"In May 2013, German artist Gerhard Richter broke his own record when his 1968 painting “Domplatz, Mailand,” which looks like a fuzzy black-and-white photograph, sold at auction for $37 million, the highest amount for any living artist.
It was a record he held for six months, until Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog” smashed it, selling for $58.4 million at Christie’s.
The number staggered even the auctioneer, Jussi Pylkkanen. “We are in a new era of the art market,” he said.
The total sales that night at Christie’s: $495 million, setting yet another record for the highest single auction haul ever.
A new era is one way to put it; another would be a world gone mad. As the .00001 percent run out of mansions to buy, they’ve poured their wealth into art. And not art many would find, well, good.
While there’s been a run on blue-chip artists such as Picasso, Pollock, Lichtenstein and Johns, collectors are increasingly throwing out the old rules, spending millions on artists still alive who are producing art that is less and less accessible.
The newer and more outré, the more middle-aged billionaires believe they have modern tastes. It’s a cynical attempt to be cool by consumption, and increasingly, the artists they collect create work for them that verges on contemptuous. Would you like to buy a pile of dirt? One billionaire did.
“I have no idea” what makes a good collector, says author and art expert Don Thompson. But for wealthy buyers, nothing’s more appealing than contemporary art.
“You can collect branded artists,” he says, “and be seen as having cutting-edge taste.”
Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei’s “Tree #11″ is one in a series of 15 dead trees. It sold in 2012 for $468,000. “if this was Joe Blow,” one collector said, “it wouldn’t mean anything.”Photo: Stockamp Tsai Collection
“Balloon Dog (Orange)” by Jeff Koons. The work sold for $58.4 million, a world auction record for the artist and a world auction record for a living artist, according to Christie’s.Photo: AP
In his new book, “The Supermodel and the Brillo Box: Back Stories and Peculiar Economics from the World of Contemporary Art” (Palgrave Macmillan), Thompson explores this peculiar, secretive, insular world in which the rich can’t consume fast enough, while their artists produce with a hint of mockery and the prices go ever skyward.
... contemporary art lacks provenance (rarely is it a museum piece, nor has it passed the art-world metric of remaining relevant for 40 years after its creation)...
...“I am an art collector. This is not about art collecting,” he told Bloomberg Businessweek. “For a moment last night, I thought I was in the commodities market.”
In 2012, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei — whose stints in jail have turned him into a human-rights cause — showed “Tree #11” at Art Basel. It was one in an edition of 15 actual dead trees and sold for $468,000.
How can a dead tree command so much? It depends who has attached their name to it. Asked by the Miami Herald if transporting a dead tree halfway around the world made sense, billionaire art collector Norman Braman was shocked.
“Of course, it does,” he said. “It makes sense because of who the artist is. This is Weiwei. He’s a world-renowned artist, and his works are in demand. Now if this was by Joe Blow, it wouldn’t mean anything.”
And so goes the circular logic of the art world.
...another controversial aspect of the contemporary-art world: the absence of women. “There has never been a woman on the list of the top 25 artists in the world,” Thompson says, “Ever.” The artists, the dealers, the buyers all remain predominantly male.
This holds true for the makeup of the three emerging markets for contemporary art: Qatar, Abu Dhabi and China. Every day, a multimillion-dollar piece of contemporary art sells to one of these three regions."
Also see my related Journal Entry for April 21st...
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