Dollar Values

A digression on dollar values, with color accents. An essay by Jed Perl on the occasion of a book on Thomas Kinkade’s painting; a review titled, appropriately enough, Bullshit Heaven. snip from p.2:

Karal Ann Marling, a professor at the University of Minnesota and a proud collector of all things Kinkade, strikes me as almost guileless, though I wouldn’t put it past her to be giving me a campy wink, too. In any event, she opens her essay by explaining with apparent delight that “the detachable flap on the remittance envelopes of no fewer than three of my credit card bills this month” offer the opportunity to buy one of Kinkade’s lighthouse lithographs for $9.95. You cannot argue with her when she declares that “it is one thing to buy a Picasso at auction in New York with all the attendant hoopla, and quite another to wallow in ‘collectibles,’ including checks, pictures sold through credit-card companies, resin figurines based on old Norman Rockwell magazine covers, and the kinds of dust-catchers collected by little old ladies who also collect cats.” What seems to have eluded Marling is the fact that for most of us a Picasso is not something to buy at an auction but something to look at in a museum or in a reproduction. And here is a big part of the problem. For many of the authors involved in this book, dollar value appears to be almost the only salient value. By this logic, a Kinkade reproduction that is specially hand colored and therefore costs more than a Picasso poster deserves the same kind of attention, if not more.

But in an art world where auction prices are more closely followed than critical opinions, why should this not be the case? At a time when Lisa Yuskavage, an artist no more or less schlocky than Thomas Kinkade, is exhibiting at the blue chip David Zwirner Gallery, which also represents the estate of an old fashioned austere modernist such as Donald Judd, the wonder may be that anybody feels any need at all to justify their interest in Kinkade’s crap. And yet I detect a note of something like belligerence in even the most unabashed of the cheerleaders in this collection, the artist and art critic Jeffrey Vallance, who exhibits his own work in cutting edge galleries in Los Angeles and New York. He opens his essay by proudly announcing that “I am writing this from my handsome Kinkade La-Z-Boy recliner”—and it is as if he were saying, “Take that, you snotty readers.”

Vallance has the distinction of having organized what he calls “the first-ever contemporary art world exhibition of the works of Thomas Kinkade,” which some might take as an elitist declaration that the exhibitions of Kinkade’s work in America’s malls do not count. But no matter. Vallance’s essay, with pithily labeled subsections, is like a ride in a clown car. His first meeting with Kinkade was in the Kinkade Chapel that was set up in the exhibition at California State University in Fullerton to showcase the artist’s religious works. Here is Vallance. “The only way I can describe the scene is that it reminded me of the legendary account of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger kneeling together in the Oval Office. … A Nixonian glow emanated from Thom’s countenance as he divulged his divinely inspired design for the Kinkade empire.”