The Giacometti on the right, Walking Man 1 sold for $104.3 million in February 2010.
Why on earth will someone pay so much money for a piece of art? And maybe not even a great piece of art – this Picasso is arguably not his best or more intriguing work and yet it set the latest record for the most amount paid at auction for a work of art. The New York Times asks this question of a group of interesting folks to shed some light on this phenomenon.
Denis Dutton, author of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure and the Human Experience, says that while art may be a “poor long-term investment”, it is a type of work that cannot be truly replicated. He argues that as “music, drama and dance offer audiences the frission of live performance, they are also endlessly replicable – and pleasurable – in recordings and films” whereas a painting and sculpture are perfect and irreplaceable as they hold the true markings of the artist who created it. Thus, the high price for authenticity and a piece of the artist is worth the price tag.
Eileen Kinsella, editor of Artnewsletter, argues that it is the push of wealthy collectors to snag previously unavailable works (such as those held in private collections or being sold out of estates after the death of the owner) that make the auction experience more dire, and thus they are willing to pay a premium. The idea of ‘rare’ is argued as the main reason to drop $100mil on a painting…
I guess if you really need to impress your friends with that rare work on the mantle then…have at it.
Donald Kuspit, author of The End of Art, has the same argument as Kinsella, but economics professor Kathryn Graddy has a different idea: there aren’t many attractive assets out there and art can easily increase in value over time.
All of this is incredibly unsexy.
Really. Buy art because it will increase in value. Buy art because you can own a piece of another person. Buy art because it is rare and you want to be ‘that guy’ that owns something so important. But what about buying art because you love it? Because the work speaks to you? Buy art because you want to support the artist?
Is this a rather naive approach? To some, perhaps. But the reality is, many of us out there simply will never be able to purchase a million dollar work – so the idea of spending our paycheck on a painting seems silly since the chances are it will not double in value within a few years. That certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be buying art though. The best advise I ever got was “buy what you love”. Unless you are an investor and you are well versed in the art market – fuck what these articles say and buy what you love.
Whether it is a flea market find, or a work from a local artist, or a work in a gallery that you can’t stop thinking about – whether it is $1 or $1,000 – if you love it, then take that sucker home with you and enjoy it for as long as you have the wall space. It might not be a financial investment (though it might be!), it is always a quality-of-life investment. I have works that I purchased from friends, fellow artists and strangers, that adorn my walls, or is shoved in every corner of the place, so much work in fact that I don’t have enough wall space for it all. And it makes my house feel like my home, they continue to inspire me throughout the day and sometimes I find myself gazing at them on lazy afternoons.
While some of the original or limited edition works I purchased have a good chance of increasing in value, it wasn’t the sole reason for the buy, and many of the works I own have really no chance at all of recouping their sticker price. It’s like having kids – does it ever really pay off in the end, or are you just happy they are there to entertain you in the long run?
If you want to start collecting just for fun (or perhaps for more), remember these things: always make sure you know the date, materials and background of the work you buy – understanding the history and motivation and method of the work are invaluable. Know how to properly store the work, that includes professional framing! Either as the artist or bring the work to a professional framer and have them discuss your best options to protect the work. And of course, make sure there is a signature.
But most of all – just buy art because you can’t bear to live without it.