Review by Bears Fonte

Jeff Koons appears in The Price of Everything by Nathaniel Kahn, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by US Four Productions.

The full quote in Nathaniel Kahn’s documentary about the art market is “Some people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Spoken by art collector Stefan Edlis early in the film, the bit of doc gold becomes the lens by which to see the various players in the creation, appraisal, auction and collecting of contemporary art.  HBO acquiered the doc a few days before Sundance an it is easy to see why.  A no door closed journey behind the scenes, THE PRICE OF EVERYTHING dives into art as a commodity delivering a thoughtful and honest film.

US artist Jeff Koons poses for photographs with his work of art entitled ‘Rabbit 1986’ during the press view of the ‘Pop Life, Art In A Material World’ exhibition at the Tate Modern, in London, on September 29, 2009. (Photo credit: BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

With few ‘old school’ masterpieces coming up for sale (Rembrandt, Monet), collectors and Christie’s have turned to contemporary artists to fill the demand for investment purchasing.  Basquit pieces can snatch ten figures in the marketplace, but working artists create new paintings yearly for galleries and auctions, the cost of these works decided by their potential to hold their value. Jeff Koons works, like the Rabbit Edlis purchased, can bring in $30 million despite the fact that he basically has a factory churning out work for him.  On the other hand, Larry Poons has fallen out of favor with collectors but a new show has him positioned for re-emergence.

Then there are people like Amy Cappellazzo, the buyer for Christie’s, who seeks out the right collectors for pieces to stir up interest (and bidding).  She is in an odd position, as she seems to truly love the work, but has absolutely no problem with people buying something and hanging it on their wall such that no one will ever see it again.  Most artists, like Nigerian-born Njideka Akunyili Crosby, would prefer their art live forever in museums, but with the market what it is, most museums can only afford to purchase a few works a year.

And here’s the worst part. When a dealer sells an artwork, they traditionally split the revenue with the artist 50-50.  But the new marketplace demands the constant purchase and ‘flipping’ of art.  Njideka watches her painting sell at Christie’s for $900,000, but that’s going to the current owner, as she sold that painting for around $700 a few years ago.

It’s a fascinating peak into an industry that ponders plenty of issues and leaves the audience room to make up their own mind.  And some people may know the ‘The Price of Everything,’ but Edlis truly knows the value, as his recent $400 million donation of artwork to the Art Institute in Chicago proves.

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