May 17, 2019

"A market where extremely rich people pay too much for mediocre art and shut out the not-quite-as rich may not be the biggest issue in a wildly polarized economy."

"But art is the record of culture we leave for future generations, and it too is being warped by our unequal economy," writes economist Allison Schrager in "Even the Rich Aren’t Rich Enough for Jeff Koons/As billionaires compete for art in an overheated market, the merely affluent are giving up" (NYT).

I really don't know why I'm supposed to be bothered that Steve Mnuchin's dad paid $91 million for a shiny metal rabbit.

Schrager invites us to care about the psychology of art collectors who might see that an artwork sells for tens of millions and "assume the $50,000 work they can afford is not worth buying, especially if they can’t flip it for a quick profit at auction." You need people of "middle tier" wealth to buy product in the middle-tier market to keep the art market doing what it's supposed to do to cause art to come into being and leave a record that we existed.

I don't know. You've got that rabbit. That's the record. Future generations will look back on us and think we were that rabbit.

Untitled

100 comments:

Henry said...

I did not know that the extremely rich people were stopping the not-quite-as-rich from going to movies.

gspencer said...

I know I live in the First World, for which I'm grateful, but this problem on art sales is exclusively a First World problem that will never, ever bother me.

Jerry said...

I saw that rabbit in various on-line ads and thought: "Who'd be dumb enough to buy an inflated mylar rabbit at an art auction?"

Turned out it was a steel copy of an inflated mylar rabbit - and now we know who was dumb enough to buy it. But hey - if I had the money and wanted it?

(Shrug.)

I've bought stuff that other people would turn their noses up at. If it's worth the money to me then the value to others is unimportant. (Like my mother's figurine collection. She loved them, but I didn't care about them at all.)

SDaly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

This is one of the few paywalled New York Times articles I wish I could read. I just can't imagine an argument in favor of this thesis that isn't spurious.

When it comes to art, both great and mediocre, our wildly polarized economy is one of the most egalitarian imaginable. Art museums spot the national landscape and are generally quite affordable to enter. Even the art snatched up by the super rich is widely publicized, allowing anyone with the internet to take a look.

As a record of our culture, the market that Schrager complains about is a footnote to movies, popular music, graphic novels, architecture, industrial design.

rhhardin said...

Rabbit and Doberman that discovered it
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhhardin/4761359897

SDaly said...


An artist lamenting the lack of a sufficient number of bourgeoisie!

Craig Howard said...

I wonder when the NYT will feature an article about envy.

Henry said...

It is impossible for me to get worked up about artists in the middle tier of the $50,000 piece.

I know a lot of artists and no one is selling at the $50,000 level. This is like tv stars complaining they can't break into the movies.

rehajm said...

For those not willing to read it's a story of disruption. Without them [lower tier galleries], it is unclear where the new artists from future generations will come from.

Unclear but is it really that hard to imagine? For starters, how about Etsy?

Michael K said...

The art world really is crazy. A medical school classmate of mine has a son who sells paintings for millions.

My daughter works for a famous artist I never had heard of, John Baldassari, whose paintings also sell for millions.

She used to work in an art gallery in Venice CA where it was not unusual to have a woman come in, look at a painting, and wrote a check for $850,000 to buy it.

I assume much of this "greater fool theory" stuff,

Richard Fagin said...

The Emperor's New Clothes is the most important fairy tale we don't teach our kinds any more.

rehajm said...

Yes it's a story of first world problems but there's still the typical whinging about inequality. Russ Roberts helps to explain that myth.

Kay said...

There is a great essay by art critic, Dave Hickey, that talks about the strange and mystifying way money operates within the art world. He frames it in such a way to suggest that spending money is like casting a vote. That is, you believe in this work, this aesthetic, this direction for art, this point of view of the work -- you cast your vote by purchasing the object.

But spending money is not the only way you can cast a vote. You can write about the work, display it in your gallery, etc. And by making the work, you're obviously casting a vote.

PM said...

The extremely rich vs the not-quite-as rich is very distrubing for me.

Dave Begley said...

This is the perfect example of the Greater Fool theory of investing. He has, however, worked for high-end art over the long-term.

rehajm said...

New Chinese wealth helps drive up the value of the high end stuff.

Dave Begley said...

How much are Althouse's rats worth?

Millions.

buwaya said...

This makes no sense.

