Geir Haraldseth on Art and Luxury

Luxury Face opens December 1 in correlation to Miami Art Basel. Geir Haraldseth, one of three behind the name, explains what it’s all about, and talks about the art and luxury market.

Can you give a brief description of the exhibition Luxury Face, and what people can expect when they enter the gallery?
The project at GucciVuitton will feature advertisement for the Luxury Face concept, more precisely twelve different banners propagating one potential future luxury good, like ‘Nature’, ‘Babies’, or ‘Ghosts’. The banners have been designed by Bjørnar Pedersen under the creative direction of Agatha Wara based on the discussions between Ida Eritsland, Wara and me over the past year, cursing and caring for the worlds of art, fashion and philosophy. You will also find us working together on the publication to be published by Torpedo early next year!


Luxury Face, Luxury Face, 2014.

How did you come to work with Eritsland, Wara and Pedersen, and how do you all play a part in this exhibition?
– Wara and Eritsland had been having discussions on the relationship of philosophy and luxury for a while and wanted to turn it into something tangible. When Wara was invited by the artist run gallery Guccivuitton in Miami to curate their coveted December exhibition during Art Basel, she thought it would be a perfect fit to explore these themes. That’s when I came in, to co-curate the exhibition and future publication with Eritsland and Wara. We have all been working together in different capacities for a while. Wara and I were just at Bergen Kunsthall for the release of HAiKs new publication, where we both contributed texts, and our interests have intersected so often we wanted to do a project together. I have also used Eritslands expertise at Rogaland Kunstsenter before. Pedersen has been a friend of Wara’s and is working full time as a designer, so we were excited to have him on board.

In your practise as a curator and critic, you seem to have been particularly interested in the relation between art, celebrity, money and power. Can you tell me about one of your previous projects that relates to Luxury Face?
One project which is directly linked to this project, at least in my mind, is the “Case Study: Art and the Luxury Goods Market” at Landings Project Space in 2010. It looked at the slippage between the luxury goods market and the art world, a divide that has been upheld, and still is upheld, by philosophy. The exhibition looked at how galleries have started to franchise; where the galleries are located; what real estate they are occupying, and who their neighbors are. In the particular case I was looking at it was Comme des Garçons and Balenciaga. Or what types of ads exist in Artforum for example, high end fashion retailers. Or what gallery was featured on an episode of Sex and the City.

The press release you issued for this exhibition is layered thick with long sentences and vague statements, it seems like a stream of consciousness, where the conclusion has no apparent relation with the beginning, I quote “What ends up in the exhibition space are things that look like artworks—aesthetic objects of blended image and language with the suggestion of meaning—though unpoliced in a maneuver, perhaps, of intellectual objectification“. Can you elaborate?
Ha! That’s an accurate analysis of the language, yes…. We are kind of delusional and stoopid in our investigation of this topic. But that has been a strategy of ours, instead of providing clear answers and try to seem really smart and together, we would rather want to swim in the detritus of the art world, again combined with the fashion and philosophy worlds. The material presented in Miami will look pretty weird and we also wanted the press release to have an air of incongruence to it, while still touching upon some of the cornerstones of the project.

You begin your press release with a question, and I will simply return it; What does it mean to have a Luxury Face, or a blue-chip investment face?
– Play ball! A Luxury Face, in my mind, is the face that will be good enough for a luxury brand. It is a money making face and it has a certain surface value. And then you have the idea of blue-chip, the leaders in the industry, trusted investments, and what the face of such a company would look like, what models would they cast, and we are interested in the appearance of these faces, and how they can also be transferred to the art world.

Luxury Face, the banners Philosophy, Norway and Nature, 2014.

Luxury Face, the banners Philosophy, Norway and Nature, 2014.

The Miami Art Basel is an art fair known as much for fashion and luxury as for art. How did an art fair become so attractive for luxury brands and luxury magazines, or, when did a luxury hand bag become a Koons?
– That is part of why we pitched this particular project for the gallery in Miami. Art Basel Miami Beach is the luxury version of the art fair and attracts the money and the luxury. And art has always been about money and luxury, so there is no surprise to see these world collide in Miami, but I am interested in how and why the separation between the two have been less and less necessary to keep up. The walls are down and the differences have changed.

What’s different with the current luxury-meets-art, and the luxury-meets-art of nobles, clergy and royals of earlier times?
The previous elite was pretty small, but the new elite, still small, is expanding and the luxury is being marketed to a larger segment, so we used those kind of ideas for Luxury Face. What will be the luxury goods for next year, for the next decade, for the next century? Who will have access to these goods? Who will make the knock offs? What role will artists have? What role will curators and philosophers have? Are we just propagating luxury goods and not getting paid for it? Are we fooling ourselves?

Is art always a luxury, and does art that attracts the wealthy decrease the value and ‘artness’ for curators, critics and other artists?
Art is not always a luxury, but I think its always a privilege, and in some ways always a sacrifice. If you look at the programming at larger institutions there’s usually quite a direct correlation to the market, whether it is Astrup Fearnely in Oslo or the Perez Art Museum in Miami. So no, I don’t think there is necessarily an automatic decline in interest from curators, critics and other artists if a work of art is attractive to the wealthy. It has more to do with over-exposure and trends.

Can visual artists receive support from patronages, sponsors and government support, and still retain an independent and critical practice?
Well, it is exactly the idea of an independent and critical practice that we want to get to here as well. Does it even exist? The art fair itself invites criticism, discourse and so on, and the philosophers are touting the same type of Culture Industry shit that has propped up this illusion for too long. The art world has certain qualities to it, but I don’t think Adorno and Horkheimer’s argument about the value of art opposed to entertainment holds up any longer.

Can you name an artist, artwork or exhibition that has inspired you?
I return to “Untilled” by Pierre Hugyhe a lot. I guess that particular work asked a lot of the same questions I wanted to ask, but in such an imaginative way. That’s when you realize that there is a potential in art, and that potential is not about claiming criticality, independence or whatever, but has something open, speculative and complex to it. Doesn’t mean he can’t sell work or have a huge museum retrospective.

Can you name a writer or book, fiction or theory that has inspired your work?
Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz is the book that opened my eyes to how to work with formats, such as the novel, and how to crash and burn. The title of my book [editor’s note: Great! I’ve written something stupid!] was also stolen from a Gombrowicz quote.

What is your next project?
It’s back to Rogaland Kunstsenter to work on an exhibition with Christopher Jonassen, an emerging photographer, who has been taking photos of studio spaces, art institutions and so on in the region. It’s kind of an account of what has been going on in Stavanger in the past, where it has been going on, what conditions artists are working under, and what it entails to be an artist today in Rogaland.

Why is art important?
Art isn’t always important, but it can provide a unique space for making, thinking, and doing, just like with this project, which doesn’t really fit neatly into other categories. It might not change the world, but it provides me with the opportunity to really challenge myself. And hopefully other people too.

Luxury Face is on view in Miami at Guccivuitton from December 01 2014 – January 10.

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