Thursday, February 9, 2012

Museums, Money, and Millionaire Artists: Welcome to the Pinchuk Future Generation Art Prize

If you were seeking confirmation of the creeping umbilical links between museums, art market money and celebrity culture, look no further than the Pinchuk Foundation's Future Generation Art Prize, the second edition of which has just been launched in a mind-numbingly boring "webcast" from the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kiev, broadcast to the world via the wonders of clunky digital technology.

This must surely rank as the most tedious and banal art conference ever staged, so if you're suffering from insomnia I recommend clicking your iPad to Future Generation Art Prize, which is still live on the web. The $100,000 accolade is bestowed every two years on an artist under the age of 35 by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation established by the eponymous Ukrainian entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Brought together to launch the second edition of the prize were Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, Cinthia Marcelle, winner of the first Future Generation Art Prize, and Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, the Prize's two "Patron Artists", whatever that means.

After 30 minutes it was still unclear what the biennial prize intends to achieve other than to promote the Pinchuk Foundation and the Pinchuk Arts Centre in Kiev. The webcast discussion seemed preoccupied with the market, with prices, and with certain unnamed artists who had been magically transmogrified into "celebrities."

Otherwise things were as clear as mud. Serota looked embarrassed and mortally bored, although this may have been because web technology in London is not as advanced as it is in a wealthy market democracy like Ukraine.

Koons and Hirst, the world's leading manufacturers of luxury goods for billionaires, looked sheepish and confused, as if itching to get back to their production lines. Not even the inestimable Anna Somers Cocks, founding editor of The Art Newspaper, sitting resplendent in a fur hat (presumably in deference to her Ukrainiain hosts), could squeeze any sense out of the robotic participants.

The first winner of the Pinchuk Prize, Cinthia Marcelle, broadcasting from Brazil, was unable to articulate the benefits of winning the prize other than how it had enabled her to employ more people to make her art. Koons and Hirst seemed to nod and smile benignly, clearly empathising with this critical management issue.

Jeff Koons offered some obscure wisdom about "artists' vocabulary," but it was Hirst who cut to the chase. "You can't underestimate the importance of the cash prize," he said, referring to the generous $100,000 being dangled before thousands of hopeful applicants. "The money is the key," he said. Having raised £100 million in a single day's auction in October 2008, he should know.

Pinchuk himself, seated in front of a gigantic Koons sculpture, said, "This prize is mainly not about art; it is mainly about the future generation." He went on to explain how displaying Ukrainian artists in his foundation's arts centre had exerted an immediate impact on the art market. "Very soon their work appeared in the catalogues of auctions, the prices for their works became relatively high, and very soon contemporary art in Ukraine became very popular....and now Ukrainian artists are really like celebrities."

So there you have it — the directors of two of the world's leading art museums endorsing a prize, the central purpose of which is to grow the Ukrainian art market.

Culture, schmulture. Show me the money.

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