My visit to Christie’s

Being briefly in New York City, I stopped in to visit the pre-auction viewing for the Contemporary Art sale at Christie’s.  I was stunned but not surprised at how many quality works were on sale, compared to the historical average, having visited the same event numerous times in the past.  Pre-crash, for instance, most of the sale was mediocre junk, albeit by big names, sold under the pretext that those names were worth owning for their own sake.  And there were plenty of recycled mediocre works from the 1980s, say the dross by painters such as Eric Fischl (who does have some very good works, though a minority of his overall ouevre).  This time I saw dozens of pieces which impressed me as good enough to be on display at first-rate museums, and those pieces filled even the “lesser” rooms upstairs rather than just the main showcase rooms.

The quality of the supply to me suggests that “finance” thinks trouble may be on the horizon.  Otherwise, why sell now?  Why not hold on to the best pieces, as collectors did in the old days, and wait for them to appreciate?  Somebody senses a market peak.  That said, finance is not always right, least of all about itself.

In any case the prices for the good works are indeed quite high.  A very good Robert Ryman “white painting” (yes, that means it is white, more or less only white, but the textures are very good) these days goes for $8-12 million, as does a good de Kooning from his Alzheimer’s period.  Those price estimates are without the buyer’s premia.  A Twombly chalkboard painting was estimated in the $35-55 million range and no one was even bothering to look at it.

Whether or not you think these prices are justifiable on aesthetic grounds, quality Old Masters are far cheaper and arguably more likely to hold their value.  For 200k (not long ago for 60-80k) you can buy a very good Delacroix painting and it is easier to hang and transport than many of these over-scaled contemporary works.  I interpret this price difference as a status gradient.  In the Old Masters field, you can’t hope to assemble a world class collection, as too many of the very best works are already in museums.  In other words, the Mona Lisa will always make your collection seem unimpressive.  You can buy excellent older works at excellent prices, but that alone doesn’t seem to count for much.  In the Contemporary field, if you are wealthy, you really can buy top works from say the top half dozen artists — or more — in that area.  Plus you can have the artists to your dinner parties, the works match how younger finance types like to decorate their apartments and homes, and their larger size makes them splashier purchases for a lot of museums.

Buyer’s hint: Those Alexander Calder sketches are underpriced at $40-60k, there is still time to bid on them.


"A very good Robert Ryman “white painting” (yes, that means it is white, more or less only white, but the textures are very good) these days goes for $8-12 million"

Markets in everything.

Yes, what a crime these paintings netted a mere $590,000.

Now that's art!

Who buys these paintings? Russian gangsters?

It's interesting how in America these days nobody except the giga-rich is interested in contemporary art anymore. Fifty-sixty years ago, New York painters were heavily promoted in the middlebrow Time-Life press as the kind of thing any upwardly mobile person needs to know about.

But, outside of Banksy (who functions more as a critic of the art world), does anybody care about contemporary artists any longer? I have a vague sense that the English are still infatuated enough with their new wealth to act like they care, but in America?

"Contemporary art" is a Gramscian scheme to cheapen American exceptionalism. True story. People that profess an appreciation for the crap that passes as "art" these days is either a rube, a pretentious prick, or in on the ploy. The degradation of culture continues apace...

I used to have a theory: middle class racists and libertarians like to point the finger at poor and middle class blacks and public sector workers as "the problem" because they have no idea how much wealth there is in the U.S., and just how wealthy the wealthy are.

Seeing Steve Sailer make this comment confirms this theory.

I've visited plenty of offices, investment banks, asset management offices with works of art like these. It's pretty common, really. But a racist living in Studio City who can't get a security pass into the high rises in downtown L.A. or Manhattan or San Francisco would not know this.

So, instead, he thinks the problem is all them low-IQ blacks.

Maybe there's some tax or investment reason for blowing a wad on paintings to adorn your brokerage. Otherwise, any business that spends that kind of money on artwork is ripping off its shareholders.

No, Anti-Gnostic. Again, the lower middle class worldview.

Art appreciates, usually very very well. Those paintings are assets, and by buying them they are adding value for shareholders.

Millions for a painting hanging in a lobby are millions that could be put into operations, or paid out in dividends. I've been in the offices of plenty of wealthy businesses myself. This seems to be a NY-LA-SF phenomenon. These are managers with too much of OPM lying around. If they were making money on artwork, they'd go into the art business.

Please keep commenting. It's always good to see the contempt in which denizens of the right-side socio-economic distribution hold their lower-tier countrymen out in the open.

High-end art appreciates. The Mona Lisa will never sell at auction for less than it previously did.

I doubt these businesses are putting million-dollar paintings on the wall of the break room.

Art "usually" appreciates? I have some paintings I'd like to sell you.

Like I said, I'm sure billionaires have their reasons, whether investing for profit or for money-laundering. Billionaires are, almost by definition, good with money.

But my question remains, does anybody who isn't a billionaire or in the business of selling art to billionaires care about 21st Century paintings?

