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Cash rules


Some thoughts on money and art by King Adz

I once got involved in a ‘debate’ with a New York Cop (who was also an artist who had a keen interest in Graffiti and street art) about art, business and war. He asked me to read a rough draft of a piece he’d written about Artists at War. In the end he finished his piece with these words:

‘To close, I want to share the profound thoughts of King Adz – a British writer/director who, after reading the rough draft of this article stated: “Art is something you can’t define, almost like life itself. War is the opposite of both these things. I think you are standing on very dodgy ground by speaking about art and war in the same sentence.”’



A few years later I was in Berlin staying with my friend and artist Brad Downey, and one morning we were having breakfast on the street and got talking about the dynamics between money, art and life. The outcome was that we established that art is the third wheel; art is the floaty thing hovering between money and life the purpose of which can’t be easily defined, that is why it’s so interesting. It can’t really be bought, not really. You can rent a piece of art for a period, but the image is eternally out there, even if the original isn’t.

Then last year I had the honour of getting down with Bill Drummond when I was writing Street Knowledge. For those who were looking away at that particular point in time, Bill was one-half of the KLF, a conceptual pop-act who by 1991 were the most successful single-selling pop act in the world. Then in their greatest publicity stunt to date, the KLF was disbanded, the entire catalogue deleted and £1million pounds of royalties burnt in a ritual on a Scottish island (Editor’s note: more background about the burning can be found in this post). This is the stuff true legends are made of. This shows how important the hype game is and what a crucial role it played in the rise of the KLF. Today, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty are two of the greatest conceptual artists out there.

‘We have been following a wild and wounded, glum and glorious, shit but shining path these past five years. The last two of which has [sic] led us up onto the commercial high ground—we are at a point where the path is about to take a sharp turn from these sunny uplands down into a netherworld of we know not what. For the foreseeable future there will be no further record releases from The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The Timelords, The KLF and any other past, present and future name attached to our activities. As of now all our past releases are deleted…. If we meet further along be prepared…our disguise may be complete.’ KLF Press Release 1992

This leads us to a question I’ve asked many times: ‘Does art change when money gets involved?’ What I’m talking about here is when an artist gets some heat and begins to sell his work for serious money, does that change the actual art he’s producing? And if so what is the effect? Is that good or bad? It could be good as the person is supporting themselves with their art and getting some much-needed recognition, but then on the other hand it could be bad as the artist may start churning out the work to simply haul in more moolah. Fuck! Thinking about all this is frying my brain! For me, the relationship between money and art is a fragile psychotic tug-of-war between necessity and loathing; between the need for recognition and the threat of ‘selling out’ (not that there is such a thing anymore in this day and age when the money and celebrity gods are so powerfull). Maybe a good example of this is Mr Brainwash, who once had a slightly original idea (to film street artists) but then got completely taken over by the idea of being famous artist in his own right and began to churn out some of the worst art I’ve seen in a long time.

To end I’m gonna bring in the boys from Staten:

‘What the blood clot you niggaz dealin, you crash dummies. Cash rules, still don’t nuttin move but the money…’

9 thoughts on “Cash rules

  1. One of the aspects that I really liked about the burning of the million pounds by the KLF is that they didn't really seem to hype it. No spectacle, just the two of them, a journalist, someone with a video camera, and a house with a hot fireplace. Nothing more, but nothing less as well!

    They could've also had one thousand Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, dressed in fluorescent purple outfits each bring one thousand pounds to the great pyramids of Giza and then set all on fire in a ritual, using the first rays of Sun of the Summer Solstice morning.

    For me it would've missed the point that way.

    But maybe they indeed played the hype game right, by not hyping it, but letting it grow over time. Announcing a 23 year moratorium on all projects from November 1995 and indicating that they would not speak about the burning of the million pounds during the period of this moratorium, definitely was a brilliant move to help that process of growth……

  2. Does art change when money gets involved?’ — well: what if you consider your artistic abilities as a gift. That's what a lot of people call it, right? Then wouldn't it be strange to charge enormous amounts of money for something you got as a gift anyway? Artists have to eat so they should make money. But anyone making art more exclusive by raising the price, is killing the artistic idea in itself. The focus is taken off the original meaning of the artwork. It now just becomes 'expensive'. And where's the value in that?

    • @Ricardo: If we, according to you, don't comprehend the 'real deal', than please inform us about the Truth. I feel this project can never reveal the truth about the relationship between art and money, if there ever is one truth concerning this subject. I don't even know if there's one Reality in this case. But looking for answers and asking questions definitely helps getting a better grasp of the whole situation.

  3. Money and Art. Art, an expression of humans. Money, a tool of humans. They are'nt relevant to eachother,but humans make them relevant to eachother and because humans make it that way, complexity occurs. Now, the issue of money having an affect on art, it does because humans are greedy and needy, they are looking for something all the time. When art is made by a human, it takes a form and is subject to earth law which humans tend to want to control and so complexities emerge. I will say that there is enough time to do everything infinite times in order to learn.

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