“Ignore the price. In fact, don’t look at the price tag.” If you said that this is the kind of statement a salesperson would say, you’re about half right. But this is the best advice when shopping in an art gallery. Galleries are tricky mysterious locations that artists have salespeople sell their art in their name.
Well, salesperson is a negative connotation in this example. Gallerists prefer titles like art director or consultant. The title of salesperson does not go with the mystique and pleasure of selling and buying art. A salesperson sells retail goods. No one ever got $300 million worth of excited buying a tie.
In any case, the price tag placed upon an artwork is both a curse and a blessing. A blessing because it puts food on the artist’s table and allows the gallery to operate. It’s a curse because when we discuss price we are trying to take a subjective subject, the art, and assign an objective worth, the price. There has to be a bridge connecting both sides of this subjective vs objective issue.
How then can a gallery actually come up with a price
for a work of art? How does one piece of photographic art cost more than another piece even though they may look very similar in style? The reasons often boggle the mind as well as cause proverbial sticker shock to both the average gallery buyer and even the artists themselves. That bridge mentioned earlier is value. Each work of art has 2 values. One is an artistic value, the other a financial one.
Indeed, for the financial value, it mainly comes down to is the perceived value of the photograph or work in question. The leading generator according to The Globe and Mail is
“The sale price is really determined only by previous sale prices; in other words they are valuable only because someone paid a lot for them in the past. It’s a logical Moebius strip: They are valuable because they are valuable. These values are controlled by dealers and collectors who conspire to inflate the prices and keep them where they are.”
That last sentence about a conspiracy to keep and raise prices is quite important to our understanding of high art prices. Art is not just about a pretty picture hanging on the wall. It has much more power and influence in the financial world than that. A recent comment found in the New Yorker explains why a painting sells for $300 million or a photograph for $6.2 Million.
“Art is transportable, unregulated, glamorous, arcane, beautiful, difficult. It is easier to store than oil, more esoteric than diamonds, more durable than political influence. Its elusive valuation makes it conducive to extremely creative tax accounting.”
So what motivates a collector to buy and therefore increase the value and worth of a particular photograph? Alas, once again it’s not an easy question to answer. In fact:
“Motivation is also impossible to answer: Do they do it out of a love of art, a desire to provide an educational experience for their populace, as economic investment or as simple competition – out of a primal desire to own the best of everything so that no one else can?” – The Globe
Those personal motivations, coupled with the right amount of money, cause the prices on the art market to reach ever higher in the record books. If anything, it’s a reason to buy art when you find it. Like the salesperson’s quote, don’t concentrate on the price tag. It’s a fluid creature that lives and breathes by the whim of the person willing to pay the money.
But, as I’ve seen too often, I have started collecting an artist work to soon discover that their new work prices are out of my reach. While part of me is sad that I can no longer afford to buy their art, I understand that the art I have already collected has also just increased in value. So, not only is the artwork making my walls look good, it’s providing an interesting avenue for a return on investment. I love win-win scenarios.
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