The Spectacle of the Art Market Pt. 4 –

The Spectacle of the Art Market Pt. 4 –

Andy Warhol, 200 One Dollar Bills, March-April 1962, est. $8/12 million

This is the final post in the four part series on the “Spectacle of the Art Market” – a topic that I believe to be extremely relevant and very important. As I expected there were some people who did not believe the buying trend I wrote about in part 2 which suggests that there is a connection between the sentiment/mood of buyers and the type of works that they buy. I looked for further information that supports my theory that happier and more cheerful works (brighter and shinier) are more popular during boom times when the mood and sentiment is positive, and that people take more notice of the more subdued and less visually spectacular works during market downturns when the mood and sentiment is less positive. Not only did I find some evidence that supports my theories but I also found evidence that I am not the only one who has noticed the buying trends that led me to develop the concepts that I have written about.

During my search I came across a statement by a Sotheby’s specialist who was commenting on the sale of Warhol’s “200 One Dollar Bills”. The Sotheby’s specialist suggested that a less striking and visually spectacular work such as the grey and black “200 one dollar bills” would not have received the attention that it did, and would most likely have been overshadowed by other more visually striking works had the contemporary art market boom still been in full swing and levels of conspicuous consumption were elevated. The $43,762,500 paid for Warhol’s “200 One Dollar Bills” was the highest price paid for a work of art at Sotheby’s November 11 contemporary art auction but what is interesting is that the second most expensive work of art was very similar in appearance to the Warhol. Jasper John’s “Gray Numbers” is another work that perhaps would not have attracted so much attention had the market been under a greater influence of trophy hunters and indiscriminate buyers.

Jasper Johns’ Gray Numbers

If you haven’t seen the Tate Modern’s exhibition “Pop Life: Art in a Material World” then you should go and see it because this exhibition is essentially a display of what is wrong with the contemporary art world and the contemporary art market. According to the exhibition press release “Pop Life: Art in a Material World argues that Warhol’s most radical lesson (Warhol’s notorious provocation that ‘good business is the best art’) is reflected in the work of artists of subsequent generations who, rather than simply representing or commenting upon our mass media culture, have infiltrated the publicity machine and the marketplace as a deliberate strategy.” This could well be a correct statement if the strategy they are referring to is a strategy to make money and become famous by taking advantage of the consumerism and mass culture that are so influential in modern society. The press release goes on to say that: “The conflation of culture and commerce is typically seen as a betrayal of the values associated with modern art; this exhibition contends that, for many artists working after Warhol, to cross this line is to engage with modern life on its own terms.” Referring to the conflation of culture and commerce as a result of artists attempting to engage with modern life is, in my opinion, a flimsy excuse that an artist would use to surrender to the powers of popular and commercial culture. The fact that contemporary art is often so ambiguous means that it is quite possible for an artist to give a work the identity of their choice regardless of whether or not the basis of that identity has anything to do with the reality of the work and the artists intentions. I think that it is quite obvious that in the contemporary art market there is a significant level of value put on the visual impact of a work of art and artists are well aware of this.

The concepts that I have written about in the “Spectacle of the Art Market” series of posts are by no means flawless or bulletproof. I am not aware of any intensive studies that have been carried out on these concepts but the research that I have conducted has left me with no doubt that there the concepts that I have written about are valid and have at least some impact on the art market.

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

4 Responses

  1. I have the quote you refer to, hanging on my wall purchased from the Andy Warhol museum store:

    “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art” Andy Warhol

  2. Perhaps I am an optimist, but the effect of a down economy correlating to an art collector to choose a gray drab piece of work seems counter intuitive. As an abstract painter I often reach into my deep melancholy emotion and the energy that flows out is often more colorful than If I am in a good mood. I could understand that in reflection a collector chooses a particular period of work, but does that reflect their current mood? As a tragically feeling person I expect that art has the ability to create an experience that is equivalent to their mood. While my art is often very colorful, my collectors may feel both melancholy or exuberance from the same piece. What would motivate buyers to buy drab to stay drab? To corroborate your sentiments, what is important is to have depth in a piece to provide a lasting impression that can evolve with the collector. I always recommend buying a piece that you connect with and I often attract collectors looking for bright and shiny works. Thank you for this well presented argument, but here is to a happier and more cheerful tomorrow.

    Melissa Ayr

  3. Good point(s) Melissa–perhaps it is the media that are shying away from the colorful during down times…

  4. Andy Warhol forever

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