We chat with Director Barry Avrich about his film Blurred Lines: Inside The Art World, discussing art school, Jenny Saville, and whether it’s a serious issue at The Tribeca Film Festival.
The Knockturnal: The clips used in the film suggest a tongue-in-cheek assessment of the central issue. Do you think this detracts from the message or seriousness? Or is it even a serious issue?
Barry Avrich: It’s the world of art. It’s not Syria. At the end of the day, I wanted to use clips that give the audience a breather in between a very cerebral topic of how the art world works. Like, “Okay, this is nuts”. That’s why I chose Woody Allen and Old Navy to some degree, because no one can understand how the value of art is determined. Art is canvas and ink and paint- how does anyone understand.
The Knockturnal: How tempting was it to have this as an adversarial approach to this?
Barry Avrich: It’s tempting to be the Michael Moore of the art world, but that’s not me. I generally like the public to decide which side they’re on. There’s no question the message of the film is: buyer beware, you better be buying it because you love it, not because you want to flip it like a stock. It’s dangerous. Demand is manipulated but most people in the art don’t realize this.
The Knockturnal: Who’s determining what’s art?
Barry Avrich: That’s the big question! Who’s determining what’s valuable. In a lot of ways, it’s the dealer! The dealer is dictating “you should collect this piece because this artist is already being collected by these four billionaires and it’s going in this auction and got this result.” That’s the biggest problem, people are buying with their ears, not their eyes.
The Knockturnal: Does one need to go to art school to earning success?
Barry Avrich: To be successful in the art world? I don’t think so. I think art is an innate talent. There are those that got classical training, but do a lot of actors go to acting school? Art is like writing, art is in you, it’s gotta be self-expressive. Koons and Hirst might have gone to art school, I don’t know, but whatever was in their brain in terms of creating millions of dollars of art out of butterflies didn’t come from art school.
The Knockturnal: If the artist went to art school, then you’re buying or investing in their commitment to their craft, which is kind of a weak argument but is presented in the film.
Barry Avrich: That’s the patron model of the way art started. If you look at the legendary artists of the last century, the Da Vinci’s and the Monets and the Manets, they had very wealthy people who were supporting them who believed in their art -not to sell- but because they believed in their art.
The Knockturnal: One of the conflicting moments is the demand for price transparency. But a few people lamented in the film that when the Times runs a story on art, it always includes the price, which they found unacceptable. is that just to present opposing viewpoints?
Barry Avrich: Yeah. The art world should be regulated, everyone says that… except the people that live in the art world. As I say in the film, it’s a world no one is rushing to regulate because they feel its such a small group of people and they’re all super wealthy so if you’re not smart enough to find the right painting that holds its value, that’s your problem.
The Knockturnal: So regulation is price transparency?
Barry Avrich: Price transparency. What’s the trajectory, how much did it get, why’s their no price in a gallery?
The Knockturnal: If you’re insisting on regulation, is there any reason someone should train a scientific or statistical eye on the art world, or is it truly a marketing affair?
Barry Avrich: My feeling is, should you study the essence of filmmaking and understand the director’s mind before watching a film? Who the fuck cares! I care whether I enjoyed the film and I care whether I enjoyed the painting. The partner in the film is an academic! If he’s looking at an artist, he’ll do all the research. Not me, if I love the art, and I can afford, then I’m going to buy it.
The Knockturnal: So is there a space for academia in this high level of art?
Barry Avrich: I think people are analyzing like a stock, it’s revolting. But if you’re an art consultant then you want to understand the business of it. And every dealer in the city who understands how the business works analyzes these things like crazy. There’s so much money to be made.
The Knockturnal: It’s a pretty encompassing approach, could this be an anecdote in “here’s the art market as it is in 2017”?
Barry Avrich: I don’t think so. I think it’ll always be- as long as they’re wealthy people who want access to fairs, parties, the social circles- being able to say “come over, I just bought this Jenny Saville or Hirst I think it’ll always exist. The point of the title- Blurred Lines- is everyone is now in the business of competing with each other- the museums are competing with wealthy collectors and individuals are opening their own museums. It’s hard to compete.
Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World premiered at Tribeca Film Festival 2017. Read our review here.