What Makes Art Valuable?

2011 ,    »  -   23 Comments
Ratings: 8.46/10 from 119 users.

What makes a piece of art worth tens of millions dollars at auction? A number of things, but not always the things you'd think. BBC's The World's Most Expensive Paintings chronicles the world's ten most valuable paintings, by way of journalist Alastair Sooke's guided tour of the collectors, locales, and Christie's and Sotheby's auction houses that link these great pieces of art together.

One of the more intriguing phenomena touched on in the film is the concept of provenance, which is the added value a piece of art has above and beyond what it otherwise would be worth due to the prestige and/or wealth of its previous owners. A painting previously owned by David Rockefeller, an example covered in the lower half of the top ten list, can and does fetch considerably more than a comparable piece without the same ownership track record. Arne Glimcher, a renowned art dealer, states:

The whole thing of art and money is ridiculous. The value of a painting at auction is not necessarily the value of a painting. It is the value of two people bidding against each other, because they really want the painting.

The value of the works covered range from a "lowly" Rothko piece that sold for $72M, to a Picasso that had been whereabouts unknown for fifty years for $106.4M in 2010. Sooke strays from the focal point of the film - art and money - to shed some light on the world where these two things change hands in such mythical fashion. He takes us inside auction rooms at Sotheby's and similar houses and shows us the process that buyers, and more often their well-compensated art buying representatives, go through in acquiring this caliber of artwork.

Christopher Burge, an auctioneer with one of the more impressive resumes in the business, tells many a story and takes us through the auctions from his perspective. Sooke even haphazardly conducts a "small" auction himself, flanked by Burge overseeing it. One of many insider stories from Burge tells of a Picasso that sold in 1990, amidst global financial duress, that somehow defied the fiscal apprehensions that otherwise dried up so many other markets.

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23 Comments / User Reviews

  1. voiceoftruth

    1% of the people control 99% of the wealth. How could you ignore the needed to such an extent that you would spend 100 million on a painting and not spend that 100 million trying to save starving/sick/orphaned/destitute children?! I resent these people.. being in a position to help but instead buying a painting to put on a wall - sick.

  2. Chard

    That's exactly what I wanted to say but just couldn't find the words. I, too, was disgusted.

  3. John Doherty

    It must be about one-up-man-ship; that A is willing to spend profligate amounts more than B or C is willing to match.
    (Coincidently, how petty did Mr. Archer "portray" himself with his grubby remark, inter alia. Tasteless.)

  4. ginarnold

    The telling tale for me was, the painting being owned by a Rockefeller made it more valuable. The phoniness in the art world is what turns a lot of people off art, which is sad, as art should be the history of the culture at that time. This absurd painting says it all-----"what culture"?

  5. MofromRo

    I'd rather have a pussy cat. One of creation's most beautiful and fascinating creatures and true works of art. Then I'd spend my billions uplifting people from poverty and stupidity.

  6. Morthund

    Almost pissed myself laughing at the 38 minute joke at the art collecters 'ahem' expense.

  7. Ximena Apisdorf

    I really enjoy it, as it is a very quick view but significative to try to understand it is not only about art

  8. The Duchess of Malfi

    Not gonna lie, the Massacre of the innocents made me tear up a bit.

  9. Mox

    I wait for a day when a baron buys a painting for 200 million dollars then uses it as a door mat for his toilet. That is the value of art when it becomes "investment" in the hand of the filthy rich.

  10. Cain

    When that pretentious convict Archer told me to take my grubby little hands off his beautiful wall, I would have saved him some time at the dentist by removing a few of his teeth myself. What a petty, insignificant man.

  11. Edward Warren

    It is pretty presumptuous to demand people spend what they have to satisfy your wishes.

    Do you want some me to distribute portions your meager belongings just because I thought that you somehow did not deserve them and they therefore belonged to all of us, or to just the people I thought deserved them more than you did.

  12. freak_girl

    Lol at the grubby hands thing

  13. roo

    what is value measured in? is there a number saying that weight of art is 1.5 kilos does it measure in how long time was spent to find out how much you can earn and compare it to our minimum per hour rate or how much of that expensive/cheap paint was wasted to make what? art is art for all too see when you put a value on it, it is no longer art.

  14. DeLanceyArt

    Are any of you artists that commented here?
    Most, and I mean most, collectors are donating to charities/ social assistance programs etc...in ways many people can't even imagine. The idea that the readers should suggest what someone else should do with their money is what's ridiculous.
    I create my pieces of art to make people happy or intrigued, any feeling or connection if you will is good. The money is only important for survival, the message is so much more important. Perspective. It's not just about art.

