Wednesday, November 18, 2009

DAMage Report - When Does it Become No Longer About the Art?

"An Andy Warhol painting of 200 dollar bills was sold for $43.8 million at a New York art auction by London-based art collector Pauline Karpidas, more than 100 times what she paid in 1986."

The recent auction at Sotheby's has the investment and art world all aflutter. The auction brought in an unexpected $134.4 million which was more than expected but less than their May 2008 record of $362 million. Those numbers are somewhat mind-numbing aren't they? The auction this week brought in almost as much as the 2009 NEA budget of $155 million. Last year the auction brought in more than the $265 million requested for 2010 for arts programs for the United States. That's a whole lot of dollars being traded for investments and not for art. 

Because really, it is no longer about the art is it?

There is a humorous irony that Warhol's painting of 200 one dollar bills, making art of commerce, is no longer ART really, but a trading commodity, no different than gold or pieces of paper with the heads of presidents printed on them. His name is what has value, not the piece. It was bought by an anonymous buyer and will be locked away until such time as the buyer decides to auction it off for a profit. It is unlikely that it will hang on a wall for the aesthetic value or appreciation for what the artist was trying to say with the painting. All of that has become inconsequential in the world of who can accumulate the most one dollar bills.

The artists, their estates, their descendants are all divorced from the reality of these works. In most cases, even the art world doesn't benefit. There are exceptions, as will probably be the case with this particular Warhol because the seller, Pauline Karpidas, who paid $385,000 for the painting at a 1986, is a patron of the arts and will probably funnel at least part of her $43 million profit back into supporting the arts. But given the state of arts and arts education world-wide, it is pretty safe to say that most of the money trading doesn't find its way back into support of the arts.

The question for you is, if you had $43 million that you could either buy a painting with or donate to arts programs to sustain the future of the arts, what would you do? Invest in the painting to make more money down the road, or invest in the future?

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