Why is contemporary art so expensive?
Art historians claim that the works of contemporary artists are interesting and lively, and that they affect the viewer in a special way. Is this really true and why are paintings that a child can draw worth millions of dollars, or why is a toilet bowl called art and sold for more than a house?
Art or performance art?
Until the early 20th century, works of art were valued for their aesthetics and the inspiration the viewer received when looking at them. A painting that an artist painted could be hung on the wall in the hall and admired. A plaster or marble statue could be displayed on a pedestal and enjoyed the realistic lines.
With the advent of new technology – photography – traditional art is no longer fulfilling one of its purposes – to admire the reality of life. Instead of portraits, landscapes and still lifes painted in paint, there are photographs. The authors want something unconventional, interesting and unique.
In 1915, Kazimir Malevich encourages the viewer to look for more in paintings than is written. His Black Suprematist Square invites not to observe, but to play an intellectual game. The rules of the game are simple: look at me and guess what I’m telling you. Malevich takes the first steps toward rethinking traditional art.
The year 1917 becomes the starting point for the modern world. It is in this year that artist Marcel Duchamp makes a provocative and groundbreaking exhibit. If you don’t know, we’ll tell you. Duchamp buys an ordinary urinal in a store. And the rest is simple: he turns it upside down, writes the name R.Mutt and brings it to an exhibition at the Society of Independent Artists. He calls his work “The Fountain”. True, the exhibit does not stay on display long, as Duchamp’s colleagues do not accept his idea.
Nevertheless, the story of the upside-down urinal does its job: Duchamp becomes famous and his Fountain paves the way for a new concept: an artwork exists in the idea and form as the author calls it. His term readymade (literally: ready-made) means that it is important not to create, but to explain to the viewer: a urinal is a work of art that has an idea.
Why is the work of contemporary artists expensive?
Contemporary art embodies the idea that everyone is capable of changing the world for the better; it is important to see this through simple objects. Is this really the case? Yes and no. An artist forms an idea to put into his or her creation. But there are those in the world who don’t even try to put deep meaning into the work. Then experts do it for the author – gallerists and art historians: with the help of complicated words they try to explain to the viewer what is not in the work.
And yet, why is it so expensive?
The price of any work is made up of several factors:
- The history of the artwork itself. The price of a painting increases many times over if it has a history.
- The status the buyer receives. Since the Middle Ages, artists’ works have been bought up by nobles and those close to royal dynasties to confirm the status of nobility. Paintings become objects that tell about the financial status of the owner. In the modern world nothing has changed – the art is still considered to be a luxury, which not everyone will allow himself. So, Leon Black bought the painting “Scream” by Munch for 120 million dollars. The purchase was reported in the newspapers, and Black received public recognition of his fortune.
- Opportunity for future dividends. Businessmen become regular buyers of paintings. Long-term investment is the goal of any business person. If the author’s work is already known to the world, it can grow in value by 20% by next year. Therefore, they willingly buy world masterpieces and works of contemporary authors to sell them later much more expensive.
- Uniqueness of the work. At auctions, one buys not the work of an author, but the idea. The more new, interesting and unusual in the work, the more it can cost. For example, Kazimir Malevich was the first who painted the “Black Square”, Andy Warhol placed a can on canvas. Mark Rothko painted several “Untitled” paintings with only squares of different colors. A colorful print on acrylic glass by Andreas Gursky, the world’s most expensive photographer, was sold for $4.3 million. Museums and collectors are willing to pay millions of dollars for unique pieces that no one has done before.
- Image of the author. If an artist is already famous in the world, his paintings are sold at auctions for a lot of money. But to achieve fame and earn money, you need to work in a team with good marketers. For example, Damien Hirst is an artist who has several specialists working in his team. His installation, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of the Living,” is part of a shark in an aquarium that has been filled with formalin. A great marketing campaign, in which Charles Saatchi, the customer of the installation, participated. He sold Hirst’s work to the influential trader Cohen for $12 million. The price of this “masterpiece” is made up of the uniqueness of the work, big names and a good marketing campaign.
- “Must Have”. Museums that already have worldwide fame can do exhibitions without contemporary authors. But what about those who are just starting out on the world museum scene? They have to have works of contemporary art to raise their status. Then they are willing to pay any money to get modern works.
But the most important factor that affects the value of contemporary masterpieces is people. The modern art world is a marketplace where art dealers sell works and collectors, businessmen and gallery owners buy them.
And yet, why is it so expensive? The answer is that a contemporary art masterpiece is worth as much as they are willing to pay for it. Auction organizers don’t know the final price of a painting; they set a minimum price to sell as high as possible. And as long as millionaires are willing to pay, works of art remain not masterpieces but convertible currency.