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23 July 1996

Art Futures

I always thought The Daily Telegraph was a crap newspaper, suitable only as a fish wrapping. Ironically, that's how I got the art page from yesterday's Telegraph: it was wrapped around an order of fish and chips.

I think Man "All critics should be assassinated" Ray would have liked the Telegraph, for its arts page is all about money, not criticism. The publishers don't waste their time on obfuscated aesthetics, their focus is on the DT ART 100 --the Daily Telegraph Art 100 index.

The DT ART 100 is a model of clarity and objectivity, right down to the nearest tenth of a percentage point. Yesterday's report shows that art has enjoyed "its brightest improvement in six difficult years--up 7.9 per cent from its December 1995 reading." Unlike the aloof critics at other periodicals, the Daily Telegraph reporters haven't lost touch with the real world: "Six years will have passed, next month, since Saddam Hussein rolled into Kuwait, doubled the world price of oil, halved worldwide company profits and made art a dispensable luxury ..."

Daily Telegraph is bullish on the Old Masters--up 28.6 percent! The Surrealists are up just three-tenths of a point, less than the rate of inflation. (As anyone at Daily Telegraph will probably tell you, the surrealists always were a bunch of ne'er-do-wells.) "Contemporary Art" is also problematic: "... is confidence impossible in [Willem] de Kooning at $20.9m and [Jasper] Johns at $17m?"

I'm afraid that, for me, confidence is impossible in the Daily Telegraph. Despite the spiffy three-dimensional graphs inside an ornate frame, I think the Telegraph analysts are, to use a polite American phrase, clue-free. For example, art in the "civilized" world was a "dispensable luxury" long before the Tigris tyrant was born. But wait, I'm falling into the trap of subjective analysis the Telegraph bean counters have so successfully avoided.

If I am to criticize the Telegraph, I must do so on its terms, not mine. And so I will. Their arts page also features a piece on wine auctions at Christie's. Although I applaud the Telegraph editors for including wine on the arts page, once again their reporters are clueless when it comes to the real value of art. Christie's and the Telegraph are to the world of bacchanal art what Frederick's of Hollywood's Peek-a-Boo® nighties are to sex: pitiful albeit somewhat amusing irrelevancies.

But enough verbiage, let's do the numbers. Last December I bought the wine I'm now drinking (Baron Umberto--one of Bulgaria's finest Cabernets) for $1.98. The same bottle is now trading at $2.69, an investment that has outpaced even The DT ART 100's Old Masters.

I still think The Daily Telegraph is a crap newspaper. To give credit where it's due, though, I think it's fine for wrapping fish and chips.

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©1996 David Glenn Rinehart