Hannah Rothschild is a chair of the UK’s National Gallery and a novelist who has written a satire of the art world. The Telegraph quoted the member of the Rothschild banking family from her appearance at the Hay Festival. The Telegraph tries to make thing out of Rothschild saying, “Anyone or any group of people who want to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on a piece of cloth with some oil on it are, I would say, de facto pretty crazy.”
That was the headline for the newspaper. But what the author said next was probably more controversial to some:
When asked about “ludicrous” prices paintings now fetch, and its impact on how the public feel about art, Rothschild said: “I get conflicted about this question, because in some ways there’s been huge growth in visitors to our national museums.
“In some ways these big prices and all the stuff written about art is driving people in to look at it.”
Which way the tide runs—from popular interest to the market or from the market to popular interest—is hard to tease out. Conventionally, the assumption is that museum attendance reflects a broader interest in art among the public than has previously been recognized.
Market activity would seem to be another effect of that interest, not a driver of it. Nonetheless, here we have a prominent, market-adverse observer suggesting we re-think some of that equation.