June 9, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 23
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Wednesday, Jun 03, 2020



Style Projector
The evolution of taste explored by art world heavyweights
by Corey Gutch - SGN A&E Writer

Taste is an instinctual and evolving experience. This was the common theme at the recent packed-house DoubleTake Talks panel discussion on "the evolution of taste in the last century with perspectives from all facets of the art world" at the Experience Music Project. The panel consisted of Tobias Meyer, Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art, Sotheby's; Barney Ebsworth, Private Collector; James Harris, Contemporary Art Dealer; Regina Hackett, Art Critic, Seattle Post-Intelligencer; moderated by Stephanie Stebich, Executive Director, Tacoma Art Museum, and emceed by EMP spokesperson Christian-Philippe Quilici.

I simply don't have the space to discuss all of the details of this panel, and I could fill this page with wonderful quotes from the discussion, but I will tell you that it was immensely thought provoking. Our little town, Seattle, was privileged to have the fascinating, charming and impossibly elegant Tobias Meyer ("Sotheby's Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art", I mean, could there be a more stylish and sexy job title?!) here to give us his firsthand insight into the world of the art market, where it has been, where it is, and where it's going.

Meyer, whose partner Mark Fletcher is a contemporary art adviser, was recently featured in a nine-page spread in the New Yorker. He was infamously quoted in the article saying, "My job is to make art expensive", which caused a huge controversy in art circles and online blogs. In a way, they represent a new Velvet Mafia, and I use that term affectionately in reference to the great amount of power and influence these Gay men hold in the world of art - they make shit happen.

His job may be to make art expensive, or perhaps irresistible. His job is to connect people to pieces of art - to help buyers understand them, feel them and need them. In the panel he stated, "Professionally, I'm not supposed to have taste at all. I'm a complete filter of the market and the reality of what people like. It's like a yoga posture."

Meyer spoke about the recent sale of Picasso's Dora Maar Au Chat, which closed bidding at an astonishing and history-making $95.2 million (the second most expensive painting ever purchased at auction), and how the next day in panic the under-bidder tried to buy it from the buyer - realizing they had made "The biggest mistake of their lives because they would never have the chance to buy it again". In this example of taste, a group of people developed what you might call a "hive-mind" where an agreement in taste culminated in a single piece of art now valued at nearly $100 million. However, this particular Picasso was so spectacular it transcended individual tastes - it was a work of genius.

At the end of the discussion "What Dictates Taste?" was never clearly defined, but that was the point. When I talk about taste, style, aesthetics, etc., it's much more than being told what to like, what to wear, or what to buy. It's about the visceral impact an object has on you, whether or not you like it, and what it means to you. It's also about looking at and experiencing things in order to develop your taste. In our current age of pluralism (everything all the time), the concept of good taste is not the same as the common notion of good taste in decades past. Today, someone may be considered to have good taste only when you, as an individual, agree with their taste.

Taste changes, and evolves over time. A perfect example of this was renowned collector Barney Ebsworth's story of seeing pictures of Wayne Thiebaud's Bakery Counter, and Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Can in a famous 1961 Time Magazine article about Pop Art. At the time, he laughed at the notion of Pop Art as ridiculous and tasteless. Years later, at a Christie's auction, he was the winning bidder of both pieces.

This was the third of a series of DoubleTake Talks panels and I highly recommend them. For one thing, they're free! And for another, they are exemplary of this exciting and significant time for art in our city. Upcoming speakers include the amazing painter Eric Fischl and photographer Nan Goldin. GO.

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