Historically the big deal artists worked for a monarch, a Borgia or a Medici or a Habsburg or a Bourbon.

Or someone or some organization that could afford them. The Signoria of Florence, the Pope, the Doge of Venice. Or someone else who would otherwise be rich and powerful even by modern standards.

AustinRoth said...

The funny thing is that the art world buyers at the super-richnlevel, at least the last couple decades, come way more from the Left (virtue signaling) than from the Right (preservationist oriented).

billo said...

I'm reminded of the tulip mania in the Netherlands in the 1600s, where tulip bulbs were selling for the equivalent of $30,000 each. It had little to do with any inherent value of the tulip, but they were being used for speculation. The same thing is true here -- and with real estate in places like San Francisco. Most of that art seems to be crap, but folk are parking money in it with the idea that they can keep the value up on the strength of their arrogance and turn it around before it collapses. It won't last forever.

tcrosse said...

New Chinese wealth helps drive up the price of the high end stuff

FIFY

Paddy O said...

"the merely affluent are giving up"

That's silly. The weird competitive super expensive art may be wildly overpriced in today's buy it to show off the label world. But there's a crazy amount of art out there, at all kinds of prices, for those who want art because they actually appreciate the art, not the label. The trouble is that most people don't know how to be their own person, and so have to depend on prices to tell them what they are supposed to like.

Go to art walks, go to artist colonies, look online for goodness sake. There's a wonderful market of amazing art out there, and the money spent can actually indulge someone's dream or passion rather than funding a bloated, tasteless industry.

elkh1 said...

After paying 91 million, the dad did not get a shinny rabbit but a picture of a shinny rabbit.

Is it art when the purchasers do not appreciate it as art, but a thing to buy and sell?
What is the difference between buying and selling "art", and buying and selling a potato?

Nonapod said...

The difference between the ultra rich and the merely rich brings to mind the college admissions scandal. The ultra rich can afford to have a 30+ million dollar building built on campus, while the merely rich have to settle for bribing test proctors and crew team coaches.

Caligula said...

The ultimate Veblen goods?

stlcdr said...

I bought a stylized oil painting of a dog with an apple on its head for around $65. It's fun to look at, and makes me chuckle.

Rick said...

Future generations will look back on us and think we were that rabbit.

Some future generation will list it for $20 at an estate sale.

pacwest said...

I bought a painting at Home Depot and only paid $29.99 for it. That's some shrewd investing right there.

glenn said...

They won’t think we’re that rabbit, they’ll think we’re that stupid.

JaimeRoberto said...

Artistic inequality is one of the most pressing issues of our times.

Narr said...

I've got some fine examples of Dogs Playing Poker in various media, but have never paid more than $12.00.

Narr
Correction, $18 for the big 'tapestry'

Fernandistein said...

Tulip Mania, anyone?

the merely affluent are giving up

Oh, those poor little dears.

Are any of them of color?

Bilwick said...

Some basic economics here: how does one determine how much is "too much" for someone to pay for something? "Well, it's more than I would pay" isn't a rational criterion.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

money laundering

gerry said...

These people - as Obama the Great opined - have made enough money. We - as a village - have the duty to regulate the inflation these creepy, irresponsible, greedy, tasteless, pseudo-intellectuals have visited upon the decadent-art market.

Fernandistein said...

money laundering


Rusty said...

Any art is better than no art at all.
I like original art. I collect wildlife prints and the art of my daughter and her friends. I also collect pre war and occupation Japanese prints. I look in second hand shops and flea markets. You'd be surprised what you can find.

Charlotte Allen said...

I don't care whether someone pays $91 million for a stupid Koons rabbit--or a cow-half preserved in formaldehyde or any of other ugly stuff that passes for "art" at the high end of the art market.

There is plenty of genuinely attractive, often witty art produced by talented artists for sale in modest local galleries and selling for relatively modest prices. My husband and I own two small abstract paintings that are quite lovely and for which we paid maybe $800 at most to a local gallery. We have a wooden sculpture that we love that cost us maybe $450. These are nice pieces made by artists serious of purpose and possessing genuine aesthetic aims and sensibilities. If we were richer, we'd probably buy more expensive stuff, of course, but we've done very nicely with the few pieces we have. This is the mid-market for art that the top "artists," gallery owners, and critics look down their noses at. This art isn't ugly, and it doesn't make political statements about our capitalist society or hypocrisy or whatever It's art that pleases people, and there's a market for it that isn't the slightest bit affected by the high end.

