The Mona Lisa Curse by Robert Hughes
Robert Hughes, the art critic for the Times Magazine might have been controversial at times but I value his opinions even when I don't agree with him. He is profoundly erudite and his positions are based on knowledge, good research and critical thinking. He wrote several books that found their way onto my shelves, either on Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and the most complete book on Goya that I ever read. If you are interested by History, by Spain or by the lives of painters at the time, it is definitly a must. In parallel to this book he realized a documentary titled Goya: Crazy like a Genius that is relatively easy to find. You may also read a very interesting collection of his essays in Nothing if not Critical and his memoir published in 2007 titled Things I Didn't Know.
He produced and directed a movie on the art market and the spin the art world has taken in the last 40 years. The great thing is that we can watch the entire movie on Youtube by clicking the 12 segments of 6 minutes each. The movie is fascinating for its overview of the art scene in New York since the 1960s. Hughes underlines and critizices the imperialism of the market within the art world and the total power given to speculation and personal taste (or lack of) of the wealthiest. I agree with him, it is not because someone pays a fortune for a portrait by Klimt that it transforms this painting in the most important painting of the century, as the new owner claims.
I never believed that it was possible for an artist to follow up on their previously sold pieces. I know some artists want the buyer to sign a contract stating that the artist will make a cut on the resales of the work. In theory it is great but how can you enforce this? In any case, Hughes talks about a group of artists who tried to install an Artist Royalty Bill, stating that artists should benefit from the huge profit some investors do at auctions reselling their works. I don't believe an artist can achieve this by himself but it's true, a national or international bill could rectify a situation that is completely bizarre. Lets not forget that the art market is the most unregulated market that exists... If you are curious to know how unregulated the wheels of the market are, there's a great book called The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson.
I'm reading The $12 Million Shark now, very interesting. Yet most artists operate well below this thin outer layer.
Hi Jason - I agree with you, the 12$ Million Shark talks almost exclusively about the very top of the pyramid. The interesting thing to notice is that the book describes the situation before the 2009 shut down. For example, when he talks about the top galleries "placing" the works of hot artists and not merely selling them. I have heard from different sources that it is not quite true anymore. Since the recession, galleries are now working to sell the works, and are not as selective about who buys them.
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