The novelist William Boyd uses the occasion of Philip Hook’s Rogue’s Gallery being published to launch a screed against the art market in which he says he has witnessed no less than three outright fraudlent practices ‘worthy of prosecution:’
What makes the plastic arts – painting, sculpture and their contemporary conceptual and multi-media spin-offs – different from the other six arts is that they require no popular acclaim at all, however modest, no market-driven consensus, to succeed (I pointedly don’t say to be “good”). But a novelist who sells no books, a film-maker whose films are never made, a composer whose scores are never performed – and so on – cannot survive, let alone thrive. This is not the case in the art world. The late, great art critic Robert Hughes put it this way: “The art market can be set pitching and rolling by a single act, which is why it is so notoriously vulnerable to manipulation.” […]
In my novel Any Human Heart, as a kind of joking thought-experiment, I created a scam whereby a low-value indifferent Picasso could be transformed into a high-value first-rate Picasso. “How did you know?” a dealer asked me, quietly, as if I was some kind of initiate. Yet, as Hook’s book expertly demonstrates it has, in a way, been forever thus, for centuries.
To quote Robert Hughes again: “No work of art has an intrinsic value, as does a brick or a car … The price of a work of art is an index of pure, irrational desire, and nothing is more manipulable than desire.”