Felix Salmon has brought his interest in art to his new Reuters blog, he’s also brought his reflexive assumptions about the art market with him too. Here he relates running into Eli Broad at a Milken Institute conference. Broad explains that his foundation will take stewardship of art collections that the owners would like to see displayed, not stored. Then Broad goes on to remark that the art bubble is deflating but that doesn’t mean it has reached a bottom. (A very sensible observation.) Broad uses Old Master paintings as a benchmark of price-to-value stability. Salmon is gobsmacked to discover the roller-coaster ride Richard Prince Nurse paintings went on from $250,000 to $8m and back to $2.5m. But then he draws these conclusions about Prince’s market.
I suspect that you can extrapolate that decline pretty much all the way to zero. People might not particularly want to have an Old Master on their walls, but there could easily come a time, in the none too distant future, when absolutely no one has any desire to have a massive joke painting on their walls, either: it would just look dated and embarrassing. Now’s a bad time to sell a Richard Prince, to be sure. But it might well be better, financially speaking, to sell the painting now, when it’s “merely” at parity with an Old Master, rather than to have any hope that it will soar to multiples of Old Master prices ever again. Because that, frankly, seems improbable.
Why is that improbable? Because Salmon doesn’t care much for Prince’s work or his Nurses? Prince could easily be forgotten in a few years, probably will be. But he could also follow Warhol’s price trajectory and take several legs up. Nurse paintings are now valued at $2.5m because most of the buyers who felt they needed one have them. Cash has become more valuable to the remaining potential buyers–if there are any–than the chance to own a nurse painting. What’s even more curious is the substantial number of Prince joke paintings that are on the market in two weeks in the New York sales.
Perhaps the sellers are taking Salmon’s advice and getting out of the Prince market while there’s still one left to sell into. Then, again, maybe there are still buyers of Prince.
Eli Broad’s Art Model (Reuters.com)