There are many nefarious fantasies about how the art market is manipulated but USA Today may have come up with a totally new (and completely preposterous) one. Among the many problems with this supposed sure fire way to raise prices is that the dealer doesn’t have to “throw” one in. She simply has to tell everyone the work was sold for $2 million while accepting $1m from a buyer. And, as we all know, prestigious collectors who donate to museums are given preference (including pricing preference) over others.
Unfortunately, a number of readers have been taken in by this obvious trolling. So it is worth explaining that this isn’t how one “manipulates” an artist’s market to begin with. Dealers don’t give away works to create demand; they create artificial supply pressure when there is demand already building.
New buyers don’t buy because the dealer tells them how much another collector paid for the work. They buy because they seeing the works in a place they esteem: an important show, a taste-making collection or just in the possession of someone they admire or compete with.
Here’s a scheme that only the writer could possibly think is rampant in Chelsea:
If you are a big buyer who helps set prices, you might be offered work at a goodly increase over an artist’s last price point: $2 million, where the last sale was at $1 million. For that, you get one thrown in free, hence the deal has cost you nothing, but doubled the value for everybody else who holds the works, including the artist — leaving everybody happy.
Wolff: Is art a criminal enterprise? (USA Today)