Can you put a price tag on art? If so, what is the limit?
A couple of years ago people outside the art world were surprised to find out that some one had paid 4.3 million for an Andreas Gursky photograph titled Rhine 2 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhein_II ). People who know of Gursky’s work know and understand the beauty of this image. People who only understand and view photography for its visual aesthetic beauty only criticized the photograph’s value, but fail to grasp what justified its value and importance as a photograph. With the popularity of iPhones and cameras being consumer friendly many people believe the camera creates the image the photographer’s only job is to click the shutter at the decisive moment. Also the main exposure for artists’ work is the web, if we need a visual on a piece of art work we GOOGLE it. What many of us forget is the web does not give a good representation of the actual artwork, it flattens into to a two dimensional image, and being viewed on a computer monitor the color reproduction is nothing close to the original. I also realize a photograph is two dimensional but a computer it does not represent the art correctly, so photos need to be viewed in person much like a Mark Rothko painting. While studying art history I often viewed Rothko’s work in books or slides, then on a trip to L.A. I viewed a show of his paintings and from that moment I fully understood their importance in the art world.
Getting back to photography several months ago Peter Liv’s photograph titled Phantom managed to break Gursky’s record by more than two million dollars (http://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelhennessey/2014/12/12/peter-lik-phantom-worlds-most-expensive-photograph-arizona-antelope-canyon/ ). This time the art world is in uproar not because the photograph is not visually beautiful but because an unknown in the art world had created the photograph. Peter Liv is a successful photographer in his own right, who creates beautiful images but the art establishment i.e. Museums, curators, critics, and collectors have not recognize his work in the frame of contemporary art. Liv’s work holds true to the movement of the modernist such as Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, and Henri-Cartier Bresson, the work speaks for itself.
Why is it hard for the art world to accept this photo as part of the dialogue in modern art? Is beauty not relevant anymore in art? Beauty does not suffice and a lot of people who are not knowledgeable do not understand that the concept of art has evolved beyond just visual beauty and mastery of the camera. This is why this photograph has become controversial, especially in the context of the art world, because the purchase by one collector at a price tag of 6.4 million dollars is questioning the validity of “what is art” at this moment. In much the same way that the painter Thomas Kinkade, self proclaimed the Painter of Light, caused uproar in the art world. Thomas Kinkade was the most successful selling commercial artist of our time, he created paintings that many people loved and made millions from the same image but offered as reproductions in various sizes and options to be printed on paper or canvas. Again it was only one entity that made the establishment question, “what is art?” much that same way of Marcel Duchamp did with his ready-made “Fountain.”
Another issue that is raised by the significant purchase of “Phantom” is the stigma of ignorance is often portrayed in collectors who know nothing about art and only see it as a commodity. Whoever this collector is has taken a big chance on purchasing a piece of paper that may not yield his return on such an investment on a unknown artist in the art world, but the irony is artwork by famous artists are being sold at exuberant prices that leave people wondering if these prices are justified. Even Gerhard Richter, one of the most famous living painters questions the amount his paintings are being auction at (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/mar/06/amount-of-money-that-art-sells-for-is-shocking-says-painter-gerhard-richter ). For those who don’t understand how the art world works, the majority of artwork that is auction off at the price it was sold does not necessarily go to the artist unless you are California artist, but this is another story, and they still only get a percentage. An auction is the reselling of an artist work usually owned by someone other than the artist. The artist makes his money from the initial sale of the artwork when it was first created. Getting back to my thought, What ever your stance is on this issue we still go back to that question, “What is art?” and AT WHAT PRICE?