Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Warhol Economy: An Interview with Elizabeth Currid

Sociologist Elizabeth Currid studied the influence of the culture industry on New-York economy and claims that it has a similar impact - if not bigger - than Wall-Street. Interview with the author.

Could you please present your work in few words.
I study the economics of cultural industries: fashion, art, music and design. I find that so much of their work revolves around their social life.

Based on your work, the art was created in the street and became an industry when it started to penetrate the night life, especially when artists and socialites mixed together. Are those two components still the same today in New-York in 2009?
I think subcultures have great appeal to mainstream markets because they are innovative and unusual. Nightlife is an important conduit for getting information about new art forms into the market place and on the public’s radar.

Has the market boom and the amount of money invested in art increasingly corrupted young artists and alternatively do you think the serious crisis the economy and thus the art industry are facing will bring back the creative world to where it was in the ebulliant 70’’ and 80’’?
I don’t ever buy the idea that because an artist is economically successful he is “corrupted”. I think all artists have a right to try to acheive economic success doing what they love. I do think that art markets work in bifurcated economies, that the boom brought lots of disposable income but simultaneously outpriced new artists from living in NYC and the bust will depress real estate prices and rent and but also give greater access to artists. So artists flourish in both types of economies, albiet in different ways.

At what point art became an industry, a serious business?
I think on some level art has always been commodified and a serious business. Certainly painters have been commissioned to do work for hundreds of years. But the ubiquity of turning art into a consumer good, and one that all social stratospheres can access to an extent, really caught on in the 1980s with graffiti in the galleries and the rise of hip-hop into mainstream markets.

You demonstrate that the culture industry creates economic value to the city of New-York. What could be the consequences of the desaffection of collectors (due to the economic crisis) and the fact that more and more artists establish their studios outside New-York (or at the hedge of the city) or in European cities like Berlin or Barcelona?
Well, the economic crisis has and will continue to hit New York City particularly hard. This is generally a Very Bad Thing. But the silver lining is that it will make this incredibly cost-prohibative city more accessible to many other socio-economic groups besides just the wealthy. In doing so, artists may move back into the city and form the artistic neighborhoods that have produced great artists such as the Abstract Expressionists or the East Village artists of the 1970s.

The Armory Show is starting next week; from your research point of view, what role does The Armory Show play in the NY culture scene?
The Armory Show is both a gatekeeper and an important social scene that puts the major players in the international art world in the same place. Brilliant artists, savvy dealers, thoughtful critics, art loving buyers all show up. Things happen. Careers are made. New York remains an important part of the game.

Does your work and the meetings and interviews you had enable you to identify the leaders of the new generation of gallerists, artists and fashion designers. If yes, can you give us few names ?

I would never pretend that my observations of the economic and social processes of the art world make me an expert on what is “good art”. I’ll leave the soothsaying to the dealers and art critics.

The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music drive New-York City by Elizabeth Currid, Princeton University Press.

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