Sunday, October 14, 2012

Abstraktes Bild = $34.3 million

Abstraktes Bild, Gehrard Richter, 1994
This painting sums up why I am both in love with and entirely mystified by the art world. Or, shall I say, the art market. Art history and the art market are necessarily related, but also completely separate. I appreciate Gehrard Richter, 80, as an artist, for example. I think this painting is an exemplary piece of contemporary art. His name is practically synonymous with contemporary art.

And this painting just sold at Sotheby's for £21,321,250 ($34,297,363). The sale broke the record for largest sale of a piece of work by a living artist. Which at those figures I imagine is pretty easy to believe. Sure, it's a big painting at 102 3/8 x 133 7/8in. The Guardian has a good image for scale. And like I said, it's exemplary. But $34.5 million????

Oh wait, I forgot to mention that it was sold from Eric Clapton's private collection. Right.

So that seems to be where the difference comes in. An extremely large part of why this painting sold for so much is because of that lovely little word that museums love (to hate?): provenance. For collectors and connoisseurs, where the painting has been before is almost as important as the painting itself. 

I love this painting (I'll just throw that out there, it's true), but the value of work is something that kind of boggles the mind. And this isn't the highest auction figure -- not by a long shot. Gustav Klimt is a notoriously high raker-in -- figures have exceeded $40 million. And back in May of this year, Edvard Munch's The Scream set the record at nearly $120 million.



It's interesting that my job at the bookstore is largely based on placing values on books and other printed and recorded material so that they can be resold. All day long I compare current prices from in-print as well as out-of-print and occasionally collectible material. It's interesting then, in a way, that I don't see art this way at all. I can't even begin to start placing a monetary value on The Scream, or on a Monet, or a Vermeer or whatever. How can one-of-a-kind artistic and even cultural icons have price tags? It seems so weird. But then again, I'm not a collector or an appraiser. I thought about becoming one -- yes, I started an application to Christie's in London, but alas, I just couldn't wrap my head around it. The cash that people/companies are willing to shell out to purchase -- actually, invest in these works is just amazement itself.

But the numbers keep rising to baffling heights, and I just have to sit back and take it all in. Because I just don't get it at all. I do, but again, I don't. 

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