intraspace: the review lounge

Saturday, August 26, 2006

the worth of art

the worth of art: pricing the priceless, by judith benhamou-huet

this book caught my eye on the shelves of the local library when i was browsing the art section. it's a subject that interests me - how do you assign a monetary value to an artwork - and this book's nicely sized. a quick flick through showed that it wouldn't be too hard to read.

the original was written in french and the writing has an interesting quirkiness about it, partly because it has been translated but also because benhamou-huet writes with wit.

she outlines the elements that transform the price that an artwork sells for. these elements are: the buyer, the intermediary, the seller, the place of sale, and the artist. she explains how the circumstances of these elements bring marketability and value to the artwork. benhamou-huet describes a world of asperational buyers who collect for status and for investments that will pay off, wheelers and dealers, cunning auction houses and galleries, recognised centres of art and anguished artists who exude the 'romanticism' and 'tragedy' of the artistic life. fascinating stuff.

art collectors and auction houses come out looking pretty bad. there are some pretty tasty quotes about collectors and their hunger for status:

"From New York to Los Angeles, people with new money have a complex. Taking an interest in modern or contemporary art allows you to put a stamp of respectability, a hallmark of culture on the person concerned." - according to one quoted 'art professional'.

"Among the most famous examples of art buying of the last few years, we find the collection of Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas billionaire. Between 1996 and 1998, he spent sums estimated in the region of $300 million to amass a number of important Impressionist works. Wynn has become a driven collector, going so far as to tell an American magazine that 'I've never enjoyed myself so much before. For me, painting is beginning to mean as much as cash.'"

wow! as much as cash! can you imagine?... but the really great thing is that many of the works ended up being displayed in the prestigious bellagio casino, helping create the perfect atmosphere for high rollers to part with large amounts of money.

so there it is. highly recommended read this one.

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