Thursday, February 02, 2012

The World's Most Expensive Photo

Russ pointed to this photo/print, which just set a world price record, 4.5 million dollars.

I wouldn't have thunk it. And I doubt the buyer really love the photo 4.5 million dollars' worth, it's surely speculation. "Duh", you may say, but I find it interesting that probably the whole business of fine art is being held up not by people actually like the art, but by speculators who are betting on what artist will escalate in value.
It's a bit heart-breaking to somebody who when he was young dreamed of living as a painter and really thought that people paid for something because they actually liked it.

Fine Art is different in this way from music and books and films because 1: it's not usually mass-produced, so it has to cost a lot for one picture. 2: Most people have quite limited wall space, so once that is filled, they rarely go "art shopping", and if they do, they usually go to the warehouse to find a $30 frame-poster combination that they like. And most people just don't have tens of thousands of dollars floating around just to throw at something they happen to like.
Oh, and 3: it's only a very, very tiny fraction of people who feel very strongly about visual art. For most, it's just something to stop the wall being bare, and it should match the sofa. I have a feeling that many more people feel strongly about music, if anything.

The problem as I see it is that when speculation is the driving economic force, it creates the odd factor that anything can become the deciding factor. Promotion and fame, for example, and infamy. For instance, rotting pig corpses will be sold as fine art for insane prices, when in a gallery in a side street 200 yards away, really lovely works hang unsold on the walls.

Sure, taste is a wide field, and nobody should be taste dictator. But if not for the speculation factor, I really doubt that any art lover would pay premium prices for rotting pigs, stuffed sharks, and cans of human shit.

But then occasionally you hear of an artist who is not famous but still sells all he makes for good prices. In fact my uncle and aunt are like that, for a hobby they make little statues of animals and faces in stone, and they sell like hotcakes. You don't hear about these people and I doubt anybody has made statistics, so I am kind of curious about how many people in the world are in this fortunate situation.


emptyspaces said...

When you glance at the picture, then find out how much it sold for, there's a visceral reaction. Like the giant splatter painting in the art museum, it's easy to look at it and wonder just what the hell is wrong with everyone.

But as you point out, the issue isn't so much "is it great art," but "what's it worth?" And those are really two very separate conversations. I can remember a lot of "I've deleted better pictures than that one!" comments on this photo - and I feel that way, too. But then again there's a lot I don't know about the art business.

Perhaps one way to look at it, apropos of your recent post, is that Gursky's final product is as much painting as photograph, since he had so much of it digitally removed to arrive at the stark simplicity that set that sales record. I actually don't mind that, since photographers are artists and not historians. Certain ones, anyway.

And via TOP, here's an interesting video on Gursky:

Tommy said...

I sent this info to a photographer friend of mine and he wanted to know if that price included the frame or not?


Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Oh yeah! If it includes a really good frame, that explains a lot of it.

One thing for sure: I hope the artist has made it conscientiously, with durable technology. Imagine paying five mil for a photo, then ten years later it's yellow and faded.

Tommy said...

Good pint EO. Also, as a thought.. If I were to spend that money on a painting, it would be unique. Only one of a kind, sort of like the Mona Lisa.

But, the photograher can always print another. :-( That might bring that 5mil price down a little bit..

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Indeed. Usually such prices are only paid by original prints from dead photographers. And of course prices are pushed up artificially by limited print runs. A bit strange, but everybody accepts it.

Laurie said...

art as magic
and like magic serving the dream.
No object coming out of our hands
or minds is the power that wakes us up. But it's true that in the dream,
who wants to wake up? Heretics of religion and art! Just make a beautiful or cool dream. The beautifuller and cooler the better.


Jo Jo Savard said...

Because the rich don't want it if it's not expensive. It also plays into that idea rich and poor alike have of "if it's popular it's not worth it" - limited print run equals rare = not for the mass audience (not popular). If we lived in a world of Star Trek replicators, money would have no meaning and people would only collect art they actually liked.

Anna said...

I remember reading sth about it saying hey, if it was a painting, it would be a good one, so the money is deserved.

This is bullshit! :)

Anna said...

I like this :

"it's only a very, very tiny fraction of people who feel very strongly about visual art. For most, it's just something to stop the wall being bare, and it should match the sofa. I have a feeling that many more people feel strongly about music, if anything."

Yeah. Maybe also because you need time to listen to a song or to read a book. You just have to spend that time. Then you get a lot more out of it.