For seemingly forever, sociologists, psychologists, and amateur pundits of all persuasions have tried to comprehend why people collect; from the Collyer brothers to Eli Broad, it appears a pointless yet universal pursuit at least on the logical surface irrational waters run deep. At the dawn of the twentieth-century, Thorstein Veblen asserted that the rich, who didn’t need to work, sought out activities that had the appearance, the pretension of utility and practicality, but really were motivated by an effort to distinguish them from the working class. Imagine a very wealthy widow taking a University women’s club course on nineteenth-century Chinese romantic fiction rather than introductory electricity, basic ice fishing or yurt construction at the community college or YMCA.
The collections of America’s rich, which run the gamut from art to autos certainly sets them apart from the heavy step of the workingman and woman. Veblen said in a capitalist society, status and distinction is attained through conspicuous consumption and collecting permits the haves to assert oneself through one’s possessions and starts the game of comparative preferences and taste to affirm its pecking order. The grandeur and breadth of the collections of the fabulous reinforce their wealth and their contents inform of their passions and hang-ups, especially when there is collecting for accumulations sake. Another template to understand this phenomenon, seemingly absurd, is through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: the affluent collectors are stuck at the psychological and social needs level and keep consuming out of a fear of self-actualization. Think of their vast inventory as a ransom to pay off their pathologies. But then, those who acclaim self-actualization may be off in umming as a desert hermit wearing a potato sack. Or, taking Durkheim, the individual human life is of no moral worth; so lets compensate by pecuniary measures…
Walking around Miami Beach last weekend, taking in the 10th edition of its extravagant Art Basel art fair, you sensed something strange in the air. Patou’s “Joy” drifting off the pashmina? Polished walnut wafting out of the Bentleys? More basic than either: the ineffable aroma of money itself, rising from the art out for sale. By the end of the first day, a customer at Mary Boone’s booth had spent $575,000 for a pile of battered stools turned into a nest—by Ai Weiwei. A blue lozenge on a white rectangle—by Ellsworth Kelly, on view at Matthew Marks—had gone for $1.5 million. A glass cabinet full of surgical instruments, by Damien Hirst, had sold for nearly $2.5 million at White Cube’s stand. Despite the big names attached to these objects—and whatever their artistic worth—any normal observer would immediately wonder: Stools, for half a million dollars? Three times that for some plain paint on canvas? Why is art so damned expensive? There is a pile of simple, and basically unsatisfying, explanations…
…Abolafia explains that his financiers were “shameless” in declaring the price of their toys, because in their world, what you buy is less about the object than the cash you threw at it. The uselessness of art makes any spending on it especially potent: buying a yacht is a tiny bit like buying a rowboat, and so retains a taint of practicality, but buying a great Picasso is like no other spending. Olav Velthuis, a Dutch sociologist who wrote Talking Prices, the best study of what art spending means, compares the top of the art market to the potlatches performed by the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest, where the goal was to ostentatiously give away, even destroy, as much of your wealth as possible—to show that you could. In the art-market equivalent, he says, prices keep mounting as collectors compete for this “super-status effect.” Read More:http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/12/04/why-is-art-so-damned-expensive.html
…One art adviser who works at the top of the market says that a collector is “like a diseased human being … these people love to buy, and they love to buy art. The process is a very deep-seated urge. This idea of hunting and gathering—it’s not a new one.” And as de Pury, the auctioneer, explains, there’s no fun in hunting where there’s almost no game to be caught. That’s why the market for old masters has cooled down, he says, whereas certain later artists, such as Warhol and Picasso, produced so much art, in such a variety of styles and modes, that there’s still a thrill left in shopping for them. For these artists, says de Pury, you can become a one-of-each collector—one blue-period Picasso, one rose period, one cubist, one surrealist—and then you can imagine upgrading your works of each type. Gather 10 bidders having this same kind of “fun,” and you’ve got guaranteed price inflation. ( ibid. )
Eric Sprott, the company̵
founder and CEO, purchased a Van Gogh, alongside several other impressionist paintings, when the firm first went public. He started buying Inuit art when he ran a securities firm, acquiring a carving for each underwriting. (There were 53 in 1993 alone.) As his company became increasingly successful, Sprott widened his collection, acquiring works by the Group of Seven, Alex Colville and Jean–Paul Riopelle.
Sprott can now chart his successful career through his acquisitions. The art has become part of his company’s brand; Sprott once even brandished a 17th–century German battle axe in a meeting. Colour blind, Sprott admits he cannot fully appreciate the beauty of the objects he purchases, but he views the Canada–heavy art collection as a way to reinforce his identity with his international clientele. His office now has a room entirely dedicated to works by the Group of Seven; another, known as “the Chief’s Room,” houses a good chunk of his First Nation’s art collection.
Known as a shrewd businessman, if something of a contrarian, Sprott is an indefatigable “gold bug,” backing the metal through the commodity crash in 2008 and into the current bull market. He manages his art like a stock portfolio, weighing how each acquisition fits within the broader collection. And both his fortune and his collection have grown thanks to his ability to make snap judgments involving millions of dollars.Read More:http://www.canadianbusiness.com/article/17095–hobbies-and-horses
Veblen had plenty to say about the arts and the reasoning behind their support. He thought our ideas of beauty were inextricably tied to rarity and expense. He compared art to diamonds. While similar in many ways to common glass, diamonds are rare in the earth’s crust and difficult to dig out. Seen under these contexts, they become beautiful. Further, while a Picasso oil might be worth big bucks, it’s also big bucks that make a Picasso worthy. Veblen noted that frivolities and false values came about due to the human need to demonstrate wealth and to establish status….
…Veblen was also aware that attitudes evolved and that social mores changed over time. Such pressures exist today. In our rapidly greening world, Hummer ownership is now uncool. In some places these wide-stance, gas-guzzling SUVs have become embarrassing to have in a driveway. You’re going to find this difficult to swallow, but the expensive and impractical Hummer’s demise bodes poorly for art.
Whether it’s a Joe Bloggs watercolour purchased for home use for $200, or a $140 million Jackson Pollock dripper purchased for a public gallery, art needs the frivolity of conspicuous consumption to make things happen. If the market were to turn around (the way it has for Hummers) and the need to display expenditure becomes diminished, we’re in big trouble. Read More:http://clicks.robertgenn.com/conspicuous-consumption.php