A lot of articles about the falsity of the art market have been brewing lately...this one over in the NYTimes was a real eye opener- did anyone else know that there is a practice at art auctions called "chandelier bidding" where an auctioneer will begin by raising his hand to the ceiling, calling out a false bid to get the ball rolling? Seriously? The article pointed out a ton of other not so nice auction secrets too that got me thinking about the other tricks of the art trade that I have come across during my time ghosting around the art world. Some of them are just deceitful, others are near lies...so let me show you around the secret dealings of the art market and why it is all basically a thin veil propped up by oodles of cash, pride and hot air! Also, please enjoy my pathetic analogy to the art market and cookies, cookies at least are a thing of deliciousness and sustenance while the contemporary art market? Not so much...also I would like to eat some cookies.
Damian Hirst and his diamond encrusted human skull are rumored to have executed this scheme with his gallery, investors, and even the artist himself buying the skull merely to safe (diamond encrusted) face...if no one else bought the piece the price of his work would lessen in value and the Hirst stock would plummet so everyone wins in this slight of hand! I do have to wonder if this kind of game had anything to do with the artist's recent split with his representation though?
That cookie is worth $500 but I'll give it to you for $200. Well...the price of a lot of contemporary art is completely arbitrary in the first place. Only artists whose work has been aquired by major institutions, esteemed collections, or somehow had a price set by auctions has any real gauge of market value- and even then, is the initial price tag set by demand & art historical expectation? The rest of the art market really is just a random price decision, walking the line of what someone is willing to pay and what will maintain the illusion of artistic merit. But, the thing here is the secret world of discounts! Repeat collectors, and even sometimes first time buyers for that matter, are commonly given a percentage off of the posted price for a work of art- negating the "truth in pricing" law that NY has in effect but barley enforces. This, of course, is a good business practice but, when considering that the listed price is what people publically think is the final sale price, this discount is yet another way to fool people into an inflated value of someone's work.
So, you want this really delicious cookie? You gotta take all the burnt ones with it too, including the one that someone wanted Grover painted on with frosting because they mistook Grover for THE Cookie Monster! Variation: I own the bakery and the famous grocery store the cookies are now sold in. Well this one is super super awful and also contributes to the amazing ego bloat of many an awful artist AND opens the door for some serious price gouging. Oftentimes when a gallerist or collector is selling or donating work to a museum they will force an institution on a package deal meaning, "You can buy this Picasso but you gotta by all this art by my Nephew too!" And now your Nephew is also in MoMA. And his prices skyrocket because of this. And you, the Uncle, are profiting hand over fist from this since you own all of the Nephew's work and now people want it since it is in a major museum. This practice is also similar in spirit to the boards of many art institutions too....Boards are oftentimes littered with self interest, a gallerist or collector acting as a board member (as this HuffPo article points out), donating or swaying a collection to buy work that personally benefits their own holdings. Again, institutions benefit from this practice sometimes...but other times it leads to some pretty terrible work being showcased, pedestled, and falsely applauded by the art world.