Art is free to create. Art is free to experience. Art belongs to all of us. Art is, in many ways, the opposite of money. And when you mix art with money, this is what you get: art that is wasted.
How does one "use" art? Well, the simplest way is by experiencing it. You listen to music, you look at a painting or sculpture. Visual art that is not ever being looked at or thought about is just as pointless as music that is not being listened to. We generally consider it to be good to put great art into museums where it can be experienced by the maximum number of people because we judge experiencing great art to be a valuable experience for everyone.
With that in mind, William Alden's little New York Times Magazine story on the luxury art storage and services market is one of those things that reveals itself as more and more monstrous the longer you think about it. Alden writes of a brand new $70 million climate-controlled warehouse with high-tech security in Queens, built for the express purpose of storing "thousands of works of art, from old masters to contemporary rising stars." The warehouse is a place where wealthy speculators hold the art that they have purchased while waiting for its price to rise so that they can sell it. Three out of every four art buyers polled last year "viewed their acquisitions as investments," Alden reports—now, thousands of these artvestments rest in locked storage spaces like the one in Queens, digitally tracked via bar code, which "helps make the art more like a tradable unit, able to change hands without even leaving a warehouse."
An aesthetic radical might argue that art is priceless, or that it should have no price at all. But even if you do believe in "the art market" and its spiraling prices, it is plain to see that for much of this art, those prices have become completely unconnected from any aesthetic value. Even if you believe that it is possible to declare art to be great based upon its makeup and to place a monetary value on art based on its greatness, that is not what's happening here. We know this because all of this great art is sitting in a warehouse, not in a museum. It is sitting in storage, waiting for esoteric financial circumstances outside of itself to change so that it may be sold for more than the speculator paid for it. This is not valuing art based on the art itself; this is a bubble, driven by the accumulation of vast sums of disposable income in a small number of hands, enough disposable income that it pours into the art world and invests in art as just another commodity, like pork bellies. To spend a large sum of money on a great work of art and then put that work of art in a warehouse where nobody sees it is a rejection of what art is. It is a statement of belief in the primacy of money over soul, and spirit, and creativity, and universal values, and all the other things that we think of when we experience a great work of art. Art is not to be experienced; art is to be bought and sold. The experience of art is not the point. It is not even beside the point. It is not a consideration.
This $70 million art-filled warehouse in Long Island City, Queens, is not far from the location of another famous art-related warehouse: 5 Pointz, where graffiti and street artists from across the world came to paint massive murals. For decades, anyone riding the 7 train or walking down the street could gaze upon this constantly refreshed tableau of art. Free art. Public art. Last year, 5 Pointz was whitewashed, shut down, and sold off as a site for luxury condos. The free warehouse of art is dead. The moneyed warehouse of art has risen. Public art for everyone disappears. Private art for one takes over.
No matter how much you pay for it, art in a locked room is worthless.