When Artists Go Corporate

Time Out New York declared last year that the Kalahari, in Harlem, was the ugliest condo in the city (no mean feat that). "This is reminiscent of the Kalahari Desert," they said. "Municipal buildings in the Kalahari Desert, that is."

But if it’s nasty on the outside, it does redeem itself when it comes to the "internationally acclaimed artists" chosen for the building’s art collection. How that happened I don’t really know: normally the phrase "internationally acclaimed artist" is code for "we’re pulling a fast one on you". But somehow the building managed to end up with an El Anatsui on its walls – something genuinely coveted by a large number of very serious art collectors.

I suppose this marks the point at which El Anatsui starts acquiring a veneer of Corporate Kitsch. I love his work, which looked gorgeous in Venice last sumer, and he’s permanently associated in my mind for some reason with the phrase "rolls like thunder off the walls", which I think I read in an art review once.

But there’s a world of difference between a site-specific installation on a Venetian palazzo, on the one hand, and a tacked-up attempt to further intensify an aura of self-congratulation among buppie condo buyers, on the other.

The scale of Anatsui’s work lends itself naturally to large corporate lobbies, and he might well end up being just another easily-recognizable trophy artist, like Frank Stella or Henry Moore, bought as a badge of sophistication to impress visitors. And, frankly, if he does, then good for him, that’s where the big money is. But his position in the art world will definitely shift if and when that happens, and he’ll lose some of the buzz he’s had until now.

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