The HBO Documentary Film “The Price of Everything” is something everyone who is interested in art and artists should see. There really wasn’t anything that surprised me in the movie; however, it was great to be reminded that there really isn’t any connection at all between value and price when it comes to art.
This mismatch between price and value has made the art market go basically bonkers in the last 15 years. This is also making a very very few living artists ultra rich in the meantime. And further making life very rough for all the other artists in the world. Not that being an artist was ever an easy life, but now it is just becoming something else. In fact, in this film I really felt that these human artists are now actually being treated like meat. Which I guess to some extent has been the case for years, but now that the prices are so high, the players are of much different ilk. The film argues that the buyers are now people who are now diversifying their portfolios rather than appreciating the work. This is now changing the work itself and making art inaccessible.
The very well produced documentary takes us through the art market with the eyes of an American artist who had been forgotten about and is making a resurgence (Poons), another American artist who has achieved incredible commercial success (Koons), a Nigerian artist who is a new darling (Crosby) among others. There are also the eyes of the dealers. These are people who are using these artists to make an extraordinary amount of money for their clients. Further, there are the collectors who either find the prices ridiculous but it doesn’t matter or they really see buying a piece of Damien Hirst as a status symbol and a source of pride and tears.
As a viewer, I was moved to tears when one of the dealers said something terrible about museums. The only place where everyone can go to experience great art! What is the world coming to. Art is a reflection of our culture. Having such an extreme and obscene art market where only the very rich can have access to viewing the works is one of the highest forms of inequality and exclusion that I can think of. Fortunately not all of the collectors are hoarding great works in storage until the prices go up again. Some are more generous than others.
The commercialization of art to this degree is absolutely holding a Jeff Koons silver mirrored bunny up to our culture today. Some in the film were pretty sure that this is a bubble which is about to burst. However, as of 2017 Rothko and Pollock paintings were selling for upwards of 200 million dollars and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.