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Has Conceptual Art

Reached Its Peak?


Mouli Cohen, experienced art collector,
discusses the future of the art business and
the recessions effect on the conceptual art
market.
With the art market being affected dramatically by the
overall global financial recession the world is starting to
question the validity and value of some “conceptual” art by
living artists*. The skill of playing inventively with ideas has
taken precedence over the technical skill of years past.
With this new recession some argue that this is trend is
reversing. We sat with art collector Mouli Cohen to discuss
his take on the matter.
*http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/16/opinion/16dutton.html?emc=eta1
Question: What does “art” mean to you?

Mouli Cohen: Art is creative expression. Itʼs taking a look


deep inside you and translating that feeling into material
form. Itʼs not always emotional of course. Smart art exists,
especially today, and some of that is the best art. You might
in fact say conceptual art is the purest form of art. In some
ways it is most like the first forms of art, cave paintings, in
that conceptual art strives to break down our idea of how
something can be represented.
Question: Philosophy of Art professor Dennis Dutton
recently published an Op-Ed in the New York Times
suggesting conceptual art has “jumped the shark” Do you
think thereʼs any truth to that?

Mouli Cohen: Well, in a word, no. I understand that there


is concern that a Damien Hirst shark tank or medicine
cabinet wonʼt hold the same value in the future as a work
that demonstrates obvious skill or craft. But art is valuable
not just for its overt appearance, but for its history, its
context, the questions that it asks. Go to any auction and
youʼll quickly realize thereʼs no correlation between whatʼs
selling and itʼs obvious aesthetics. Art is not merely
aesthetics.
Question: Youʼve been collecting art for a number of years
now. Is investment your primary concern when deciding
what to purchase?

Mouli Cohen: Iʼd be lying if I said I donʼt think about art as


an investment. My modest collection has beat the S&P by
something like 5% for the past 30 years. But buying art isnʼt
all about money. If I didnʼt buy what I like, what I like seeing
on my wall, then Iʼm pretty sure my collection wouldnʼt put
up the returns it does. Youʼve got to appreciate art to have
any chance of picking a piece that will appreciate in value. I
pick what I like first. Everything else comes after that.
Question: How do you feel about the current state of
modern art?

Mouli Cohen: [Laughs] Well, I can tell you now I have no


idea whatʼs being created in the studioʼs of the world right
this second. We wonʼt have a clear understanding of the
current state of the arts until a few years from now. I can
tell you Iʼm very interested in the burgeoning art scene in
the Middle East and the Far East. Thereʼs an incredible
amount of creative innovation happening over there as the
result of globalization and, well, conflict. The most
fascinating things bubble up from the chasm of crisis.
Question: Are there any particular Eastern artists you
admire?

Mouli Cohen: There are many. Iʼve recently looked at a


number of pieces by the Iranian calligrapher Mohamed
Ehsai. His work turns words into art, and begs the viewer to
appreciate more than the significance of the phrase. Some
of his pieces are now selling for more than a million dollars.
Question: The first Da Vinci painting to be discovered in
over 100 years was unveiled last week. Do you think more
of his paintings will surface in the future?

Mouli Cohen: I would expect more to surface over time.


Though there will probably be a lot more imposters than
authentic works. The science that goes into confirming the
authorship of one of these multi-million dollar pieces is
more complex than I can tell you. Apparently forensic
scientists found a partial finger print on the new piece that
matched one found on an unfinished painting at the
Vatican. Thatʼs just one of a dozen clues which led to
experts confirming the new piece as a Da Vinci.
Question: How do you feel about the Tate Modern being
forced to take down a Richard Prince photo depicting a
nude 10-year-old Brooke Shields?

Mouli Cohen: I heard about this. Itʼs a touchy situation.


You have to be careful to what extent you censor art. But at
the same time, indecency for indecencyʼs sake does not
necessarily merit space on the wall of a respected
institution, or a wall anywhere. If a piece is controversial,
offensive even, itʼs a curatorʼs responsibility to make sure
its contribution to productive discourse outweighs its
offense. I think in this case the right decision was made.
Not to say the piece isnʼt a meaningful contribution to art.
But taking it down may have demonstrated something far
more important than keeping it up.
Question: Where do you see the direction of art going in
the next decade?

Mouli Cohen: The influence of the East will continue to


grow at the auction house – both in terms of the art being
sold and those buying it. Thereʼs too much interesting stuff
going on in the Eastern Hemisphere for Americans to stay
in the dark. Beyond that, there will continue to be more and
more of a digital influence in whatʼs really cutting edge.
Buyers are always hesitant to put their money into video
and other digital media, for obvious reasons most of which
have to do with authenticity concerns, but digital will only
get bigger in art, as it will in every other facet of life.
Multiculturalism will also be big. Cultures will be mixed, and
traditions will get tossed together in unpredictable ways in
the future. Iʼm very much looking forward to it.
About Mouli Cohen

Mouil Cohen, founder of Voltage Capital,


has been a leading businessman for over
30 years. Mouli is a life long art collector
and owner of many master works by artists
such as Picasso and Matisse.

Mouli Cohenʼs philanthropic work often


involves art education and historically he
has been a generous supporter of
museums in his local community.

Mouli Cohen was most recently a co-chair


of the Mount Sinai Breakfast of Legends,
hosted by Katie Couric. Learn more of
Mouli Cohenʼs thoughts on business and
philanthropy at his website moulicohen.com