The Armory Show is this week. Just in time for another art market screed from Felix Salmon. This time Felix is upset that Jonathan Binstock of Citibank’s art advisory released a report about Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild and their emergence as an a blue-chip art asset.
There’s nothing wrong with Salmon’s skepticism about investing in art. But there are some serious lapses in logic and intellectual judgment in Salmon’s piece:
Remember that when we’re looking at extremely expensive art, we’re looking, pretty much by definition, at the art which is most coveted by incredibly rich men. (That’s why paintings of women have always sold for much higher sums than paintings of men.) And while your typical incredibly rich man might well have a lot of sophistication when it comes to arbitraging the capital structure of potential takeover targets, his taste in art is most likely to run very much in line with Matisse’s famous quote about how a painting should be like a comfortable armchair.
Salmon has the terrible habit of bigotry toward the wealthy. (It’s also a bit silly to explain the preference for the feminine by citing men as the buyers of art. One could fill a library explaining why. Update: Josh Baer points out that Lily Safra and Sheikha Mayassa al-Thani might feel differently about the default assumption that rich men are the buyers of the world’s most expensive works of art. ) He regularly characterizes anything he doesn’t like as the product of plutocrats and the ignorant rich. Were he referring to the tastes of a particular person or offering any sort of evidence, Salmon would be entitled to his opinion.
Bigotry toward the very rich is hard to get upset about. However, the bias does suggest sloppy thinking and a poor grasp of the art market. Indeed, Salmon’s post easily elides art historical value and market value. (Felix is trying to play “gotcha” with Binstock but cannot trap him.) These two scales are separate and un-related. Valuable art is valuable because it has become a currency, not a commodity. No one suggests that gold is a “better” metal because it is accepted as currency. It simply fills that role.
Should art be used as currency? Should gems? Should shells? Obviously, those are separate questions.
The Commodification of Gerhard Richter (Reuters)