Ladies and gentlemen,
Where shall I begin? Since all beginnings are difficult, I shall just begin somewhere. I once knew an artist who decided one day that he no longer wished to be an artist. The eyes and the expression of the portraits he painted always gave me the impression that the person being painted was about to say something which at the same time eluded him, as though just as he was about to say it, he had forgotten what it was. The artist was like that. The portraits were beautiful and I wanted to buy one. When I entered the gallery where he used to exhibit, I found that all his work had been sold. The artist had began to study literature and told me when I visited him in his studio, that he now gave his paintings away to whoever wanted them. He no longer wished to have anything to do with the art world. The hypocrisy, the animosity between colleagues, the hierarchy, the arrogance, the conflicting interests, in short the impurity: he could no longer take part in it. He was giving his paintings away and I suddenly realized that I no longer desired them. To him his paintings had no value other than that of give-away things. There was no longer room for the spontaneous gift, for a ritual, for a transaction. By doing so he insulted my appreciation. He did not respond to my dedication to his work. He was no longer able to give me back what I gave him, namely respect, affection, appreciation, value. Value begins when someone attaches value to something. And someone must begin. This value will then increase. It is distributed. Something of value has a future. Value is the basis of the interaction between people; appreciation is a form of interaction. In each interaction values are being expressed.
Once, at the end of an evening during which the exchange value of a work of art had to be assessed, a brave woman took off both her shoes and offered them to the artist. The shoes were inspected and the exchange was made. A work of art in exchange for a pair of used ladies’ shoes. Values are exchanged. In this exchange there is no question of surplus value or unequally divided appreciation. What you get is what you give. In a large gallery in London I once heard a man say: ‘I most definitely intend to buy a large work by Sol LeWitt, but only after I have had a lengthy conversation of at least 1 1/2 hours with the gallery owner!’ The buyer demanded attention and wanted value for his money in the form of reciprocal appreciation. There is a strong similarity between what we call trade and the transfer (in whatever form) of a work of art. The artist initiates the appreciation. Subsequently a network of intermediated meanings comes into play which ultimately induces the viewer to view and the buyer to buy. The work of art itself is the mediator. The work of art, however, comprises an area on which there is as yet no agreement, and therefore it moves us. Therefore we wish to understand it. It discloses the area of the uncomprehended, of the future, of things not yet expressed. Therefore we wish to see it. It contains the key to the present. Therefore we wish to possess it. Therefore the looking of a work of art, let alone the buying of a work of art, not to mention the possessing of a work of art, is a deed of, yes, 1et’s say, moral responsibility, or an appreciation based on values.
Possession is something magical. Possession has existential value. Possession shows the special bond which we have with things. There is hardly anyone who has no possessions. Even when one has practically nothing, there is something which we all possess, and that is our body. It is a special form of possession since one knows that one possesses it but not how one came to possess it. Often people don’t exactly know what to do with it. They just hire or sell themselves. Or they give themselves away, offer themselves as a gift. Beautify themselves. The body is constantly being subjected to transactions, just like art. In transactions regarding art, values are being exchanged. The ritual of the transaction is a consecrated confrontation of the value assigned to the work of art by the artist with the value assigned by the viewer or the buyer of that work of art. However, the value which the artist has assigned to his work of art, has disappeared in the work of art. In the work of art the artist is naked. The viewer or the buyer must clothe the artist. They must do so by means of the value they attach to the work of art. In the ritual of the transaction the naked, absent artist tests, as it were, the viewer or the buyer. He tests the viewer or the buyer for his motives, for his authenticity; for his value. In the ritual of the transaction, of the valid monetary transfer of the work of art to the viewer or the buyer, the absent artist asks why the viewer views or why the buyer buys precisely because of the role played by the money, precisely because it concerns a transaction. The role which the money plays in the transfer of the work of art to the viewer or the buyer cannot possibly be called corrupt, since it is the money which makes it possible to test the viewer or the buyer for his possible corruption. It is the money which is capable of exposing the viewer or the buyer. The viewer or the buyer is corrupt when he attaches value to the work on behalf of an agency other than himself, when he himself cannot really bring himself to appreciate the work of art, when he is being manipulated. The viewer or the buyer is being manipulated when he acts on behalf of an agency which itself has no appreciation, which appreciates on behalf of an agency other than itself, which is corrupt. In the ritual of the transaction the mechanism of the world of art, as a whole is being called to account.
First of all yourselves, ladies and gentlemen. Secondly the museum. The museum should dedicate its intellectual freedom and financial independence to the developing of ideas, to the schooling of the viewer, to the constantly offering of new possibilities for learning to combine viewing and thinking, instead of building up statistic reservoirs which stigmatize, manipulate and corrupt. The same applies for the authorities. The authorities should subsidize the development of Artistic Sensitivity and the Appreciation of Art instead of subsidizing Art Fairs in the Rai and Top-art. They should know that someone who has not received any aesthetic training has not developed the capacity to aesthetic enjoyment. That someone who has not been taught to understand, is unable to understand. That someone who has not been given the room to see relations, will not himself create that room. Such a person will not become a good viewer, and thus also not a good buyer, or not even become a viewer at all and thus certainly not a buyer. By placing emphasis on the valid role played by money, by playing bank instead of school – by refusing the responsibility to provide education at all costs – the authorities undermine the quality of the art public and lay the basis for a manipulated art world where free choice, a free market and a sound economy do not exist. Finally the art critics. It is their task to enlarge the quality of the argument for thinking. They should stop using one single well-chewed and feeble concept to describe a 100 different paintings. They should stop acting as advertising agencies for the greater glory of themselves or whoever. They should examine, why not? They should negotiate with the work of art. They should take up the challenge of the transaction instead of withdrawing the codes of their fraternity. They must say what they mean and most of all never try to put into words what the artist has intended to say. Otherwise the reader will think that art it something the artist means. That art is restricted to what the artist means. The artist, however, means nothing, only the work of art means something. The artist appreciates his work of art, precisely because it means something that he himself has never been able to mean. The appreciation by the artist for his work of art is superhuman, since he leaves it alone and offers it, without himself. He must do this since in so doing the work of art becomes open and limitless. However, when the reader, and thus the viewer and thus also the buyer, thinks that art is something the artist means, then the reader and the buyer themselves have no meaning. The only meaningful thing for the buyer then to do is to buy the meaning of the artist which meaning does not of course exist. Thus he uys nothing, and that is meaningless.