The Price of Art, are we all just getting a bit carried away?


Only a few weeks ago Wang Jianlin (the richest man in China) was lambasted by his fellow countrymen for spending $28million on a Pablo Picasso. Criticism over the purchase has been widespread in China and for several different reasons covering a whole area of issues political, cultural and ethical. One Chinese blogger asked:

 “With that money, how many sick people could receive treatment? Why not give something back to society first? China’s nouveau riche are short of nothing except conscience.”

Others have protested because Picasso is himself not Chinese and is a country eager to claw back its own national treasures and artwork, this seems like unpatriotic and wasteful act. Indeed it is widely felt in China that the $28 milllion would have been better spent at an auction specialising Chinese works of art and there has been a missed opportunity here. The same applies to upcoming Chinese artists, with groups feeling let down that such a vast amount has now ended up in the West where the auction was held (Christies – New York).

Jianlin’s aides hit back arguing that “Only an enterprise with culture can understand art and collect the best artwork in the world,” and that “Chinese people should be proud rather than focus on how much money was spent.”

Do the Chinese public have a point though? The price of art is booming and the game played by auction houses now seems to be one of merely, “which record can we break next?” Great for investors and sellers, but it doesn’t really seem to capture the real essence of art and threatens to cheapen the cultural impact of the work. Here in the gallery we look to take London art out of the London market with out stipulating the London art market pricing structure. Our prices are set on secondary market sales, artists cost and fluctuating trends and fashions, a set of practices that in my mind should be independently regulated.

 Although having always been a luxury good, the nature and extent of art has changed dramatically over the past few decades. David Zwirner asked “Why do we pay so much for Art?” This is quite a poignant question, with so many other things urgently requiring capital why is so much money plunged into the art market. Maybe the critics of Jianlin have a fair point and it may be time for us to question the larger picture as a whole and insist that these buyers take a more philanthropic approach, diverting funds into community projects and buying art works that benefit the larger cultural and social system whether repatriating art or acquiring works for national galleries and museums.