Art isn't supposed to be made to be "flipped." It's supposed to be made to honor God, or nature, or the human beings who might enjoy looking at it and finding meaning in it. If billionaires want to waste their billions on Koons junk--and on "art advisors" who steer them to Koons junk--that's their problem, not mine. And it's nice to know that the beautiful in art is now cheaper than the garish and ugly.

Rob said...

If there's reduced demand for high-end (but not super high-end) art, that's a good thing for art buyers in that bracket. They get to purchase what might have once sold for $50,000 for $35,000. The artists of works in that bracket are still making out like bandits, earning hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars a year. Unlike those whose art sells in the three digits, they can certainly make a living from their art, which is what every artist dreams of. So what exactly is the problem?

mezzrow said...

Every bunny loves some bunny sometime...

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...

91 million for a metal bunny is obscene.

rhhardin said...

A soft answer turneth away wealth.

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...

I was up at the Stanley Hotel the other night to see Lord Huron and as I wandered outside the property I found 2 bunnies sitting next to each other. I got the camera-phone out and they started to play around, hopping and chasing each other. I got about half of it on video. So cute.

Any one want a copy? only 91 million. If you act now, I'll slash the price in half. Just pay shipping and handling.

Meade said...

If I hadn’t married purely for love, I still might have married simply for the art. For example: her Bolognese sauce.

Meade said...

Priceless.

Anchovy1214 said...

If someone pays millions for a work of art only to discover that it is a worthless fake, they did not buy the art they bought the artist.

Art is a wonderful way to launder money. Private purchase, private sale, legit money in bank.

Francisco D said...

Any art is better than no art at all.
I like original art. I collect wildlife prints and the art of my daughter and her friends. I also collect pre war and occupation Japanese prints. I look in second hand shops and flea markets. You'd be surprised what you can find.


I used to do the same with vintage fountain pens until 10 years ago. I supported my habit by selling them off at a profit. I invested in modern Pelikan, Aurora and sailor pens that are now worth 2-3 times what I paid for them. Of course, I will never sell them.

My (former art teacher) wife convinced me to buy original artwork. We have spent up to the low 5 figures for pieces that I cherish. We also have some limited edition reprints that we bought on line and she framed. They were far superior to the $300-400 prints that I had been buying.

These collections are not investments. They (pens and artwork) have more emotional than financial value. They will be passed down to my heirs. I cannot put a price tag on these possessions.

rehajm said...

Here's the kicker- Scarcity. Koons is still alive and could crank out stainless rabbits like rabbits...Monet won't make more haystacks.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

@Meade
but how's the hasenpfeffer?

Charlie Eklund said...

There’s a sucker born every minute, and two to take him, both artfully and artistically.

wildswan said...

I'm making a small card, sprayed painted gold, which says in fake embossed lettering: Cost: $91,000,000.65. Plan to sell it as local art displays for $34.95. After all, it's the price tag that matters and so that's what I'm going to sell so that middle class art collectors can afford the same thing as the ultra wealthy. NO TO INEQUALITY.

PS. Say - how about a rat for my price tag art?

buwaya said...

Our art are almost all things we have made, my wife's weaving and things, mounted photographs like my avatar, my camera collection (a lineup of Kodak 3A's, Mini Speed Graphics, etc.). My wife has a collection of San Francisciana, old photographs, souvenirs of the 1915 and 1939 expositions, etc. She also has a fountain pen collection!

All that isn't art as such.

Howard said...

The fine arts has been in freefall since Thomas Kinkade kicked the bucket

buwaya said...

We should sell all this stuff off before we stick the kids with it.

John henry said...

Someone here, a year or two back called it phart for phoney art.

I'd credit them if I knew who.

It's a wonderful word that I use when discussing art. Most of which is bullshit.

John Henry

rehajm said...

If a sucker is born every minute there's no shortage of suckers. The rabbit was a bargain.

Rusty said...

Francisco D
Like you I collect what I enjoy. I have no idea what it is worth. It brings me joy and that is all that matters.

RobinGoodfellow said...

What is the difference between buying and selling "art", and buying and selling a potato?

If you hungry you can eat the potato.

Michael K said...

I just talked to my art world daughter and she agrees with me about the "Greater Fool Theory."

