How can a sculpture of a balloon animal possibly be worth tens of millions of dollars? What effect do huge valuations have on the artists themselves? And is any of it even art? These are the questions asked in Nathaniel Kahn’s surprisingly unstuffy look at the art market and the brand names that rule it.
Interviews with artists, dealers, critics and collectors form the film’s backbone. Collector Stefan Edlis comes closest to demystifying the link between price and artistic merit – but all offer fascinating insights. An auctioneer argues that art must be expensive to survive; a scholar greets a Jeff Koons sculpture with mild despair; artist Larry Poons (the film’s breakout star) disdains the whole market but is thrilled to see his work shown. It’s a world of contradictions.
An intelligent film, ‘The Price of Everything’ is also very funny – usually on purpose, though some of the art is ridiculous. There’s a creeping sense that this buoyant market may mark the end of something important, rather than a golden age. Many of the works here are sufficiently moving and powerful to make it obvious that they are ‘art’. But put a masterpiece in a bank vault, and the line between art and asset becomes blurred. That, it seems, is where the industry is headed. Chalk this up, then, as a chronicle of Rome just before it fell.