The excitement level was higher than usual at Christie's this morning. Not since the end of the 21st Century had an art auction featured not one but three new Trolingers. Somewhat like previous discoveries, these paintings turned up in a stack of papers stored in an attic in, of all places, a tiny village in Bulgaria. Trolinger, an artist who lived at the turn of the 20th Century did something very radical and rebellious in the art world over 150 years ago that continues to influence the way people collect art today…………. He gave original paintings away to anyone willing to donate any amount to charity.
By the end of the 20th Century the art industry had evolved into an unbelievable state of commercialism. Profiteering dealers and speculators, working together, had effectively high jacked and controlled the market. They held the power to create collectible art and artists with little regard to substance or artistic talent.
The beginning of the takeover was traceable to a specific auction at Christie’s in 1935, during which ingenious marketing devices and well placed information leaks, pushed bids for a few paintings to seven figures for the first time in the history of art. Moreover, these were little known paintings, not Rembrandts or Van Goghs. The auction caught the attention of dealers worldwide who suddenly realized that a market value could be set by an anonymous bidder or a speculator who had no appreciation whatever for the art itself. In a matter of months art auctions became legalized ponzi schemes where a speculator would continue to raise the bid in hopes that he would not be the last owner. When a painting sold for 10 million dollars, collectors accepted that as its ongoing value that would grow with each new auction. Eventually, a wealthy owner could donate his $50,000.000 painting to a gallery for a nice tax write off and good publicity so even the guy who got stuck with it in the end made out. The main losers were the public who footed the bill for expensive display space in a museum.
During the next fifty years a new art industry evolved with little concern or relevance to the art itself. Many artists, themselves, began to change what they considered “good” art. Well established artists, like Pablo Picasso, quickly learned that they could pick up discarded beer cans, sign their name on them and sell them to the newly available art clients for a huge sum, and Picasso did just that for the last 20 years of his career, amassing a huge fortune. The art industry, having become money driven, encouraged dealers and artists to devise intricate schemes for creating collectable art and artists. Many of these were subtle while others were blatant to the point of absurdity.
Entire communities grew around outrageous stunts designed to attract the news hungry press with contrived controversy. “Artists” competed to see who could come up with the most disgusting, controversial, shocking production, a production that would cause riots, death threats, and, above all, the biggest news limelight. Wide exposure could guarantee a good market with the most ridiculous pieces bringing about the best payoff for speculators, who could turn over such work with a sizable profit.
Damian Hurst, a notorious British artist became famous at the end of the twentieth century by selling pickled animals for millions. Like other artists Damian was caught purchasing his own diamond studded skull "art" for 80 million dollars just to keep the spiral in motion. Tracy Emmons sold an unmade bed for six figures. A few artists, making fun of the situation went even further, selling body parts and blood, the ultimate being a sale of tins of the artist’s excrement for millions. Perhaps one of the most blatant and unbelievable of all was Serano’s “Piss Christ”, a crucifix submerged in the artist’s piss. Funded under a government program, Piss Christ actually won awards and even received praise from, of all people, art critic, Sister Wendy Beckett, a Catholic nun.
Incredibly, one artist became famous by shooting himself with a gun and calling it "a happening".
The art world routinely introduces a new “isms” in rebellion to what is in vogue at the time. Trolinger’s rebellion was even more controversial, in view of the time; he placed his art on a web site and offered his paintings free to anyone who would agree to hang and enjoy them and make any donation to cancer research. At first this concept was so radical that it backfired. Who would want to hang a painting that is worthless? In the beginning his paintings were mostly collected by friends and co-workers. Then word began to spread, “Original art that is even pleasant to look at for free? There must be a catch to this.” Eventually Trolinger’s art spread throughout the world in the hands of people with no interest in collecting, speculating or making money with art; they simply wanted something beautiful on their walls.
The art bubble collapse of 2100 in which people began to require beauty in the art they collected left thousands of collectors and museums with thousands of pieces of “art” that no longer interested anyone. After Trolinger died in 2028 the inevitable happened. Collectors began to track down and buy up his paintings, which had spread over every corner of the world. Prices rocketed to four, five, then six figures and soon all of the pieces hanging in homes around the world were swept up. By the end of the twenty first century Trolinger paintings became so scarce that years would pass before another would surface. Because so many paintings were held by families who were not tuned in to the art world, their discoveries came as a complete surprise, making instant millionaires out of often poverty stricken families. Finding a Trolinger in one’s attic was like hitting the lottery.
Today, Trolinger’s “Femscape number 106, originally given to one of his friends in Bulgaria, sat a new record for a single painting, 176 million dollars.
Art auctioneer, Billy Spry, laughed
and commented, “If we had some way to communicate back to the twenty first
century, we could sure make millionaires out of a lot of grandchildren.”