They are buying this stuff like San Francisco real estate. I remember the collectables bubble in the 70s when people were buying stuff to get out of dollars like they were from Argentina.

Yancey Ward said...

Middle tier art ain't worth $50,000, so the middle tier buyer is having his eyes opened.

Yancey Ward said...

We obviously need the Affordable Art Act, though for trademark issues, we may have to call it something else.

Meade said...

“but how's the hasenpfeffer?”

Not as much demand for the hoppinfluffy as there is for the Texas cow. Or even for what I call the Begley rat. People just can’t seem to get enough of the Begley rat. Thanks for asking.

Richard said...


Blogger Rusty said...
Any art is better than no art at all.

You haven't been to the Tate Modern art museum in London.

Fran Waxman said...

Why is it that I see a cute bunny rabbit while others see an animal to shoot for fun? Outlaw sadism, cruelty, and barbarism. Outlaw guns!

iowan2 said...

billon @2:20 nails it, parking money hoping to hold it together. Is the gain or loss a tax event?
My brother, the farmer, got into a mind set he needed some art, paintings specifically. No more than 3 figures. He asked a gallery owner about certain pieces, and if they would hold their value? The gallery owner, wisely told him to buy what he would enjoy each time he looked at it. Unless he was 6 figures, and buy name artists, art is not an investment.

Along the same line, I know dozens of guys that invest in guns. 2 guys each have over 100 AR15 platform rifles, a hedge against Democrats taking over all three branches and outlawing them. They'll be upset, but get rich when the price goes into 4 figures. Lots of guys buy collectible guns as an investment. Clean them, never fire them.

I understand this kind of art collector. The SS rabbit confuses me. But that's what makes the world go around.

iowan2 said...

Why is it that I see a cute bunny rabbit while others see an animal to shoot for fun? Outlaw sadism, cruelty, and barbarism. Outlaw guns!

Makes my mouth water. Grandmas fried rabbit. Mmm mmm good!
Grandma would trade pies for fresh dressed rabbit, (with the hind legs still attached, didn't want any cat!)

Michael said...

People should buy art that gives them pleasure, is emotionally or intellectually stimulating, and they can afford. If you don't insist that the artists be famous, and you're not doing this to impress other people, you can do perfectly well with contemporary regional artists and less-known 20th Century painters without ever getting out of four figures. Start with prints and there are very nice things around for a few hundred dollars. Know your taste and try to specialize a little bit.

Lots of things that people are paying tens of millions for in Miami Beach will be forgotten in museum basements in 30 years.

Narayanan said...

Strange to see ... Tom Wolfe ... Has not been mentioned so far.

Harold said...

Art collecting has never been a poor people's game, why should it be different now?

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

...what I call the Begley rat

ewww. Is that the Madison Marmot ?

Narayanan said...

Dick Francis has written novels with heroic characters who are artists. His style is low-key.

In the Frame.

To the Hilt.

Shattered.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

The SS rabbit confuses me.

of all the rabbits in Hitler's Hasenpfeffer brigade, they were the most feared

Narayanan said...

Has anyone seen example of the technique he describes in " To the Hilt "

Narayanan said...

The SS rabbit confuses me.

Didn't one of them attack Jimmah Carter!!

Chris Lopes said...

"Why is it that I see a cute bunny rabbit while others see an animal to shoot for fun?"

Not for fun, for dinner. Hunting is about a nice walk in the woods that sometimes leads to food.

Narayanan said...

Professora said ... I really don't know why I'm supposed to be bothered that Steve Mnuchin's dad paid $91 million for a shiny metal rabbit.

If he paid with T-biils it could be insider:trading.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

“Non-Rabbit Missing” was always perplexing

Automatic_Wing said...

I never thought about it before, but now I feel extremely oppressed because I can't afford to buy all this mediocre art. Thanks, NYT!

Char Char Binks said...

This is not about art. This is about the super-rich and their play money. It doesn't affect me at all.

Fritz said...

50% tax on all art sales greater than $50.

Ambrose said...

I think we need federal regulation of the art market. It's too important to leave to the rich.

MikeD said...

I may have missed a comment but, Mnuchin's dad is an art dealer & he purchased it on behalf of an unnamed client. Any innuendo regarding Steve & the Trump Administration is an indicator one may be a carrier of TDS. BTW, it's been over 50 years since I first read Vincent Price's autobiography "I Know What I Like" & I've always considered it a must read for any nascent collector.

