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All Time Auction Records

Friday 19th December 2014

Just when you think the art market can't get even more incredibly rich, it does. Despite many predictions that the current auction sale bubble is going to burst, sending all those multimillionaires and billionaires into tears as the value of their precious art collections crumble, the market just keeps getting stronger and stronger. Of course, that's always how things look before a bubble burst, but after the recent contemporary art auction held by Christie's, it's clearly not quite ready to burst just yet.

Only a few days previously, Sotheby's, the primary competitor in auctioneering to Christie's, set a respectable mark at just shy of $344 million USD for contemporary art, including $36 million for a new Jasper Johns record sale price for Flag (1983). Christie's, however, completely blew that figure out of the water with a truly staggering $852.9 million USD mark, spaced across 75 lots.

Figures like these make the working artists among us cringe and salivate at the same time, wishing our pieces would sell for such ridiculously high sums, and bemoaning the fact that the artists never see a penny of these incredible amounts. They do, however, also point out the fact that the art auction market is almost wildly divergent from the actual art world itself, the one where creation and appreciation of art is important for an emotional reason rather than a financial one.

The dealers and speculators who buy and sell works at these prices aren't really buying and selling art in the way that most of us mere mortals think about it, they're effectively trading stock. They don't buy pieces because they appreciate their beauty, or because they like the artist, or because they like the way it makes them feel. They don't even purchase them because they're fashionable - they purchase them because they expect to be able to turn them around in a few years and sell them for even more money. It's not about the art, it's about the perception of value.

So next time you see a multi-million dollar price tag, don't despair - remember that they might as well be cowrie shells, pieces of petrified elephant feces, or anything else that everyone simply agrees has value. It doesn't necessarily make them any good.

Posted on December 19th 2014 on 06:42pm

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