. The in-groups are so petty.

Looking forward to hearing more