“The people no longer seek consolation in art. But the refined people, the rich, the idlers seek the new, the extraordinary, the extravagant, the scandalous. I have contented these people with all the many bizarre things that come into my head. And the less they understand, the more they admire it. By amusing myself with all these games, all this nonsense, all these picture puzzles, I became famous... I am only a public entertainer who has understood his time.” (Pablo Picasso)
By Dave Stancliff/For The Times-Standard
One person’s junk can be another’s treasure. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase used in many contexts before. There’s no better example than contemporary art. For those not familiar with what constitutes contemporary art I’ll give you a brief description: anything goes.
That’s right. Contemporary art is basically a tangible piece of art or installation ranging from a row of porcelain men’s urinals on a wood frame to a rock tied up with colorful ribbons.
Artists and gallery owners say the most important thing to remember is that contemporary art is a frame of mind, in addition to taking action. That said, I freely admit I don’t get it.
I’m certainly not going to make the same mistake Morley Safer did twenty years ago on a 60 minutes segment, when he made fun, scorned, and satirized the whole contemporary art movement.
With knowing winks, he showed odd-looking displays that seemed to be nothing more than stuff pulled out of peoples garages, cellars, recycling bins, and trash cans. The art world took notice of this infamous snub.
Last April, Safer followed up on that controversial segment. He gamely took the “I told you so’s” from art dealers and collectors who were enjoying unprecedented sales, like a good sport. Most of those interviewed for the new segment were people who remembered his earlier attitude.
I won’t say Safer seemed convinced contemporary art was “legitimate” art in this last segment, but I think he regrets his original condescending attitude. The prices contemporary art commands today make an argument for some legitimacy.
I’ve discovered that most people who buy contemporary art are wealthy. As in uber-wealthy and ready to pay any amount for the latest “hot” piece. Status comes with owning a collection of electrical cords arranged around a sculpture of a broken telephones that sold for $1.2 million dollars.
Contemporary art is a billion dollar a year industry in America, according to Safer’s report. There’s nothing laughable about that.
If you’re interested in buying, or investing in contemporary art works I recommend reading In Art Auctions: A Survey of Empirical Studies (Working Paper No. 8997) by Research Associate Orley Ashenfelter, and co-author Kathryn Graddy.
They review what is known about how the art auction system actually works and discuss whether art makes a good investment. They also assess the accuracy of expert estimates of value, and examine the determination of reserve prices.
Just be prepared to enter unregulated territory where insider knowledge is the norm, and fixed prices among art gallery owners is the way business is done. It’s like the stock market on steroids. Like an artificial bubble, that when it bursts, won’t really affect the main players. They mostly spend their pocket money anyway.
Getting involved with contemporary art is easy. Google “ArtBook Guy” to see how. I wish you the best of luck. I think it’s kind of silly to pay for things I perceive to be everyday objects going for astronomical prices, so I’ll never be a collector.
I suppose that’s just a sign of my art ignorance. Somewhere down deep in my brain the “art spot’ must be underdeveloped. I would like to add that I do appreciate more traditional art, and I’m not a complete art philistine.
Thus far, no contemporary art pieces have rivaled traditional ones like Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players” which sold for $250 million in 2011, to the country of Qatar. Needless to say, that was the most expensive piece of art ever sold.
Pablo Picasso was among the first contemporary artists to be internationally recognized for his work. It’s interesting to note that he had no illusions about what he was doing. He was amusing himself at the expense of others and getting famous for his efforts.
As It Stands, when someone sells a pair of dirty socks for a new art record, I’m going to become a contemporary artist!