and the value of nothing

November 25, 2018  •  2 Comments

It's very important for good art to be expensive - Simon de Pury, Auctioneer

Ninety-Nine percent of Artists don't have money - Jerry Saltz - Art Critic

I watched The Price of Everything again last night.  Not sure why but it fascinates me.  The astronomical prices modern art demands is so far out of my life experience that perhaps it's the opportunity to peek behind the curtain for ninety minutes that compels me to watch.  I would not for a moment want to live there, except perhaps, a day with Larry Poons would be fun.  Larry has a weathered, down-to-earth appeal and wears clothes that I could afford. 

The Price of Everything is a well produced HBO documentary of the highly financed art world.  For my limited experience in these matters it seems balanced; there are the good, the sorta bad, but not many ugly.  It's not a condemnation of a finicky art world, HBO draws open the curtain and lets you hear from people who have a passion for such things as perfect balloon figures, gazing balls, and (some really beautiful) abstract painting.  I think they know they get mocked and made fun of and I really don't think they care.  The film is not there to make fun of them and doesn't try.  I like that about it.  Some of these very rich have a true passion for art; then, some buy for pure investment.  If you have any amount of liberal social conscience in you you'll cringe at times when you see the amount of disposable income being directed toward these pieces. 

I came away feeling a bit sad and angry for the artists themselves.  Fortune does not seem to favor them, at least not initially. One artist was shown a video of her piece being auctioned in the secondary market for nearly a million dollars, none of which goes to her.  It was flipped, like real estate. 

Jerry Saltz made an interesting observation.  He lamented that much of the art being auctioned will never be seen in public during his lifetime.  These pieces will hang in private apartments in London, New York, Shanghai, and never be seen again.   He seemed truly sad and made me consider the value of these pieces to our cultural heritage.  Where does the Mona Lisa belong? Venus de Milo?  But I also heard from Amy Cappazzello of Sotheby's who appreciates museums but also bemoans the fact that many museums, due to space limitations, will store great works for years, rarely allowing them to see the light of a well lit gallery.  Both cases are sad in a way. 

                              This has the value of a house, I like it, but, it's not a house.  Artist, Gerhard Richter, pointing at one of his pieces


Note: the above piece can be purchased for much, much less than a house. 


JWSmith Photography
Hello, Cedric,

A one-eared Koala wearing sunglasses.
My first thought, “huh?”
My second thought, “did they legalize LSD in Australia?”
Then I looked at the image again.

I now cannot see anything but a one-eared koala in sunglasses. :-)
Cedric Canard(non-registered)
Nice write-up Joe. I haven't seen it yet as I don't have HBO but I suspect it will be available at some point on pay-per-view or something similar. Your impression of this documentary being well balanced and representing all sides fairly and without agenda is good to know. Such documentaries are a rare thing these days.
I am not sure I would feel overly sorry or sad for artists whose artwork get sold for seven figures on the secondary market. That would just make any future work that much more valuable. Having said that, I have heard that there is a move to use distributed ledger technology (blockchain) for artworks which would allow some commission to flow back to artists each time a work was sold. A kind of royalty program for art similar (but different) to what is available to musicians.
The observation about so much art being hidden away from the public is no doubt true and it is something I have thought about myself. And I will admit that such thoughts pique my curiosity. But the reality is that whatever is available to the public, even if it was only 10% of the total number of artworks, is still far, far, more than I could see in a lifetime, even if I had dedicated my entire life to just looking at art. So even if all artworks were suddenly made available for all to see, I still would not get to see any more than what time would permit. I think what is more important, is that museums maintain a good cross-section of works from throughout the ages and from all genres. This is where good curators come in. So I cannot really say that this saddens me. I don't do well when given too much choice anyway, so I am probably better off ;)
By the way, that's a nice piece of art you have there too. It looks like an abstract of a one-eared koala wearing sunglasses. I reckon it would do very well in Japan. They are koala-mad over there. Seriously though, I do like it. Very much the sort of photographic art I enjoy. I am equally serious about seeing a one-eared koala wearing sunglasses. Very cool.
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