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Contemporary Art Works as Relics

Here's a quite long, but fascinating dissection of the lucrative contemporary art market through the lens of... Medieval relics??

The central argument seems to be that what is often assumed to be (reasonably so) a matter of cult of personality, fashion, or status-seeking--a la the cliched Renaissance genius/patron model, Michaelangelo and the Medicis, etc.--is quite possibly a cult of physical incarnation, a la the One True Cross or the Shroud of Turin.


Wow, so an interesting assumption of mine is challenged: that a lot of art purchases are done as investments with cultural dividends. In other words, if I'm a multi-billionaire looking to diversify my investment portfolio and gain some social status at the same time, I buy an expensive work of art based on my assumption of its ability to hold, or better yet improve, its value. Impressing my peers and getting into the paper for it is absolutely worthwhile, but (if I'm smart) I wouldn't do it if I didn't think it would be a safe place to put my money.

The first section of this article doesn't even discuss that. Given my low exposure to multi-billionaires, maybe I'm completely wrong about that particular motivation?
Funny, I kinda thought the article had addressed the "investment" assumption (which I've certainly heard before and assume is at least somewhat/sometimes correct), but you're right, it didn't directly. I guess if economists are writing books with other explanations, there must be some limitation (in their estimation, anyway) to the investment one, which seems simpler than their theories.

I wouldn't think there's any argument that artwork is one of the few potentially profitable material investments that can be made at such a high dollar figure. I'm also guessing it's fairly risky, especially when you're talking about modern and contemporary art (and the list of the most expensive artworks are less than 100 years old), although of course taking the right risky investments is exactly how some of these people became wealthy. Anyway, many collections, I think, just end up being given to museums on the death of the buyer or maybe his children, presumably under the assumption that there is something more edifying in the work than the price it can fetch. So at that point you're back to the question posed in the article: "What IS that?"