Wednesday, May 05, 2010

It's Picasso...No, It's Giacometti...No, It's Picasso...Ehhhh, What's on Animal Planet?

I don't always agree with Holland Cotter's take on the art market. After all, I depend upon it being healthy, and he doesn't. I want it to be strong; he cheered when it stumbled. But when the man is right, he's right. In his take on the ---yawn---record-setting auction result last night, he echoed my sentiments exactly:
Whatever the state of the global economy, there’s always a ton of discretionary cash floating around looking for some place to land. Last night at Christie’s a chunk of it — $106.5 million to be exact – landed on a Picasso painting called “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” setting the record for any art sold anywhere at auction up till now.

Despite the high figure, the event feels a bit ho-hum. The sales price is, relatively speaking, just a notch up from the $104.5 million that Sotheby’s got for a Giacometti sculpture in London in February, which was in turn only a smidge more expensive than an earlier record-setting Picasso. These days, there’s so much money in so many hands, and so many of those hands are after trophy art, that record-breaking has become routine, de rigueur.

Two, three, four million extra? More? Worth it. After all, if you’re the evening’s big spender, you not only suddenly own some fantastically valuable object, but your extravagance gets a mention in the news. Lay out the same bucks for a hospital wing, and who cares?
Of course, the conventional wisdom is that this rise in the tide will raise all boats, so I should be encouraged. But ask just about any dealer in Chelsea, and they'll tell you that while the bluest of the market's chips are selling at a fast clip, the rest of the market is still just trudging along. Things are better than a year ago (when it felt as if we'd entered the Twilight Zone), for sure, but it's still hard out there.

But that doesn't explain to me why this record seems so "so what." It is, as Mr. Cotter notes, "just a notch up" on the previous record, and good news is good news (and these days, I'll take it). I guess I have this sense that setting the record was the goal here. Someone decided that they wanted to own not just "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust" (a perfectly fine painting from what I can tell by jpeg), but "the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction." And once it had been bid up past the old record, well...been there, done that.

It all just seems so 2007.

Labels: art market


Anonymous Anonymous said...

yea, the rich are getting richer and the rest of us are just getting more resentful, but ho, hum, nothing is really changing in that regard.
so go ahead, flaunt all your dough, like the rest of us really care.

5/05/2010 11:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Ha, yes.
Maybe bidder number 2 who lost will donate his chunk to a charity or to keep a hospital going. That would benefit many more markets more directly.

5/05/2010 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Despite arguments regarding the relevance of painting, aesthetics or even financial scams, this bares testimony to the ongoing legacy of painting as perhaps one of the most desired creations of man.

5/05/2010 02:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I am not sure that painting is so much the desire, than the prestige of the signature of the artist.

Rich people sometimes buy art they don't really understand. It's only for the prestige so when they invite people at their house, they can say "Oh, look, I've got a Picasso!". It's very superficial. It really depends on the collector, really.

Cedric C

5/05/2010 03:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We live in a world of the expedited, compressed and mass-produced, and sometimes luxury is having whole things, one of a kind things. Art fills this niche, especially the high priced auction sold stuff.

I prefer not to evaluate or judge why someone might feel justified in paying any amount of money for a piece of art. The justification of luxury is a purely subjective thing, and really beyond judgment.

It has got to be a lot of money though, even to the buyer, and I hope whoever paid it, feels they got their money's worth.

There is enough concentrations of wealth, too, that for those of us where this is a pure spectator sport, it does seem to be rather unspectacular and monotonous. And a bit out of step with the times, too. Perhaps they didn't get the memo? ;-)

5/05/2010 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

The only ho-hum feature to this sale was that the record price goes to a dead artist already solidly entrenched in the canon/art history.

Big prices are sort of interesting if the artist's career is still an ongoing concern, but unless you've been secretly holding onto a trunk of Picassos, for some time now, it's hardly remarkable that this was the auction high point.

5/05/2010 10:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Julian said...

I picked up Charles Saatchi's book for a second today. In it he is asked:
"Is it not just vulgar to spend ten times the value of an artwork just to make sure you get your hands on it?"

CS replies:
"It is very vulgar, and I wish I had a more genteel, and cheaper, way of getting the pictures I want. But they are usually owned by very rich people who are often greedy"

I thought this was humorous for many reasons.

5/06/2010 01:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Picasso,
I saw a bunch of your paintings at a museum last weekend, and I have to admit, I think you're kind of overrated. But kudos to you for keeping your market going all this time, and for the record price your painting brought at auction. At least you figured out how to milk the collectors for all they are worth.
oh, wait, your dead. .. well, so much for that.

5/06/2010 10:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Art critic's (Robert Hughes)take on the curse of the Mona Li$a ...

5/06/2010 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger tony said...

I think maybe it's a mistake to think that the super-rich are buying art. What to you & me may be a painting is for many of them a commodity which also has the attraction of giving the owner a certain cultural cachet which has been merited, not necessarily by knowledge or care, but by a cheque book.

PS As to Saatchi & the 'vulgarity' take the accumulation of wealth to such an extent that one can pay 100 million + is merely crude; the truly vulgar is in the accumulation itself.

5/07/2010 06:50:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

I get it now (I know, I'm a bit slow...)

The lucrative art market has to preserve itself and its investments, especially in economically challenging times like this. And although money is not flowing around, as most galleries and artists are struggling to survive and even the more successful ones are seeing a decline in sales, those occasional high end, extremely-ridiculously-bombastic prices paid for the most sought after art are what keeps this market from collapsing, keeps the bubble from bursting. In other words: these sales are what protects the art market, making it burst-proof, non-bubble material.
Which is impressive, since of all things, one would think art is one of the first to go in challenging times.

Beautiful! (I think.... unless one visualizes the number of third world countries that could be saved with this sum... but I'm sure by protecting the value of art, those same collectors will indeed be able to donate the profit from their next artwork sale to a good cause and help the world even more!)

I would not be surprised if the 'anonymous' buyer is someone who has a lot to gain from those prices staying high (of course it's not a newbie collector!)

Well, you get my point.

So, in the spirit of Cotter's cheers:

The Art is dead - long live the Art!

5/07/2010 09:50:00 AM  

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