Celebrity art – the stuff of famous people, like heads of state or Hollywood actors, who paint in their spare time – has its place, I suppose. But in a prestigious museum?
The Russian Museum in St. Petersburg has mounted a 30-work retrospective “Sylvester Stallone. Painting. From 1975 until Today” with titles like “Finding Rocky”.
Not everyone in the Russian art world is okay with this. Their affront is two-fold: Stallone is a hobby painter and the museum is known for Russian art.
As if to explain its decision, the museum website mentions an art course that Stallone attended in Switzerland. It also notes the actor’s ambition to be a painter. Such intent is reminiscent of actor Richard Chamberlain who says on his website, “Art is not a hobby to me, but a genuine interest.”
To further counter the outrage in Russia’s art world, museum curators point out that Stallone’s show hangs in a branch of the institution showing modern art – not in the main building.
To be sure, the Stallone art news could be worse. I’m thinking of celebrity art sold in reproduction form, like Chamberlain’s. Each painting on his website is a reprint of a work reproduced 300 times and called a “limited edition” print.
Those who buy such work as an investment may not know that celebrity art is a certain money-loser. There is no secondary (resale) market for celebrity art – particularly prints. Butterfield and Butterfield, an auction house in Los Angeles, has reported that auction estimates for actor Anthony Quinn prints, which he has sold for $2,000, resell for less than $500 and even as little as $10.
Why isn’t there a secondary market for celebrity art, you may ask?
For one thing, the value of celebrity art of, say, actors, is based on their performance art, not their visual art. A key rule to remember is that the art market is driven by historical process: an exhibit record in museums and national juried shows with jurors being museum curators or other art authorities. Reviews by established art critics are another sign of recognition. A consistent record of sales at national public auctions also contributes to an artist’s track record.
One of the key pitfalls for collectors, in the opinion of Art Law, a guide for collectors and investors published by Practicing Law Institute in New York, is neglecting to inquire about the technique of production.
Of particular concern to authors Ralph E. Lerner and Judith Bresler, attorneys who specialize in the field, is the sale of prints. They say there is widespread abuse by galleries that don’t give buyers enough information. This takes us back to Chamberlain’s website, which talks of “quality limited edition print” without saying how the prints are made.
The unaccepted practice for authentic art prints is the photographic process like Cibachrome. According to Henry Hine, former director Graphicstudio, the printmaking studio where modern greats such as Robert Rauschenberg and James Rosenquist have made art prints, “Cibachrome is an insensitive tool…If you’re making a print, you want it to have the freshness and directness of the original art.”
Clearly news of the Stallone art new could have been worse. At least he’s not palming off photographic prints of his work as original art.