Lewis Wetzel said...

". . . art is the record of culture we leave for future generations"?
Up until a century or so ago, people would have said, I suppose, that art was the human expression of ideas or an idea.

n.n said...

A lot of green people curing socially-induced stigmas.

iowan2 said...

50% tax on all art sales greater than $50.

I was playing with the same premise. For real. Taxing the rich has always been leftist wet dream.

A ??% tax on anything over ?$500,000? Sales in that range means there is no victim. Both parties have already make enough. They are self selected, voluntary participate

Just like yachts and airplanes. That worked well.

Lewis Wetzel said...

I suppose the people who buy this stuff are the rich, advised by people with a high reputation in the art world, and museums and foundations, advised by the same kind of people.

Molly said...

Are people spending money on this as consumption or as an investment? would you complain that super rich people spend money to vacation in some exotic location (say "the moon") and thereby shut out the not quite so rich who can no longer afford to vacation in that exotic location? (in which case, who cares?) Or are you saying that there are "lumpy" investment opportunities that are only available to people with a lot of money (say, ocean side mansions)? (in which case, who cares?)

Bob Loblaw said...

Video games are soaking up the creativity of our time and are what future generations will see. Crap splatters on canvas and metal rabbits will be forgotten in five years, which is the only sane thing to do.

tim in vermont said...

Bought a couple paintings from an artist once when we were decorating a new home that had a lot of wall space. First from his reaction we said to each other in unison “We paid too much.” not that we cared, they were worth it to us and we had looked at a lot of art and had a sense of values. The second thing was just something I thought to myself about the artist, it was “Geezums fellah, act like you’ve been in the end zone before.”

I do admit though that art is the one area where I sort of subscribe to the “Labor Theory of Value.” I wanna see a lot of brushstrokes, I wanna know it didn’t come off of some printer. I also want to see that the artist has a point of view about the natural world. It’s probably not 100% true that the more brushstrokes and square inches, the more value, because sometimes you see work that is just amazing that probably wasn’t that time consuming for the artist to create, but that required an eye for scene, for the important details. and capture colors that make a painting work.

Lewis Wetzel said...

If you are going to make some sort of free market argument for high value of art, you should begin by correctly identifying the seller as monopoly seller, or in this case, a near monopoly seller (3 originals were cast, this was the last in private hands).
A market where you have a single seller and maybe a dozen buyers doesn't make for a great example of the free market at work.

ALP said...

"But art is the record of culture we leave for future generations, and it too is being warped by our unequal economy..."

Make that "elitist art"! I can't comment on Ann's posts at work and this has been driving me nuts all fucking DAY. Art is all around us. Been on Instagram, YouTube or Etsy lately? There is PLENTY being created as a 'record' by talented artists that may be amateurs or simply will never make it big. FOR. Fuck's sake! ARGGGGH!

John henry said...

Pets or meat, Fran. Pets or meat.

John Henry

Robert said...

I like prints from Frank Frazetta. That is accessible art.

walter said...

It's not fair that such mediocre art is out of folks' reach.

David Begley said...

Meade:

Sell me the rights to the rats! I need the money.

Rusty said...

Blogger Bob Loblaw said...
"Video games are soaking up the creativity of our time and are what future generations will see. "
Yes but the industry employs a lot of art school graduates.

"A market where you have a single seller and maybe a dozen buyers doesn't make for a great example of the free market at work"
Why isn't it? No one is forcing them to buy and just because some wealthy people substitute money for common sense is of no concern to the artist. So quit flappin yer gums and open your wallet.

My art school daughter graduates this coming week. Until she gets a job the 'Bank of Dad' is still open. I will be commenting from somewhere in Orange County California.
My tourist goals this time is to finally get to Joshua Tree and the "Craftmanship Museum" in Carlsbad. I highly reccomend the museum.

tim in vermont said...

I think that video games are soaking up the guys, yes guys, with the talent for the advanced math that makes fast rendering of video games possible.

Paco Wové said...

"Why is it that I see a cute bunny rabbit while others see an animal to shoot for fun?"

Oh, it wouldn't be for fun — not after what the little bastards do to our flowers and young trees.

DavidUW said...

The art market is a bubble fueled by the money laundering habits of the oligarchs is Russia, China, South America etc. how else do you get $$$$ out of your capital-controlled country? Why you buy an overpriced piece of art in London or New York for your overpriced pied a terre.