Friday, July 10, 2009

That Snarky, Exclusive Art World

The Library has two new interesting books on the contemporary art market. In her book about the exclusive world of expensive art, Seven Days in the Art World, Sarah Thornton notes that contemporary artists have sold works for record prices in recent years, including a Jeff Koons sculpture that went for $23.6 million in 2007 and a Lucian Freud painting that sold for $33.6 million in May 2008. The book was published before the October 2008 crash, so prices have gone down since then, but money is still flowing.

For example, I recently read in the NYT that Richard Prince’s paintings have dipped in price. Much favored by hedge-fund managers, Prince’s "nurse" paintings soared from less than $100,000 to as much as $6 million in the course of five years. In June, the first nurse painting to be sold since prices crashed was closely watched. Country Nurse, which had been valued at 5 million sold for $2.9 million – down perhaps, but still a great return on the original price.

One reason for the high prices, according to Thornton, is that many people still see art as a good investment. Another reason is simply that, "it's so expensive," she writes. "High prices command media headlines, and they have in turn popularized the notion of art as a luxury good and status symbol."

The $12 million Stuffed Shark: the Curious Economics of Contemporary Art offers an entertaining Freakonomics approach to the economics and psychology of the contemporary art world. The author explains why a smart New York investment banker would pay $12 million for the decaying, two ton stuffed carcass of a shark, and attempts to determine what makes a particular work valuable while others are ignored.

For more news on the world of high art, read the NYT and Faulk Central’s art magazines.

Art in America
Artforum International
Flash Art

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