Sunday, October 25, 2015

"Why Is Art Expensive?"

We'll be leaving the art beat shortly, zinc beckons.
From Priceonomics, Sept. 23:
In 1996, an art dealer named Glafira Rosales approached Ann Freedman, the president of New York’s Knoedler Gallery, which sold artwork to wealthy collectors for over 150 years. Rosales offered to sell Knoedler paintings by masters like Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning at bargain prices—under one million dollars each. 

She told Freedman that an anonymous collector—a family friend—inherited the paintings and recently rediscovered them. For over a decade, the gallery resold the pieces for millions and stored its files on the acquired works under the label “Secret Santa.” Pushed for more details about the mysterious collector by employees, Rosales replied, “Don’t kill the goose that’s laying the golden egg.” 

Fifteen years after Roales first approached Knoedler, a Belgian hedge fund manager named Pierre Lagrange received bad news. A consultant that he hired to investigate the authenticity of a $17 million Jackson Pollock painting he bought from the gallery discovered a pigment of paint that was not sold commercially during Pollock’s lifetime. When Lagrange emailed Knoedler, the gallery closed. Within a year, several other customers joined him in claiming that their multimillion dollar purchases were “worthless fakes.” In 2013, Rosales pled guilty in a $80 million forgery case.

The case of these forged masterworks highlights just how difficult it is to pin down the source of art’s financial value. Until Lagrange complained, the paintings were worth millions, praised as masterpieces, and exhibited to appreciative audiences. The revelation of the real artist as  Pei-Shen Qian—a 73-year-old Chinese immigrant who painted the forgeries from his garage in Queens for a few thousand dollars each—rendered them instantly worthless. Yet the paintings’ appearance did not change. An artwork’s aesthetics, the feelings it conveys, and anything else that derives from its physical appearance may influence its price, but as Qian’s paintings demonstrate, they cannot explain its extraordinary value.

This points to an important if unromantic truth: Brands are king in fine art. Names like Rothko and Pollock distinguish them from unknown artists the same way the Coke and Pepsi brands distinguish them from other sugar water....MORE
Recently Philip Mould, gallery owner, BBC presenter, art historian, raconteur, spoke with The  London Magazine and said:
...I don’t agree with the practice of destroying forgeries. On an episode of BBC One’s Fake or Fortune in 2014 we had a Chagall painting that turned out to be a forgery.  It was then seized and the Chagall Committee ordered for it to be destroyed. Destroying forgeries is an anti-academic practice and it  is ethically highly questionable.  What is widely deemed a fake in one generation can be reversed in the next with the benefit of research technology which is developing apace and you can’t reprieve a destroyed picture....