Friday, June 13, 2008

First, you show me yours

Further to our recent post on the mystique dealers use to sell art, we’ve been thinking about the recent rush of record prices for art at auction. This obsession with the highest paid price for art is of course largely driven by the auction houses, and it drives the dealers nuts. As we saw recently in New Zealand, when an auction house claimed the highest price for a living artist, the dealers all started muttering about mysterious sales that had far exceeded the auction houses wildest dreams. The latest rumour in this antler clash was sent to us by a reader yesterday. Apparently a living New Zealand artist (a male abstract painter living in Auckland with the initials SB) has been commissioned – does that count? – to create a work for an American casino for $NZ 1 million. (Not very subtle, but thanks anyway G.) You see the problem. To make the understatement of all times, the dealer system is not transparent, and this is what gives it its mystique. Prices and deals are kept quiet. Triumphs are celebrated by the few with champagne and looks over the shoulder. Not much good if you also want to be publicly acknowledged as the King-of-the-world sales-wise. Gow Langsford obviously thought this when they so publically slapped their million dollar ($US 764,749) price tag on the Hirst heart. Of course what the piece actually sells for will probably only ever be known behind the bike sheds.