Catch a rising star at the Auction House

Do it well and you may even make a profit. As market journalist Katya Kazakina recently explained in Artnet News, galleries with a hot star increasingly favor collectors who can “buy one, give one”: in other words, buy two works in an exhibition and commit to donating one to a public museum . If you immediately donate the second painting to a non-profit organization, you can only deduct the purchase price from your taxes – but if you wait a year, you can deduct its “fair market value”, that is- i.e. the price it would fetch on the auction block. Given the gaping disparity between gallery and auction prices, this means that if the museum agrees, everyone wins: the artist gets his work in a museum, the dealer gets paid faster, and the collector gets a heavy loss.

But are these paintings—and it is painting, more than any other medium, that participates in this game of shells—are they really worthy of entering a museum? It’s a determination that only history can make, but I observe that the time between the creation of a new work, its digital distribution, its purchase and its resale has become so compressed that the old mechanisms of legitimization cannot just not work. This may sound anti-elitist, but it is really a displacement of one elite (the museums, with bigger libraries) by another (the bidders, with much bigger checkbooks), and that makes part of a larger and ultimately dangerous cultural reversal. in which numerical metrics, measured in dollars or likes, are the only records of quality or importance. They may be marketed as the next Basquiat, but many of these paints are more like the 1% version of the Museum of Ice Cream: a digitally released little fun, though it might cost the same as a house in Deer Valley. .

You remember Oscar Wilde’s aphorism in “Lady Windermere’s Fan”: The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Culture was one of the last areas in the neoliberal era that tried, at least somewhat, to maintain a distinction between the two, between, to put it bluntly, the market and our lives. The cynics of this digital age have won their ultimate victory by making synonymous with price and value, and we have serious problems if our cultural institutions, on the altar of inclusion and anti-elitism, accelerate their own capitulation to be acclaimed via the algorithm.

Here’s the game: collectors tap into the last remaining drops of social esteem and sophistication associated with museums to promote what the Harvard historian Benjamin HD Buchlohto an earlier era of crazy paint prices (the 80s), called “the luxury goods of a fictional high culture.” And here’s the corollary: it’s paint, not NFT, that has become the archetype of personal marketing and digital madness.