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D onald K uspit Art Is Dead Long Live Aesthetic Management April 1999 “Here the sociology of art overtly enters into the theory and practice of creation.” —Harold Rosenberg1 “The only person who is in touch with the whole product is the manager, but to him the product is an abstraction, whose essence is exchange value . . .” —Erich Fromm2 Comparetwoworksofart,bothofwhichrepresentMarilynMonroe . One is by Willem de Kooning, the other by Andy Warhol. They are separated by only eight years—de Kooning’s Marilyn Monroe was painted in 1954, Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe, a combination of silkscreen, oil, and synthetic polymer paint on canvas manufactured in 1962—but they are worlds of art and attitude apart. I believe that the de Kooning image is artistically created, while the Warhol image is aesthetically managed. It is a momentous distinction, for “art” seems to be on the way out, while “aesthetic management” is here to stay. The general interest in art today has largely to do with its high exchange value, and the transformation of the artist into an aesthetic manager is the perhaps unavoidable consequence of this powerful capitalist fact. The term “aesthetic management” is that of Bernd Schmitt and Alex Simonson, two professors of marketing, who explicate it in one of the most important books of our time about the astonishing convergence of art and business: Marketing Aesthetics: The Strategic Management of Brands, Identity, and Image.3 D O N A L D K U S P I T    Art is Dead   281 In the years between de Kooning’s Marilyn and Warhol’s Marilyn, there was a heightened consciousness of the soaring exchange value of art. In 1957, Meyer Schapiro observed that works of art “are perhaps the most costly man-made objects in the world. The enormous importance given to a work of art as a precious object, which is advertised and known in connection with its price, is bound to affect the consciousness of our culture. It stamps the painting as an object of speculation, confusing the values of art.”4 In 1955, Erich Fromm published The Sane Society, observing that in capitalistic society “the essential point in the description” of any and every thing is its cost.5 This holds for works of art as well as bridges, cigars, watches—and people. The “concrete (use) value” of the thing (and people are simply more or less costly things in capitalistic society , according to Fromm) is “secondary to its abstract (exchange) value in the way the object is experienced . . . In other words, things are experienced as commodities, as embodiments of exchange value, not only while we are buying or selling, but in our attitude toward them when the economic transaction is finished.” People will speak of the extraordinary price a de Kooning or Warhol picture brings at auction, not of what, concretely and humanly, the picture is about and how it is experienced. The difference between the troubled way de Kooning pictures Marilyn Monroe and the garish way Warhol pictures her symbolizes the difference between the painting as an embodiment of artistic value and the painting as an embodiment of exchange value. Their difference in technique—de Kooning vigorously painting Marilyn’s picture by hand in contrast to Warhol silkscreening ink over a photograph of her—signals this difference in kind. It is symptomatic of the sea change that occurred in American art from the 1950s to the 1960s, from Abstract Expressionism, a subjective, existential, relatively esoteric art, to the more conspicuously collective orientation of Pop art. It is also symptomatic of the emergence of the aesthetic manager, exemplified by Andy Warhol, as an alternative to the creative artist, epitomized by de Kooning, who, indeed, was one of the last of a dying breed. Marcel Duchamp was probably the first artist manager: his intellectual management of ready- made objects made them artistically significant. But he was not yet an aesthetic manager, because he still worked with actual things. The readymades Warhol worked with were pure appearances —celebrity images that had already been “abstractified,” to use Fromm’s term, by being commercially and socially celebrated—which he quantified by serializing them, repeating them indefinitely, as though cloned. The peculiarly inhuman character of the appropriated appearance 282   T h e E s s e n t i a l N ew A rt E xaminer is conveyed by its machine-made look of automaton conformity and indicates the absence of any real selfhood or individuality represented in the subject.6...


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