Valuing art

How do you value art? How do you price art? (part 2)

Pricing art is one of the most subjective commercial activities attempted. If you compare it to fashion, it can be argued that branded designers (like branded artists) can command a higher premium because of the history and reputation behind the name. But oftentimes an article of clothing’s price is also influenced by the quality of materials, hand vs. factory made, scarcity and uniqueness.

How do you value art? How do you price art?

There is a prevailing belief, particularly in the upper echelons of the contemporary art world, that art makes a great investment. (For a good overview see Caslon Analytics art fund note.) However, research shows that in the overwhelming majority of cases, art is neither a good nor efficient investment.

Canadians are like a Groucho Marx punchline

Canadians are like a Groucho Marx punchline

Yesterday I was speaking to a photographer who, by most accounts, could be arguably described as "world class": he has a great deal of recognition in Europe; is a regular at the major global art shows; has exhibitions in museum-calibre institutions; was written up in Time magazine; and has works owned by people who live in homes described as palaces. 

Sell six-figure art like George Zimmerman

Recently I wrote about the challenges around pricing art. Nothing highlights the capriciousness of art pricing more than George Zimmerman recent art works. George Zimmerman, notorious gun-toting neighbourhood watchman, unconvicted murderer, suspected wife abuser and hero to some, took paintbrush to canvas in order to raise money for his legal bills. Journalist Andrew Cohen wrote that Zimmerman's foray into art sums up so much of what's wrong with the US's criminal justice system. I argue that it sums up what's wrong with the unpredictable way art is priced and valued.


George Zimmerman with his work

George Zimmerman with his work


The piece in question is above. He recently sold it on eBay... for $100,099.99. While I understand taste is subjective, I believe that if I were to create a similar piece and try to sell it on eBay, I'd be lucky to get $100. Or even $50.

The value is clearly not derived from artistic talent. Rather, it's the notoriety behind its creator and where he sits within American popular culture and history that has launched this piece into six-figure territory. The price of the art has nothing to do with the quality of art.

There is speculation that the bidding was a hoax; regardless, it has generated the kind of publicity most aspiring artists would kill for. (Ahem, perhaps not the best choice of words.)


A Tale of Two Hoodies


Ironically, a piece created by artist Michael D'Antuono in reaction to the murder of Trayvon Martin has been banned by eBay for promoting or glorifying hatred, violence, racial or religious intolerance. Half the proceeds were to benefit the Trayvon Martin Foundation (after two days bidding had already reached $25,000), and if you ask me, there is no comparing the two pieces. (I would have loved to have seen the final price.) D'Antuono said this about eBay:

 In my opinion, any policy that allows a murderer to profit from his crime, but deems art that speaks out against racial injustice and benefits it's victims 'hateful and discriminatory' needs to be reevaluated.

I think his argument has merit, although most of blog's commentors would disagree. I know which one I would rather have in my line of vision.

Happy new year, everyone. I hope 2014 is a profitable one for you.