Picasso and Art as an Investment

Isaac Mostovicz writes that a 'deliciously conventional' Picasso goes for an exceptional price...

Pablo Picasso’s Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur or ‘Nude, Green Leaves and Bust’ recently sold for a whopping $106.5 million, overtaking the world record set by a previous Picasso piece, Garcon a la Pipe which sold for $104 million in 2004. This is surprising considering it was only predicted to bring in $70 million, and even more so, says Graham T. Beck of The Awl because it has “everything to do with the lowest common denominator” and is “deliciously conventional.”

Agreeing with this is unimpressed New York Times art critic Holland Cotter:

“Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” and other paintings from its period are old and easy, art as usual. They keep to the known, the pleasure zone; they keep old orders firm, artist over subject, man over woman, woman as thing, a pink blob with closed eyes.

Whether you agree with this or not, Beck is quick to point out that it does not matter:

…when it comes to the auction block or the firehouse cookout, the proof isn’t stewing in the pot or penned on the critic’s page but in the dollars paid or the stumpy little fingers of the Napoleonic chief who never calls my name no matter how much salt and cheese I spill into that bubbling pot of ground round.

Putting aside Beck’s chocolate chili parody, what is important here is that Beck seems to suggest that the value of the painting cannot be endowed by a critic’s or professional’s assessment but by its final purchase price. Certainly, want is a crucial factor in determining the value of an item. The more an item is wanted, the more valuable it is and consequently, the more money spent. This reminds me of an old blog post of mine on Damien Hirst’s Diamond skull when I asked:

When the value of a piece is as astronomical as For the Love of God, does the focus necessarily have to shift from art to investment?

Here, it is the $106.5million which has shifted our views from investment to art. What this shows is not only a possible revival in the art market, but also a change in luxury attitudes. This certainly corresponds to an earlier blog post of mine about a new breed of luxury consumer. Roberta Smith of the New York Times is going along the right lines when she questions the coy art of the mystery bidder:

Strictly enforcing one’s privacy — at a time when so much goes public as fast at it happens — may be the ultimate public display of power, and thus the most erotic…

We look on, gape-mouthed, as the figure rises and then clamor to know. We think we are the observers, but actually we are the observed. It is Buyer X who is most in control and who therefore derives the greatest pleasure from the actual transaction. Anonymity only makes it that much more pleasurable and voyeuristic.

If this is true, luxury consumers and their reasons for buying are becoming ever more complicated and dynamic.

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