Why is art so expensive? Blake Gopnik has an superb article outlining five reasons why art defies economics:
I asked the great New York collector Agnes Gund how she would feel about her artworks if their value suddenly halved. “I wouldn’t feel they would have changed,” she said, explaining that most of her pictures are promised to museums. Then I asked how she’d feel if their value doubled instead, and her story changed. “Obviously, it’s wonderful to see the price rise,” she said, since that’s confirmation of the object’s cultural worth.
I’m convinced that most collectors spend their surplus millions on art because they have a genuine belief in its aesthetic value. “We don’t consider art an investment. We get a psychic reward—I love to come home and look at our walls,” says Eli Broad, a prominent collector from Los Angeles, taking a break from shopping with his art-loving wife at the fair in Miami. (They’d just bought some early Cindy Sherman photos, for sale at Metro Pictures for a modest $150,000.) Aesthetics are the bedrock the art market is built on. But, for want of any other reliable measure, they often get tallied in dollars. One of New York’s biggest dealers told Velthuis, the Dutch sociologist, that collectors “permanently have to explain to themselves why they spend so much money on art, sometimes up to 40 percent of their total net worth. So that they want to hear all day long that it makes sense what they do.” And the easiest way to gauge the aesthetic “sense” of an art purchase is to check out the “cents” the thing is selling for. When you’re looking for great art, you may spot it by its price tag.