Guffwatch - More on those urinals

November 19 2014

Image of Guffwatch - More on those urinals

Picture: FT/AFP

Because I know you can't get enough of them, AHNers, I wrote a piece for the Financial Times on those multi-million dollar urinals, and what they tell us about today's art world. You can read it here. No podcast this time, as it was for the paper's main op-ed comment section. 

Isn't it incredible that the person who paid $3.5m for the urinals at Christie's wasn't dissuaded by the large warning sign hung beside them.

Update - Marion Maneker at ArtMarketMonitor says it's a shame I've 'succumbed to splenetic envy' about such an 'important and fascinating artist'. Well, he's perfectly entitled to think that of Gober, and in fact I'd certainly agree that he's fascinating, and even to some degree important. I can still, however, be baffled that Three Urinals is worth $3.52m. Probably, the $130,000 they made last time they appeared at auction in 1996 is about right. I don't know. I wish, as he I bet he does, that he could have scooped the full $3.52m windfall this time round himself. But I certainly I don't envy anything about his work or the contemporary art market. I merely question it. 

Anyway, Marion also says I've engaged in 'silly conspiracy theories' about guarantees. But when Christie's catalogues openly state that in the case of guarantor purchases “remuneration may be netted against the final purchase price”, it's not a conspiracy theory to ask whether prices reported always reflect what is actually paid for a work of art. Because they don't. That's a fact, not a theory. 

Update II - it's been interesting to see the reaction to my FT piece. First, those contemporarists are very touchy sometimes. It's almost like it's a cult. They assume that anyone criticising either the market or the art is criticising everything to do with contemporary art. But it may surprise them to know that I have more contemporary pictures on my walls at home than antique ones. 

Secondly, it seems very few people are aware of how the guarantor system works, even amongst those familiar with the market. One reader raises the question; if, in the provenance of a work in a sale catalogue, a price is given (as often happens) for the previous time a work sold, but that refers to a guaranor purchase, is that being misleading?

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