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  Howie Green Interviews

July, 2012

Interview by Gisella Tan

What do you think determines the value of an artwork? What are indicators of such values? (e.g. the price of an artwork, the public perception or the social significance)

Trying to put a value on a piece of art is always tricky and complicated. If someone is willing to pay $24 million for an Andy Warhol or a Van Gogh painting then I guess that's the art's value. Seems insane to me, but it is whatever the market will pay. I'm sure Andy and Vincent would both be shocked. I'm always sad that the artists don't get to share in the cash and know that their art sold for that much money. Vincent's life and his brother Theo's life are both heartbreaking in that regard. Vincent died penniless and unknown and poor Theo worked himself to death trying to provide for his wife and kids. Thank god Theo's wife was a smart lady and retraced all of Vincent's travels and reclaimed all his artwork back. She is the reason any of us even know who Vincent was. If only he had lived to see his fame it probably would have done wonders for the poor guy. At least Monet and most of the Impressionists all lived long enough to get rich and famous after having starved most of their lives. A lot of value gets determined by quality, rarity, artists' fame, size, and popularity of the piece of art. For example I can't think of a more boring painting than the Mona Lisa but its the most famous painting of all time and is considered beyond value and price. Why? I have no idea. It's famous because it's famous and people line up at the Louvre to see the piece. Meanwhile I can go to the art museum here in Boston and stand right up next to a stunning beautiful Monet or Van Gogh and no one else would care. Mona is an Art Superstar. I guess she's got charisma and charisma is worth big bucks.

Zero talent + lots of Charisma = lots of money. Lots of talent + no charisma = $0. Welcome to showbiz!

I always say that Andy made the idea of "fame" more famous. He was so obsessed with celebrity and fame and such his whole life that "Fame" became part of his art. And it worked. He made himself the most famous artist of his generation and even though he has been dead for over 20 years people from all walks of life know who he is and the soup can paintings and such. He became his own most famous work of art.

It's similar to an athlete or actor's salaries. Why is an actor worth $XXX dollars for a movie? Because they can ask for it and get it. More power to them. At least they get the cash. A dead artist reaps no rewards.

When Andy did the first batch of soup can paintings not a single one sold. They were all in a gallery in Los Angeles and the gallery owner decided that if none sold he would buy them and donate them when the time was right to a museum, which he did and they now hang in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and are considered to be beyond monetary value. So how does that group of paintings go from having no value at all to being priceless? Well they became notorious paintings because they were the iconic image for Pop Art which made them famous, hated, then beloved and now they are among the most famous paintings of all time. And their value reflects that fact.

Generally art value has little to do with any intrinsic value. Paint and canvas have no value on their own, unlike gold or diamonds. Ugly gold jewelry is still worth a lot of money. And art value usually has little to do with the quality of the art. "The Scream" just sold for some ungodly sum and basically its a bad painting in terms of the quality of the art. But... its super famous and therefore worth tons of money.

Why do you think pop art is so popular?

OK this is going to seem stupid... but I think its popular because it makes people smile. Dumb, right? But... there is no thought required to like or appreciate Pop Art. There is no narrative, no hidden agenda - although people seem to enjoy reading all kinds of silly meaning into it - its simple, straight forward, colorful and familiar. Although Pop Art was initially very political it's rarely ever that way anymore so it can be appreciated by anyone no matter who. It is really "art" for everyone and since it usually spotlights or highlights familiar images or subjects it's art that we can all relate to on a very basic level.

Critics always say anyone can do Pop Art... there is no artistic skill required.. etc etc. So not true. Bad Pop Art is bad art like any bad art. A bad landscape is bad art. A bad piece of Pop Art is bad art. Artistic skill is only part of the process. Did you see that dumb "Work of Art" reality TV show last season the Sarah Jessica Parker produces? On one episode the group of artists each had to produce a piece of Pop Art and they all totally failed. Totally. 7-8 very talented artist each was not able to come up with a single piece of reasonable Pop Art. So what seems so easy to do is clearly anything but that.

I always point to Peter Max when people try to give me a hard time about being a Pop Artist. I can paint very realistically which to some people is the only judge of my artistic abilities. I say "yawn!" There are thousands of artists who are "good" painters who can paint realistically.. so what! In order for an artist to stand out from the crowd we have to do something different and distinctive to set ourselves apart. Peter Max was an academically trained realist painter who did photographically realistic paintings when he was young. Then one day he realized they would never get him noticed so his style started to evolve including collages and cartoons and then he exploded in the mid 60s with the Cosmic style that made him world-famous and very rich. Now he is the most successful living Pop Artist and no can can ever accuse him of not having the skills needed to do other kinds of art. He proved he could paint decades ago then moved on.

Why is pop art currently priced higher than older artworks? (e.g. Femme assise, robe bleue by Picasso sold for less money than Andy Warhol's 200 One Dollar Bills

Hummm... I think its because the generations that grew up on Pop Art are coming of age with money and making their cultural presence and taste felt. And since it has become so popular it's value has skyrocketed. Again most people have a hard time looking at a Picasso and understanding it or liking it. It's Picasso so you know its real "ART" and you should like it... but most people don't. But a soup can or something Poppy and colorful, Bam! easy to relate to and like.

Why are there so many divergent views towards pop art?

Ah well Pop Art has always been a lightning rod for controversy. I can remember when I was a kid and the first traveling Pop Art show came to the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo near where I lived. It was a huge topic of conversation even in my house where art was never a topic of conversation. We had no art on the walls and the only art anyone in my family could relate to was the comics in the daily newspaper. But boy everyone.. EVERYONE... had their opinion on the new Pop Art stuff and people talked about it. People who wouldn't know a Picasso from a sardine talked about Pop Art. I loved it because it was including the very content and subjects I was drawing like comics and ads, and everyday objects but in a fun way not in an academic way. Pop Art is fun and I guess in the serious art world "Art" is not supposed to be fun! It's supposed to be serious and hard and obtuse and difficult and open to interpretation. And Pop Art just laughed at all that. So people have been upset about Pop Art since day 1. When I had a show of my Pop Art paintings in the mid-90s in Boston the leading newspaper art critic wrote about it in the most derogatory terms possible and dismissed my work as "happy art". Well ha ha.. my show sold out!

Do the commercial techniques used in pop art (e.g. the subject matter or the mass production method) degrade the work's value?

Well clearly not since most of Andy's work is part painting and part silk screen printing and there is no value drop at all. I remember seeing one of Warhol's early Marilyn silk screen prints for sale in an art Gallery in 1968 or 69 for $369, which was the regular retail price at the time. The current value of that print is over half a million dollars. So the fact that its was a "mass produced" silk screen print did not decrease its value at all. Plus you can only get that beautiful silk screen print look and feel through that process.

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