  15. Steve nelson

    Have not seen this yet but leave you with a quote: "Art is like a shipwreck, it's every man for himself." Marcel Duchamp

  16. maree

    Never mind spellcheck,we need grammar check.This was an informative documentary.I now know why these pictures sell for insane amounts.The rich really are clueless.But it's their money and sanity,so good luck to them.

  17. Landi

    Whats with all the hate? I am not wealthy so my comment isn't biased. first of all allot of super rich people have sacrificed early childhood enjoyment, countless sleepless days, enormous stress and have endured tremendous risk to get to where they are. And now that they have their reward in the form of wealth they should share it with the world? share it with the poor who chose a life of laziness and decided to have 10 children in a third world country (there are exceptions). people like Warren buffet have donated vast amounts of money 40+ billions and i didn't see poverty decline. No amount of money will save some people in some countries with more money they will enjoy having more kids and spend it irresponsibly. if these people want to seek fulfillment in owning something someone of great importance once owned then be it. who are you to say how one choses to make himself feel happy.

  18. Lucky Luke

    The arrogance of certain people in this doc. is just mind blowing.

  19. Nando

    More money than sense - we all love good things and yes we should appreciate and value art, but I believe there is a limit and here is an example how the world is so unbalanced (life extremes?)

  20. Kathryn

    Many artists spend a lifetime of countless hours in solitude working, giving up sleepless nights creating - some almost obsessively. Few have earned the riches spent on their works in the secondary art market - Sotheby's, etc.' Their connection the world and other people comes from sharing their works via sales and exhibitions. Some artists even die broke.
    To possess a work of art and hide it away like a toy in it's original box to protect the investment, does a disservice to the artist's intent. Billionaires investing in art for ego or profit instead of love for the work is disheartening. It's rarity makes it "dealable" more than most other objects, goods, or services. Regarding the comment of rather having a pussy cat, make the cat rare in some way, owned by someone important, and the eventual bones of the cat would have value. Let's not confuse the artworks with the financial ego game that's going on.

  21. DustUp

    Picasso certainly proved beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    If an expensive piece goes higher the person who bought it is considered smart. If it doesn't they are considered foolish. Yet the art is the same. Which demonstrates that for the expensive pieces it is not about love of art at all.

    I do admire talent. What someone can do. However, I can walk outside and see some truly amazing artwork that is living. Beautiful majestically tall trees, green foliage of many types, nimble deer, numerous fascinating birds, and yes even cats and dogs, as well as people living their lives. Any of these living scenes is worth far more to me than some swirls of paint on a canvass, even if it isn't "rare".

    The ridiculous amounts of money involved certainly isn't limited to art. How about sports? What if people chose to have some friendly competition themselves at whatever level. It would likely do them more good than watching the overly paid do it.

    Which is more prestigious, owning an expensive painting or an expensive sports team? That also is in the eye of the beholder but at least the sports team has a number of jobs added to the workforce, including the people who sell food and sweep the floor.

    What makes Christie's and Sotheby's, etc. worth 10s of millions for the sale of one expensive lot, more so that the auctioneer who sells used farm and construction equipment? Isn't that just as obscene?

    It just shows to go you that many of the rich have it bass ackwards and aren't all that bright or enlightened. The Bible, a great descriptive of psychology and the foibles of mankind, outlined such things a few years ago. Human nature isn't likely to improve overnight. Getting sick and repulsed or resentful about it certainly won't improve anything at all. It is just taking a less expensive ego trip telling yourself that you wouldn't do such a thing, you would do better. By default you are telling yourself and now others that you are better. Is your ego trip better or worse than the rich art collector?

  22. DustUp

    One interesting aspect of it all is that the rich art collectors certainly aren't new or unique or avant-garde. They fall into the same thing as their peers.

    Is that how they made it? One can guess that some were smart risk takers. After they have grown tired of doing what they were doing before, they still are risk takers and now have chosen another way. For them, going to play games of chance like poker just wouldn't do, not a smart risk, they could walk away with nothing.

    One might praise a rich fellow who builds a hospital where it is sorely needed. Yet is that worthy of praise if it inflicts the same kind of torture upon those having cancer as do the typical hospital?

    People are so quick to judge. Judgement is not ours sayeth the Lord, it is his. Clearly we are very poor at it ...and it usually harms us far more than those we judge. Let it go or let it be an inspiration to actually do something actually good with your dough. Substance over symbolism. And what of the person who builds the torturing killer pharmaceutical drug pushing center called a hospital? The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Be mindful of the results, not the thought that really doesn't count.

  23. Dave Nelson

    Pleased to see Jeffrey Archer doing what he does so well. Namely being an utter gutter dwelling nutter.

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