Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Art of Selling out to the Faceless Moneymen; When Prices Are Going Crazy, a Crash Must Be on the Horizon, Warns Oscar Humphries

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Art of Selling out to the Faceless Moneymen; When Prices Are Going Crazy, a Crash Must Be on the Horizon, Warns Oscar Humphries

Article excerpt

Byline: Oscar Humphries

IN New York this week, an auction curated by Leonardo DiCaprio smashed records for 13 relatively unknown artists -- most of whom are in their thirties or early forties -- with works all painted in the last year.

The absurdly titled abstract painting Muggles by Joe Bradley made $680,000 ([pounds sterling]444,000), and the even more absurdly titled Untitled (STANDARD LOTUS NO. II, BIRD OF PARADISE, TIGER MOUTH FACE 44.01) by Mark Grotjahn made $6.5 million. Colourful and gently abstract, his work appeals to the kind of collector who wants something "cool" to offset their polished wooden floors.

This was no isolated event. These inflated prices were mirrored by auctions at Sotheby's and Christie's that made nearly half a billion dollars, the highest total in auction history. The buyers are often the galleries that represent the artist, or collectors that own other works by these artists -- the more they pay the more valuable the work they already own becomes.

The art world has gone crazy and these prices are unsustainable. We have had art market crashes before -- in the late Eighties and a blip of one in 2008 -- and I think we're heading for another one.

"Its like a casino," says the artist Sean Scully, "and the market has nothing to do with art. Art is that which lasts."

David Hockney is aware of the madness of the market. "I've never seen it quite as bad before, but what can I do?" he asks, "I'm just up here [in Yorkshire] drawing nature in charcoal."

DiCaprio's New York sale was aptly called The 11th Hour and it is ironic that it was put together by the man playing Gatsby. These are Gatsby-ish times and excess is back in vogue.

The British collector Frank Cohen, just back from New York, says: "The contemporary art market is like the stock market -- it's about finance. The art is there, but it's a commodity. These guys use it to make money. You can't do that with Impressionist art because no one has a monopoly. …

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