With so much trouble in the world, and people protesting the financial crisis in Greece, and dictatorships in the Middle East, and when there’s even a fascinating and worthy Occupy Wall Street movement germinating in our own city, it’s easy to see why artists would shake their heads in disapproval at escalating art prices; most of the world doesn’t have adequate health care or enough food to eat, including too many in our own country. But that knee-jerk view is too facile, because all the money spent on art the world over in an entire year wouldn’t make even a small dent in any of these macro problems. I am in favor of helping people in need, but not at the expense of culture; I’m not a moralist.
We’d all feel better if the artists produced less, the galleries sold less, the museums did fewer and better shows and the collectors bought less of it for a while—at least until the world settles down a bit. Everyone in the art world has enjoyed the benefits of the monetary appreciation of art, so I don’t have much patience for those who complain about it. Perhaps what Richter really meant is that his art is worth more than everyone else’s, in which case I agree with him. But I’m not offended by what someone can afford to pay for a Richter, I’m just jealous.
The week’s visit confirmed that more is not always more. I came away with the distinct feeling that things weren’t always selling all that easily, neither in the fairs nor in the galleries, in part because collectors are offered far too many options. Speaking of options, next week Paris has its own annual art fair, the FIAC, held in the majestic Grand Palais, and many of the galleries in London’s Frieze move on to Paris for more of the same in a different locale. As for Mr. Richter’s candle painting this past Friday night at Christie’s, he will be very disappointed to find out that it sold for $16.5 million, more than 15 percent over its high pre-sale estimate and a new world record for his work at auction. And what of Mr. Kassay you say? Well, his two pictures made almost a quarter of a million dollars each, another strong showing. London remains a boomtown for art, and the invisible elephant is still charging ahead…for now.