Archive for May 12th, 2015

pablo_picasso_les_femmes_d_alger_  Photo by ChristiesThis is Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O’), a 1955 painting from artist Pablo Picasso.  It created quite a stir yesterday when it became the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction when it went for a cool $179.36 million at Christie’s.

And while that might seem like an unfathomable amount of money to pay for any piece of art- or a small town for that matter- it is only the tip of the iceberg for extravagance in the recent art market.  At the same auction, a life size sculpture, Pointing Man, from Alberto Giacometti became the most expensive sculpture sold at auction when it fetched $143.3 million.

Paul Gauguin- When Will You Marry?

Paul Gauguin- When Will You Marry?

And keep in mind that these records are for pieces sold in auction, not those sold privately by dealers or other collectors.  In February, When Will You Marry? from Paul Gauguin sold privately for a whopping $300 million to a Swiss collector.  There are rumors of many other similar private sales with fantastic sums of money attached.

It’s always interesting to see the prices that these pieces bring and how we, the public, respond to these over the top sales, almost like a cheering crowd at the big game rooting the bidders to go ever higher.  We do like a spectacle. The shame is that the focus becomes all about the money and less about the artwork.  But then again, these big sales really have little to do with the actual art.  These exhibits of extreme affluence have become performance art in themselves with the artwork a mere prop that acts as a catalyst in setting off a series of actions that result in prices that boggle the mind of the average person.  It’s the Picasso and Gauguin now.  In time they will be replaced by a new crop of props designed to set off the same reactive chain.

Do I believe these works deserve these incredible prices?  Well, I do believe they are great pieces of art, high in the pantheon of art history with stories behind them that deserve telling.  They would be great without those prices attached to them.  No, these prices aren’t the value of the work itself– they are the price someone is willing to pay to attach their own name and ego to the history of the piece.

It’s kind of a reverse provenance.  Normally, an artist’s work is validated and gains value when it becomes part of a prestigious collection.  In this scenario, it is the collector who is trying to gain prestige and validation through the attainment of the artwork.  And at the moment, the going price to get that kind of thing is well over a 100 mil.

I think both Picasso and Gauguin would be more than a little amused at these prices.  And probably a little pissed off that they missed out on this kind of loot in their own lifetimes. For myself, I don’t give a damn what someone else paid for the work.  I would prefer that someone with those kind of resources would try to use them in helping others rather than conspicuously consuming but that is not my decision, is it?

In the end, it is what it is, as they say…


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