Skip to content

Stupid Money, Silly Art?

October 17, 2012

This post has been inspired by several articles on modern art prices that I found on the internet. Funnily enough all of them mention one artist – Damien Hirst (, whose artwork was sold extremely successfuly in 2008. Back then in September the “Money Week” wrote:

 „Despite it being among the worst weeks for Wall Street since the 1929 crash, all but five of the 223 lots were sold, raising a record £111m. Sotheby’s was quick to declare the auction a royal success, while the art world breathed a huge collective sigh of relief – maybe there is still puff left in the contemporary art market.“

But is there? More to the point is Damien Hirst just an extremely lucky guy or is he really that gifted and his artwork is worth the “stupid” money that art lovers are paying? I’d be inclined to agree with the first statement as I don’t think that dead animals clasify as art and I’m also not very happy with his statement the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks “need congratulating” because they achieved “something which nobody would ever have thought possible” on an artistic level. So you could call me biased, but I’d say that he is someone who has been extremely overrated and let get away with too much.

In the same article the “Money Week” quotes a veteran New York art dealer Richard Feigen and according to him “the value of modern art is too much dictated by the “mafia of the art world” – the dealers and curators who have cowed credulous rich collectors into paying absurd prices. They’ve done this by keeping such a tight rein on the art produced and how much art is seen that they’ve been able to maintain an illusion that these works are scarce, stage-managing a boom in post-war art.”

“The price of the art itself is a delicate matter – it is highly subject to the vagaries of opinion.” I totally agree on that, yet it seems that now everything’s in the hands of the delears (who get a 50% cut of the final sale price!). During the private viewings they have to dictate an opinion and to make “sure that the buyer will continue to swallow inflated prices”. (In this case, it seems that Damien Hirst has found the best ones on this planet!)

Anyway, here’s a great spot to stop for a while, as I am inviting you to join my own little experiment. I have been browsing the Saatchi Online Gallery, which is a good place for an artist to get noticed, and have chosen something for you to look at. Bellow you will find five pieces representing different mediums, the question is – can you guess the prices? Just a little hint, five sums that you can choose from: $195.00; $600.00; $800.00; $1,800.00; and $1,975.00. (Of course this is how much the artists are charging for their artwork, so the dealers might multiply the sums at least by two.) You will find the correct answers right at the bottom of this post.

Beach 1 September, by W Van de Wege (◦9.8 x 9.8 x 0.4 in)

Icare, by David Ortsman (◦19.7 x 25.6 x 0.4 in – Paper)

I Happy therefore I am, by Jeff Zhang (◦12.2 x 12.6 x 9.4 in – Fiberglass)

INTO THE RAINBOW VEINS, by Giovanni Capriotti (Paper)

Cowardly Painting 3, by Felix Baudenbacher (◦19.7 x 15.7 x 0.8 in – Canvas)

I’m not sure if you managed to guess the prices right (please let me know), but some of these pieces, in my opinion, are too dear. Well, to tell the truth there’s only one that I would like to own, in that context the prices are more than too dear, they seem ridiculous.

Anyway, lets get back to the bigger art market. So far we have established that first of all you have to find good art dealers to represent you and your artwork. Is that enough? Maybe… as according to the same article in the “Money Week” there’s some great news for all contemporary artists – “the number of wealthy collectors has multiplied 20 times over the past 25 years. The number of museums picking up art has also exploded in that time. Over the past 25 years, more than 100 major new museums have been built around the world, each with the intention of acquiring 2,000 pieces a year … with few Old Masters or Impressionist paintings coming to market, the museums have had to focus their energies on getting hold of dramatic contemporary pieces to make their mark”. I must admit I was really relieved when I saw the words “dramatic contemporary pieces”!

I really hope that a supermarket receipt doesn’t fall under this cathegory… But here’s another story that can be called a “Monochrome Till Receipt”. Have you heard it? In short – the Tate owns a till receipt for £70.32. The idea behind all this – artist Ceal Floyer went to Morrisons and bought some things. All the goods bought (Alka Seltzer, rock salt, pickled eggs, swing bin bags etc.) are white, and can be seen as a monochromatic still life. Well, lets say it is a still life, but the most frightening thing is that this “artwork” at some point in 2006 was estimated at £30,000! (More on that here.)

The epilogue. Ideas that Luke Johnson expressed in the Financial Times: “I salute those who have created the merry-go-round – the gallery owners, the critics, the auctioneers, the publicists and the artists. It has been a wonderful scheme to make lots of money out of almost nothing.”

P.S. It seems that if you are an artist you should worry only about finding a good art dealer, meeting kind critics and convincing rich art collectors that you are the buisiness.

P.P.S. As the British say – keep calm and carry on…

— — —

Beach 1 September – $195.00 (Sold) Icare – $800.00; I Happy therefore I am – $1,800.00; Into The Rainbow Veins – $600.00; Cowardly Painting 3 – $1,975.00.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 17, 2012 7:33 pm

    What a very good post, and rant, in the best sense. I so totally agree and would have written that post myself but I think I’d get too emotional. Because it is all so frustrating, especially because it is at the cost of honest artists working to their own high standards, but often quietly out of the spotlight. The whole situation you’ve sketched here has given art a bad name, and no wonder.
    Many of us are working to support and advocate alternatives, so there is hope.

    • October 19, 2012 7:30 pm

      Hi, Sarah. I’m very glad to hear that you liked my “rant”. It was hard not to get emotional, so I just stuck to the facts. I think these facts are beyond anything that can be understood by a normal mind (here I would include even young children, who spend their money on sweets, as I am sure that they’d know that there’s no receipt on this planet that could be worth 30 thousand pounds). I’m just wondering how art dealers get away with such things… Well, as you say, there’s still hope. Lets cling to it! Kristina

  2. October 17, 2012 8:51 pm

    Great post! I myself am currently researching the commodity market and dematerialized art; that should be a doozy 🙂

    • October 19, 2012 6:57 pm

      Thank you for your comment. Glad to hear you found this post useful. K.

  3. October 18, 2012 7:59 pm

    Art must have a new life, a revolution. Art as commodity & investment is not its true purpose. This world is alien to the nature of most artists. It has been educator, propagandist, entertainer and other things. Where is Art’s future? One or more of those roles again or something new – therapist? Yes artists want to make a living from their Art, but I believe the future is another way.
    😀 YAY!

    • October 19, 2012 7:09 pm

      Thank you for leaving a comment, Patricia. I agree with you that art shouldn’t be just a form of investment, its true purpose should be to portray some important, probably hidden message, that can be grasped just looking at the artwork. I also agree with it being an educator and a therapist, so yes, we should somehow shift the emphasis from “money” to hmm… what could we call this? maybe “emotional satisfaction”? I can’t think of a better term right now… K.

      • October 20, 2012 9:19 am

        Hi, just thought you’d like to know that this topic sparked a lively debate last evening. We ended being of the view that, come the revolution, it would not be the art object that would be important in the future, but the act of creating Art and the interaction and collaboration of artists with people. In this way Art would be a valuable vehicle for building the health and well-being of community and individuals. So it’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it. 😀

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: