BLACK MASS

The glasses are empty, the serving tray is empty, the painted artist’s palette, too. Everything in artworld is empty.

In the beginning art had a sacred function; it was used to facilitate communication with higher powers that could intercede with indifferent nature to benefit the art maker and his or her people. What we see here is such a prayer meeting A late capitalist mass is what going on at this gallery opening where a painting is being transubstantiated in the name of Mammon.

The title puns on the term “black mass” describing a ritual inversion of the usual and customary celebration of faith in a religious setting and the illustration above where all the congregants by wearing black suits and little black dresses appear to be a literal black mass. They are a mass at a mass.

Their mass is black but not because they are evil—though they are often that—but as a self designed uniform; they see themselves as the avant garde, a hip elite. They really aren’t ahead of their time, they are supremely of it. What their outfits really means is “in the black” in other words profitable. They are masters, not of art making, but of profit taking.

Money, which when it was first invented was simply a better means of exchange than the barter system, has now become sacred in itself and it, like some unearthly power, can apotheosize material objects into a kind of divine presence. And these objects, objets d’art, arenow secular ikons and relics worshiped with money. The more cash that is exchanged the more blessed the objet is.

In addition to these “sacred” functions of art there has always been a practical aspect to it. Artists almost from the beginning have worked for others—a religion, a government or just some rich guy—put food on the table. For most of history the entity that commissioned the object dictated its content. And as the work was usually site specific or at least meant to be kept in the family, the object didn’t have an investment value; it wasn’t meant to be stored then flipped.

All that changed a couple of hundred years ago, as an unintended consequence of the enlightenment. Now, individuals came first and societies, religions and government formed from them. Artists became free agents and began to make the objects first, then let the religions, governments or just some rich guys make offers for them in the glorious free market.

Also art is now being built without a site in mind, it has become more portable and more meaningfully, resell-able. So as artists become more (less) popular, their work, both old and new, can brinng better (worse) prices. Art could be exchanged for cash and cash for art any time. Art had become a currency and by buying low and selling high an investment as well.

A new kind of art is being made. “Fine” art is being made solely for investors. It is bought by purchasers who believe they will be able to sell it later at a profit. And the artists who these investment-grade objects as well as the galleries that sell them and the critics who promote them, work only to encourage that belief and profit from it.

This new art can’t be appreciated for what it is, it can only be understood by taking the advice of those artists, gallerists and critics, none of whom have your best interests at heart. The good news is you can ignore them. There is plenty of art that can be appreciated for what it is and some of it is, unlike “fine” art, affordable. Ask your server for some suggestions. She’s an artist, you know?