April 10, 2011

art prices, state of the economy, record and fakes


What do record prices paid for art have to do with the economy?
In four years, China has zoomed past us from the world's fourth-biggest fine art scene to the world's largest auction market for art. Just last week, Chinese buyers helped Sotheby's and Christie's set (yet another) record by bidding up the price of a Chinese vase estimated to fetch $800 all the way to $18 million -- a 22,000% mark up! Are record-setting auction prices a leading indicator of economic collapse? Some experts think so. And they're looking at China, whose blaze of auction records is looking eerily reminiscent of 1987 Japan and 2007 America...
    - From The Art of Bubbles: How Sotheby's Predicts the World Economy - The Atlantic.
Very interesting article pointing to links between record-setting auction prices paid for art works and the state of the world economy. Are we headed for a big bust?

The article mentioned this artwork, which was the most expensive painting ever sold (privately, in November 2006):

No. 5, 1948 (from Wikipedia) oil on fibreboard
by Jason Pollock

I like Pollock's works but $140 million?

Another blockbuster: In May 2010, this
Picasso sold for $106 million.

Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (from wikipedia), 1932, oil on canvas
by Pablo Picasso
A Chinese national is believed to have bought it at a record price that's said to be the highest ever paid for a Picasso. Honestly, I don't know about all this crazy money going around. I love art but I really don't get this.

If you're a regular, you'll know that I love facts. So I did some digging and found this: The most expensive artwork ever sold at a public auction.

Portrait of Dr Gachet (from wikipedia), 1890, oil on canvas
by Vincent Van Gogh
In less than 3 minutes at Christie's New York in May 1990, it sold for $82.5 million (approx. $138.4 million in adjusted 2010 US$). Japanese paper tycoon Ryoei Saito bought it. He caused a stir when he said he would have the Van Gogh masterpiece cremated with him when he died. He later said he was joking. He died in 1996. Luckily the painting didn't die with him but its whereabouts today is unknown. Read this interesting article from 2020: Gone? But not forgotten (artinfo.com).

(an aside, I have an earlier post on burning art: match stick art : pei-san ng)

Portrait of Dr Gachet was apparently sold privately through Sotheby's in 1997 for $90 million and proceeds went to paying off some of Saito's debt. It was said to have been bought by Austrian-born investment fund manager Wolfgang Flöttl. Sotheby's later reportedly helped Flöttl sell the work, with the payment going towards paying his debt to the auction house. Hmmm, tens and hundreds of millions going round in circles. Both Saito and Flöttl were both convicted of fraud after purchasing the Van Gogh. There's a pattern here somewhere...

The painting itself has a colorful history. It has disappeared more than once in its life and there are questions about its provenance. There is also a second version of the painting, now at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

Portrait of Dr Gachet, 2nd version (from wikipedia), 1890, oil on canvas

(left) Portrait of Dr Gachet
(right) Portrait of Dr Gachet, 2nd version

Note the huge difference in technique and style. It has been said that the second is a fake copied by Dr. Gachet, a friend of Van Gogh's and an amateur artist. But the Musée d'Orsay put paid to those charges when it had the painting, and several others, authenticated for its 1999 exhibition "Un ami de Cézanne et de Van Gogh: le docteur Gachet" (A friend of Cezanne and Van Gogh: Dr Gachet), which traveled later that year to the Met in New York and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. See Cezanne joins Van Gogh for Close Scrunity (reprint from The Art Newspaper at the Van Gogh Gallery site).

Have you read my post on the "biggest art fraud of the 20th century"? Go to Master con artists: John Drewe, John Myatt

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Leaving Van Gogh (left):
fictional memoirs of Dr Paul Gachet's
real relationship with Van Gogh.

Related links
Most expensive paintings, price adjusted (Wikipedia)
Top 10 most expensive art (What's Art, from 2009) with photos
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Vincent Van Gogh Gallery
History of the Dr Gachet painting at annaboch.com
Van Gogh's vanishing act (US News)
Picasso official site
Museu Picasso de Barcelona
The Art Loss Register

by liberal sprinkles


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