Earlier this week a load of people came in the night and erected a great big tent in the gardens near my house. Rather than fill it with rubber ducks and waltzers, they’ve stuffed it with art works worth more than I am able to properly contemplate. Millions and millions of pounds worth of old masters, all stuffed into a tent near my house. I went for a walk around there today. My friend Helen knew one of the exhibitors. It’s made me rethink the idea of money. Sometimes I was terrified of sneezing on something as I looked at it. Other times I was wondering how I could use a tractor beam or freeze time or something in order to get my filthy paws on so much lovely art.
One of the first things I happened on was a dollar sign. A colorful painting about as big as my head of a dollar sign. Signed Andy Warhol. Priced at £950,000.
It got me thinking about value. I’ve always liked art that was made for reasons other than money, but to suddenly see the capitalism of art laid bare made me curious. That’s part of Warhol’s mischief.
There were some amazing things for sale in there, and some garish things. I found myself drawn to an ancient Egyptian fish sculpture, made perhaps for faith by an unknown artist. It was selling for 40k, the same as a half forgotten pencil sketch by Cezanne, trying to make sense of a thorny bit of composition. When I was at school one of the boys drew a load of circles on a canvas and sold it for thousands. Warhol knew what he was doing when he painted a dollar sign. Stick a high price tag on something and hold your nerve. Someone will buy. Close to the Warhol was a Van Gogh. What a thing, to live and die so tragically only to pay some art dealer’s mortgage with commission on a sketch 100 years later.
Value in art is as hard to pin down as where art begins where it ends. It got me thinking of the KLF nailing money to things and pricing it low, then trying to sell it as art. Ten grand nailed to a plank for 5 grand. Either buy it and destroy it for immediate profit, or buy it and hold onto it for years while inflation drops the cash value and appreciation raises the artistic value until it’s worth more. Mind you they had trouble persuading the artistic establishment that their “Money: A major body of cash” artworks had merit. In the end they burnt a million pounds in a little hut on Jura almost 23 years ago, and filmed it. That still gets people’s blood flowing. Is it art? Perhaps so considering the arguments I’ve heard about it. Is it wasteful? Certainly in one sense, and more so the less value we place on the action. I find interest in the idea of a couple of lads burning everything they’ve got in vague protest. More interest than in Damian Hurst’s diamond skull that cost 14 million to build.