The art world’s favorite conversation topic made it into the New York Times Opinion pages this weekend. The paper’s “Sunday Dialogue” featured nine letters responding to a question posed last week by a man named William Cole (and, of course, by many other writers and pundits before him): Is the art market a bubble? As Cole put it, “How in the world did we get to the point where people pay tens of millions of dollars for works by the likes of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Damien Hirst?”
Respondents ranged far and wide with varying amounts of skin in the game, from Christie’s VP of Postwar and Contemporary Art Sara Friedlander to former public school art history teacher Donald Waits. Some argued astronomical prices are fair because art costs more than ever to make, while others blamed the media for puffing up the careers of a handful of artists. In the end, there were no conclusive takeaways and Cole’s response to the letters made it clear his opinion hadn’t changed. Still, there were some zingers to be had. Join us as we look back.
“My hope for the new year is that the bubble about the bubble bursts, and we can start focusing on actually supporting the artists, both emerging and established,” wrote Friedlander.
Eric Shiner, director of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, wrote in to protest the artist’s his inclusion in a list of flashes in the pan. “Quite simply, Warhol changed the visual vocabulary of the United States, and by extension the world, through his radical departure from preconceived notions of what art is, how it functions, and, yes, ultimately how it is sold, traded and collected,” he wrote.
From Bruce Hatton Boyer in Evanston, Illinois: “Let the billionaires spend what they will on contemporary art. I am confident that their broke heirs will wonder why they didn’t buy government bonds when they had the chance.”
And, lastly, we will leave you with artist Michael Bosson’s attempt to redeem the art market. “Both ethically and economically, I’d say after doing one’s philanthropic duty, collecting art is one of the best ways to spend a fortune. Provided you understand what you’re buying.”
— Julia Halperin
(Image: Detail from David LaChapelle’s “Seismic Shift.” Courtesy the artist, Paul Kasmin Gallery.)