Power in the art world (in so far as it has anything to do with works of art) manifests itself straightforwardly. In any monetary, literary or curatorial transaction involving works of art, the party with the most power to enhance the price or perceived value of the work gets the best deal, every time. This is a normative condition. All transactions in the art world are nuanced along these lines. The extent to which each transaction is nuanced, however, is never quantifiable, since the art world is an opaque market. With the exception of auction prices, public acquisitions and public largesse, all transactions are private. They take place within an oral culture of people who know one another, who understand the filigree of prices and values and who know exactly who has how much leverage to impact price/value rations at any given moment. So we know, but we never know exactly.
Amazingly, for all its clandestine cosiness, or perhaps because of it, this commercial and intellectual marketplace is more resistant to long-term manipulation that one would imagine. Transient bubbles are routine, of course, and ardently welcomed. Any government, foundation, institution, collector or dealer who wishes to may conjure up a celebrated international non-entity within a matter of months through the strategic dispensation of public funds, deep discounts, four-fork dinners and celebrity weekends on the yacht. Such occasions enhance cash flow, expand the market base, and only victimize innocents, parvenus, and people with public agendas. Everyone who talks and listens, however, knows who is being bought and what is being sold, so this brand of single source celebrity rarely outlives its junk bond status. Fame can be bought, and bought easily, but it won’t stay bought. Long-term public vogue requires an ongoing investment of money and interest from dealers, collectors, critics, curators, acquisition committees and scholars. Maintaining this level of investment artificially is prohibitively expensive and never cost effective.
So who is exactly powerful? I could tell, of course, but I won’t, because that information, closely held, gives me a crumb of power. From my reluctance, however, one can take this little lesson: in matters of art world power, appearances in the press are a pretty good negative indicator, since published information is of no value to anyone. As a consequence, people whom the press designates as powerful usually fall into one of three categories. There are very nice people who used to have some power and are in the process of losing it (I would fit this category). There are people who are powerful in some other arena (business, politics, showbiz). And, finally, there are those unfortunates who have been involuntarily outed – an eventuality which is invariably disastrous for the outee, since one’s first appearance in the press prefigures the day that one will disappear from it, leaving the impression of sudden and abject obsolescence. Never a happy prospect.