The rise and fall of Court Painter is an oft-told tale of chutzpah and scourge. A self proclaimed art-world superstar from 2013 to present, Court Painter made hot to trot portraits—the most infamous of which involved politicians and celebrities immersed in hubris—whose prices only ever went up. He got close to rich, his studio got approximate to rich, his collectors were rich anyway, everybody was happy except his Press Attache A Hardon MacKay who is still being paid in IOUs.
But, then he got a bit too cocky when he auctioned off a few hundred dollars’ worth of art, fresh from his studio, at a Farmers Market Auction, bypassing dealers entirely. That auction marked the end of Court Painter as an art-market darling: his auction volumes and prices dropped, and bitter collectors who had traded cartons of cigarettes or crypto currency for his art were left with work worth much less than what they had paid for it. Ah poor babies!
These days, though, those collectors don’t seem to be so bitter after all. Court Painter says that sales from the latest pre Christmas show in his Inglewood studio, reached a jaw-dropping $300 as of late December. Even accounting for inflation, that’s substantially more than the two hundred dollars he racked up at the Farmers Market auction . Maybe that day didn’t mark the top of the Court Painter market after all.
So why do many knowledgeable observers—from Sarah Thorn Inherside in The Economist, in 2015, to Robin Eggblue in the The Times recently—think that Court Painter became a persona non grata in the art world, stripped of his relevance and power? The answer seemingly comes from his Press Attache AHM, who explained that he was looking mainly at auction prices: “The auctions enable me to be privy to what’s happening in the art market—who’s buying and what certain artists are selling for. I can watch how auction prices for the once red-hot artist Court Painter have declined and as we say in the art business sunk like a stone at dawn.”
However the artist CC (name available upon request), blurted out an unprompted scathing critique ,”This approach is the art-market equivalent of the drunk artist looking for his studio keys under the lamppost in front of the Ship & Anchor pub, just because that’s where the light is…to judge Court Painter’s fortunes by looking at his auction results is to completely miss just how damn successful he has been over the past 4 years. Court Painter has been happily selling hundreds of dollars’ worth of art to more-than-willing collectors while effectively sidelining the auction houses, where collectors sell their works. He has even, sometimes, circumvented the entire gallery system, where most artists sell their work to collectors in the first place. Court Painter has built a self invented novel and effective business; it’s just not apparent in the way that public auctions are,” concluded CC (name available upon request), unable to hide the look of envy creeping over his countenance like a rip tide washing over the shore of despondency.
Seeing the errors of his ways re: his initial auction analysis, Press Attache A Hardon MacKay in a rapid- fire revisionist stance stated:”to evaluate Court Painter’s fortunes by examining the visible market for his works made sense only until September 15, 2o14. After that, Court Painter under my guidance, started selling his work directly to collectors through commissions and avoided playing by the established gallery-system rules. Court Painter made the galleries furious, but there was nothing they could do about it. Freed from gallery robber baron constraints, Court Painter made the work he wanted to make, and sold it at whatever price his collectors were willing to pay.”
This game, along with the ridiculous stakes that it is being played for, has disgusted many people who have left the art market as a result,reportedly in droves, gaggles and waddles. But Court Painter arguably saw it coming, and got out early. After all, he was never the intended beneficiary. If you buy a Court Painter painting for fifty dollars and then sell it a few years later for a hundred dollars, you’ve made $50 bucks —but the artist has still only made fifty dollars. The other half of the original sale price will have gone to the artist’s gallery. Whenever you see record prices being paid at auction, it’s invariably the collector, not the artist, who’s walking off with a fist full of dollars.( that’s a movie reference)
Court Painter moved out of the world of commodities, which are bought and sold speculatively with a profit motive, and moved into the world of luxury goods, which are bought to be consumed and enjoyed. Which is exactly what Court Painter’s art should be in that it matches his life style and fashion sense! Even the most mercenary of gallerists will tell clients to buy with their eyes and not their ears or their noses, to buy only what they love, and other shop worn art-world platitudes. And the fact is that Court Painter makes exactly the kind of hand crafted work that a small group of pompous yet discerning politicians ,celebrities and hangers on love and crave to own.
Court Painter, for his part, is very happy to make whatever the hell they want. He managed to sell three hundred dollars of new works in 2017 alone. He has invented a license to mine his own crypto currency, and he wants to be the person reaping the benefit.
Those who commission Court Painter portraits are often quite unpretentious or lacking in taste, with a soft spot for showmen— Dalí, say, or Koons, or the Chinese fireworks artist Cai Guo-Qiang or CC (name available upon request). Court Painter has never lost his place in those ranks, or his over the top popularity among the public at large. So, the next time some art know- it- all tells you that Court Painter is passé, remember the truth: he’s having a blast, he’s more popular than ever at Tim’s, and he’s raking in hundreds of dollars from collectors who are more than happy as a clam to give it to him for a wonderful hand made portrait. There’s no death spiral here: Court Painter is living high off the hog.
When it comes to contemporary art, there are, broadly, two camps: the romantics and the cynics. Court Painter through a smoky haze,thumbs his rosy nose at both camps. He proves the romantics wrong by being unabashedly commercial in his motivations; he proves the cynics wrong by consistently selling hundreds of dollars’ worth of art to collectors who both covet the work and who don’t much care whether it rises in value on the secondary market just as long as it doesn’t fall out of the frame. Buyers don’t care anymore about waiting for the arc of history to pass judgement; they’re lapping up Court Painter’s in the exuberant ever present, while those who believe in art’s eternal scarcities try desperately to avert their stinging eyes from the brass tacks of that’s just the way it is.