David Zwirner is a very good salesman. Even his most absurd statements sound like prescriptions for balance and prosperity. Take, for example, his recent interview on Charlie Rose. There he tells Rose that minimalism—a movement of art makers he sells—is undervalued because it’s just as historically important as pop art. Pop art sells for higher prices.
There is no discussion of why pop art might sell for more—it’s no mystery that many people will prefer flowers, portraits, and familiar iconography on a wall to, say, a metal box or a series of tiles—and you barely miss it in Zwirner’s romance of art history.
Rose: You have described Minimalism as the last really great newness.
Zwirner: That is true and not really true. What I mean really by that is that of course, the great newness in the 20th century is modernism itself. And I think Minimalism brought modernism to its logic conclusion. It’s sort of the most extreme form of the “new”, of trying to change the world…maybe even some utopian ideas about it….I think anybody who is my field is attracted to minimalism. The intellectual rigor of taking a work to its logical consequence, to really take anything out that is unnecessary and to trying to find a pure perfect ideal form is very appealing. And of course, the other wonderful thing about the minimalists is that they were the first that really incorporated architecture. So they realize it’s not just a work of art, it’s a work of art in a piece of architecture.
Rose: There were true modernists (this is you) who found it strange that Judds and Flavins were selling for a fraction of Lichtenstein and Warhol In absolute terms, I can’t imagine a museum director saying I don’t need a Flavin or a Judd.
Zwirner: I think any museum director would agree that Flavin and Judd are part of the canon. And it is very much the role of the museums of this world to tell the history of art and you cannot do that at this stage without bringing minimalism into the equation. The price thing that I mentioned is really something quite different. Pop art and minimalism originated around the same time—early sixties—and they’re both radical movements and they both changed the way we look at the world and strangely enough one is valued much much higher than the other. I think in absolute terms of art historical value, that’s not right.
The problem with speaking in “absolutes” though, is that they don’t exist. The market isn’t determined by purely by historical value, and in this conversation, the myth that it does is never challenged. Do we really think the $105 million paid for Warhol’s “Silver Car Crash” last year reflects the merit of a single painting? Is this what we think museums should be paying for art? Not only were those questions never answered, they were never even asked. h/t Gallerist.