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errr... the price of art ?

Not in Miami anymore, but I like this photo, and that's really the only thing that counts. Amen.

This is meant to serve as both an introduction and the punchline to the topic of this post: the price of art.

This was in fact the topic of a book launch I attended recently at a Geneva gallery (where, quite ironically, scant attention was being paid to the art on the walls, admittedly quite boring). The book in question was a collection of contributions on various legal aspects of the price of art, one of them concerning itself with how a judge was supposed to estimate the value of art work that had been destroyed or stolen.

The contribution went on to list a fair number of factors that, empirically, went into the price of any given work: artist, authenticity (more on that later), state of preservation, provenance (not really sure what that covers), last price paid, market value of comparable works by the same artist, any existing export or other restrictions, etc - altogether 8 to 10 factors.

So there was a concentrated, earnest, serious effort to rationalize - through quantifiable factors - the price of art - i.e. something whose very value stems from the fact that it appeals to our inherently irrational emotions. This evident contradiction didn't seem unduly to bother the book's authors.

Whilst on the one hand, it would seem perfectly vain to seek to rationalize or quantify the price of something that we react to, by very design, in completely irrational ways, one cannot help but feel that this rationalizing enterprise is perhaps not entirely foreign to the sad commoditization of art, its use as investment vehicles and its hoarding in cold bank vaults.

More to the point, if I am told that a given work is worth a given price, and that that is final, doesn't that completely negate the value, relevance or even existence of my own, irrational perception, love or loathing of that work ? And at that extremity, what is the use or relevance of art any more ?

That's one of the many things I like about photography: since a photo is essentially replicable ad libitum, like it or not, considerations such as authenticity, provenance etc. become secondary, or at best the topic of discussions that are nothing if not laboured. And this is even truer now in the digital age where a digital file hardly has the same substance, value or charm as the negtives or yore. Even authenticity doesn't mean quite as much as it would for a painting for instance. For one, technique is hardly a selling point or factor of added value in photography. For another, a brilliant composition will be just as brilliant, powerful and striking whether it was captured by a well-known photographer or by Joe Bloggs.

So photography really is a great equalizer: open to everyone, and really much less prone to being obscured by the sort of tosh that gets thrown about and fawned upon in other preserves of the art world.

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