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They Paid What? Absurd Paintings that Sold for Millions (artsumo.com)
14 points by andrewcross on Feb 3, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 19 comments

This is pretty disappointing, treading over the same old ground - "my daughter could paint that". I was particularly disappointed with the inclusion of the Miro and the Rothko. Those Rothkos are incredibly subtle, and arresting, and enormous, and have dozens and dozens of layers of paint put together in really complex ways that we are still trying to understand. The Tate Modern put on a Rothko show a few years ago and exhibited a cross section of a Rothko (cut out of one of his canvasses that I believe was ruined some other way) and you could see this complexity. These paintings are often very compelling in person, even if they "boring" on the screen of your iPhone or laptop.

Meh, any piece of art in this price range is typically being bought mainly for the right to own "the original" of a piece that had some kind of historically important role. Sure, you can copy lots of things, which is true of older art, too. For rather less than the price of a Picasso you can get a very nice, extremely accurate copy that requires forensic methods to distinguish from the original (though some artists are easier to duplicate precisely than others). But it'd be a copy, and some people are willing to pay millions to "own a piece of history". There's no real reason that'd be different just because the piece of history is 20th-century art history, and/or you don't like the piece or the artistic movement it was part of.

Heck, one of the points of Warhol's art was mass-producing screen prints, and people still pay a lot for an original, rather than a screenprinted reproduction.

Reposting an old comment. The art world obeys supply and demand - where demand has no relation to the real world:

If you are more curious about the contemporary art world market and why $29M is not that expensive[1], I recommend "The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art".

In general, brand (in this case Christie's and Sotheby's) ranks supreme above all else. Once you are branded, you can pretty much sell anything as expensive art.

Also, an interesting factoid - when we hear of Far East/Middle East buyers bidding tens of millions (or more) for a painting, we naturally tend to think - who buys that without seeing it - but as the book points out - the painting has most likely gone to see the buyer already (e.g. Dubai/Hong Kong pre-auction private tour).

Excerpts from the book:

"Money itself has little meaning in the upper echelons of the art world -- everyone has it. What impresses is ownership of a rare and treasured work such as Jasper Johns' 1958 White Flag. The person who owns it (currently Michael Ovitz in Los Angeles) is above the art crowd, untouchable. What the rich seem to want to acquire is what economists call positional good; things that prove to the rest of the world that they really are rich."

Jasper Johns' White Flag



Estimates on the artist economy:

"40k artists resident in London (about same number in NYC)

For London and NYC each:

75 superstar artists (>$1M/yr income)

300 mature, successful artists (>$100k/yr income)

5,000 part time artists (need to supplement their income)"


[1] "If a great apartment costs $30 million, than a Rothko [big deal famous contemporary artist] that hangs in the featured spot in the living room can also be worth $30 million - as much as the value of the apartment. But no one could envision a $72.8 million apartment to use for comparison..."

This is the kind of conspicuous consumption that used to get people beheaded or shot in revolutions. It's an obscenity.

This is not consumption at all.

A painting is probably a few hundred $ worth of materials perhaps a couple of hundred hours labour tops.

The average person probably wastes/consumes more rubbish in a week or two.

This is a rich person not consuming if anything.

"Conspicuous consumption" refers to the practice of spending money purely to demonstrate your ability to spend money. Don't be obtuse.

Isn't that true of just about anything relating to the very rich? Maybe excluding the Buffett-style low-key-lifestyle rich. I find it difficult to get more worked up about millions for a painting than millions for a Maybach or ostentatious yacht/mansion/jet. I'm somewhat bothered by the inequality of such concentration of wealth existing in the first place, but if it's going to exist, I guess it's fine with me if they waste it on status symbols.

Jets are actually really useful, and even yachts and cars can be actively enjoyed. Buying shitty ugly art just as a status symbol is nothing like that, and you pretty much deserve a guillotine or a bullet for that kind of bullshit.

It's not really conspicuous, since it's usually not revealed who owns the painting, and the paintings are warehoused or displayed in a private home. It's also not really consumption, since it's just a painting.

Ummmm you could sell your "3 year old nephew's" art for $100,000 but for some reason you haven't? Right....

I do get tired of the old insult to art that "I could do better" but for some reason that person has 'chosen' not to make millions and be famous.

People need to stop fearing things they don't or can't understand.

What's there to understand?

That people will pay money for things.


Apple memorabilia and items connected to Steve Jobs continue to be hot items, with a working model of the company's first computer selling at auction Friday for $374,500.

Exactly, really it's not that hard, but as this blog article shows some people still just don't get art and/or how it's valued.

And it's ok not to understand things, but it's not ok to ridicule things just because you don't understand them.

I think one of us missed the other's point.

Are the paintingss absurd? or the price? The author seems to be suggesting that the paintings sold for more than their value, but the market sets the value, not the percieved effort in the creation of the art.

It isn't much different in many other industries. The buyer /market sets the value, not those who aren't in the market.

This seems relevant: http://www.jehsmith.com/1/2013/02/eefin-and-hambone-or-what-...

What gives the appearance of some monopoly on genius to the sort of cultural output that is housed in museums and Lincoln Plaza and so on is just this: that brainless one-percenters are spending huge amounts of money to put their names on these monuments, and the brainless bourgeoisie makes pilgrimages to them, spending medium sums of money to have a brush with cultural objects that supposedly edify by their simple proximity. The illusion that genius is stored up in sites of high culture is sustained by capital and by the laziness and gullibility of culture's consumers: all the season-ticket holders, all the dupes of the museums' advertising departments, for their part driven ever further, under the compulsion of capital, to make the Ottoman sultan's throne, or medieval armor, or Greco-Bactrian statuary, look like so many things to buy-- passing them off as a special class of objects, museum objects, that you can buy in a way just by going and standing in front of them.

The value of artwork (or other non-utilitarian object) is very much subjective. Human value judgements can become absurdly skewed (e.g. [1]) by our interpretation of an object as a status symbol, which can lead us to value in the extreme otherwise useless objects.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulip_mania

Why does everyone want to count other people's money?

Omg this is so bad, we have great paintings at http://piazzaart.com/

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