Hi, I’m James Tarmy, Bloomberg’s art and culture columnist. I also moonlight as a luxury real estate reporter and very occasional NFT apologist.
Like most of you, I spent the pandemic consuming culture on a screen. After returning to IRL exhibitions, I’ve realized that art appreciation takes practice.
You can’t spend years of your life scrolling through digital images and then expect to have a profound aesthetic/intellectual/spiritual awakening just by stepping back inside a museum. No one’s born with an inherent appreciation of fine art. It has to be learned, and everything that’s learned can (and probably will) be forgotten if you’re not reminded of it often enough.
Not merely beautiful, the Morozov Collection at the Fondation Louis Vuitton had a taut, geopolitical potboiler of a backstory. Photographer: Geoffroy Van der Hasselt/AFP
That’s why it’s dispiriting but understandable when people walk up to paintings, take a picture with their cell phone, look at the picture they just took on their screen, and then walk away.
And that’s also why I find immersive “attractions” mildly pernicious. (Meow Wolf, the Museum of Ice Cream, all those Van Gogh exhibits, I’m looking you.) They masquerade as artistic endeavors but in fact actively encourage visitors to treat art as a decorative backdrop for selfies rather than something worth stopping to absorb. Taking photos in museums is fine—even encouraged, sometimes!—but that shouldn’t be the entire point.
Hungary’s pavilion during the Venice Biennale. Photographer: Giulia Marchi/Bloomberg
The good news is that this spring and summer there are plenty of very, very good excuses to get your eyes back in shape, starting with the Venice Biennale, which opens officially on April 23. I will be reporting live, and I cannot wait.
The Biennale fills the city with contemporary art, both in the sanctioned, massive exhibition in the Arsenale (a former shipbuilding factory), the Giardini (a garden filled with national pavilions), and then tons of “satellite” exhibitions, many of which are inside palazzos that normally are closed to the public.
I live in New York, where more than one person has noted that StreetEasy has replaced the Yankees as a citywide passion. In the last few years the rest of the world has heated up, too, to the extent that nearly everywhere you look is a real estate frenzy.
Given that my job entails reporting on the news, by definition most of what I write about is… new. But it’s critical to be able to put everything in context, which is why in my free time I tend to focus on older things:
Mary McCarthy’s fantastic Venice Observedfrom 1956 is a travel book with a heavy emphasis on art, edited by fabulous lecturer and art historian Rosamond Bernier.
Eye-popping returns like this potential $200 million Warhol are the exception, not the rule when investing in art. Source: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2022
If you’re just starting out, it’s likely that it’s going to be displayed prominently in your home. Few things are worth owning if it means staring at something you hate for six or seven years just to eke out a return.
Think of art the same way you’d think about fashion: just because everyone bought bootcut jeans in 2004 does not mean that they continued to buy bootcut jeans in 2016. And in fact, bootcut jeans’ momentary universal popularity all but guaranteed that their demise was swift and devastating. (Although if you still enjoy wearing your bootcuts, more power to you—same with art.)
Sotheby’s Cryptopunks NFT auction did not got as planned Photographer: Dolly Faibyshev for Bloomberg Markets
Should I buy an NFT? If so, which?
It’s funny because the answer to this question is basically the same as the one above. Just because some people are making (big) money buying and selling NFTs doesn’t mean you will, too. (What’s an NFT? Here’s a primer.)
Together with my colleague Muyao Shen, I dug into the ramifications of the apparent limitations of the NFT market a few weeks ago when a heavily promoted live auction at Sotheby’s crashed and burned before a single paddle could be lifted. The takeaway is that a few NFT creators are quickly establishing steady markets, but that doesn’t mean that those markets are good investments. In fact, the opposite might be true.
What’s the best city in the world for art?
As with so much in life: that depends on you. Florence is a fabulous place to see Renaissance art but (pace) it’s not exactly a pulsing contemporary hub. New York undoubtedly has the best, largest concentration of commercial galleries in the world, but its historic treasures, while numerous, pale in comparison to what’s in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Herzog & de Meuron’s addition to the Tate Modern opened in 2016 and further cemented London’s art capital bonafides. Photographer: Jack Taylor/Getty Images Europe
If I had to choose, I’d base it on some combination of breadth plus depth of offerings—and that leaves London, with Paris hot on its heels. Both cities have massive encyclopedic museums (the National Gallery and British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris) but they also have extraordinarily robust contemporary art museums (the Tate Modern and Pompidou).
And on top of that they have booming art scenes, which to my mind is critical: it’s nice to have great museums, but it’s even better when you’re surrounded by people who’ve devoted their lives to making, collecting, studying, and selling art, too.
Last week’s newsletter said you were in Paris eating bonbons. Is that true? And if so, what’s your favorite?
Finally, the first important question to be asked of any Pursuits columnist.
Yes, I am in Paris, and yes, I am consuming an improbably vast amount of puff pastry. I do not presume to have discovered any hidden gems, and am happy to acknowledge that I am covering well-trodden ground.