For example, I read most sections of the New York Times other than the art and fashion coverage, and I don't recall many references to 21st Century artists in other sections, other than Banksy. Clearly, Banksy is an interesting figure of the 21st Century and you are, quite reasonably, expected to be able to recognize his name. But most of the coverage of contemporary art in the NYT outside of the art and fashion sections is devoted to various frauds and forgeries. The upper middle brow reading public seems pretty interested these days in art forgeries, but not in whatever it is that billionaires get so excited over. That seems to be less an avant-garde these days than a sort of billionaire's playpen that the rest of the public is bored with.

In the late 80s I was in the offices of one of the most profitable law firms in the country (in NY). I was stunned at the quality of the original art on their walls. Note they were a partnership, so no OPM issues. Possibly tax benefits, I don't know, but I bet they made a LOT of money on that collection (or will if they ever sell - I haven't been back) - of course, that's in hindsight, but at least in hindsight it wasn't stupid or a waste of money.

My contempt for you, Anti-Gnostic, is due to your microeconomic illiteracy, not your economic status (although the two are likely related).

1. Dividends are non-accretive to shareholder value and are often bad business. Retirees like it, but that's a separate issue.

2. Yes, the money could be put into operations, but if the CAGR from the art work exceeds the return I can get if I put it into operations, best to buy the artwork. If I work at a bank with a ROIC of 15% and I predict the artwork will appreciate at 15.5% ROIC, I am doing my shareholders a valuable service by buying the artwork. It's no surprise that artwork prices have exploded post 2009 when capital investment is at all-time lows.

In other words, take a finance class.

Right. So when beachfront property starts appreciating more than pork bellies, then Kraft Foods obviously owes it to their shareholders to start bidding on beachfront property. Basic corporate finance.

Again, thanks for confirming this area as the provenance of the rent-seeking class.

Yes, Anti-Gnostic, that's right. That's why conglomerates diversify.

On balance, art does not appreciate very very well. At the high end, perhaps (which means by definition it has ALREADY appreciated very well).

Here's a thought experiment: If you bought a piece of art in 1920 [pick your year] by every artist who had a solo show in a major art center that year, what would be the appreciation rate? My guess is that it would be very low; most of the pieces would be worth very little. Would the few that appreciated a lot make up for this? I would doubt it, but perhaps there's data out there.

Brokerages are in the business of buying and selling and that's what contemporary art is mostly about: buying and selling.

The self-parody here is absolutely stunning. I love it.

I have a theory too. It's that high-status (actual or perceived) white men, here Michael, have engaged in a political war redistribute the wealth and legal rights of low-status white men, to split between themselves and whichever victim class has made the claim. Michael's post here is further evidence in favor of my theory.

No, Thomas. Those of us who are smart enough to elevate from the low-status to a higher status are also smart enough to know the Koch-funded style of pseudoc-libertarianism that Cowen et al. promote is a bunch of nonsense. It's really that simple.

"People who disagree with me are too stupid to understand that I'm correct"

"It’s interesting how in America these days nobody except the giga-rich is interested in contemporary art anymore."



That's about what I figured.

When billionaires trade marbles, even a common catseye is traded for millions of dollars.

It's not the marbles. It's the dumptruck loads of money they have to bargain with.

Fifty-sixty years ago, New York painters were heavily promoted in the middlebrow Time-Life press as the kind of thing any upwardly mobile person needs to know about.

Some of that was CIA backed pressing of US/Western art as an alternative to Soviet Realism, as I understand it. When that no longer seemed important, the push to make it seem important to the "common man" died down.

It was kind of a patriotic thing: from Florence to Rome to Paris to New York rather than to Moscow.

Here's Mark Tansey's 1984 painting "Triumph of the New York School," showing the French painters signing the surrender under the watchful eye of New York critics.

The old master's did their work in the pre-photography era. Contemporary artists produce crap, some of which is promoted and successfully sold to people who have more money than they need.


I mean, cool colors and all...but $75 million?

modern art is generally very good art... if it wasn't so expensive people wouldn't get so upset about it and denounce it as 'crap'.

Really? You'd pay, say, $600,000 for a panel of white with "good textures"? $60,000? How much cheaper would that crap have to be for you to buy it (without possibility of selling it for more later)?

I've never been interested in the work of Robert Ryman, but I see nothing wrong per se in making abstract paintings that are mainly white. I don't see why that is 'crap'. Again, it seems to particularly bother you because it's so expensive.

Maybe it's not crap, but maybe it's not great art either. The artist Francis Bacon explained the excitement over contemporary art as "Fashion. "

@Phil, contemporary art is boring at any price. That's why I don't like it. What bothers me is the lack of any beauty or aesthetic value whatsoever, thus signaling the bankrupt state of a field that should be producing wonderful things.

High prices for such things, on the other hand, are something to marvel at, not be bothered by.


contemporary art, i.e. art made now and in recent history, is extremely diverse. Highly skilled forms of figurative painting are part of the mix, if that's what you're into. A lot of it can be boring and very obscure but some of it is amazing. The problem now is that there is so much of it, in such variety, that you can easily miss stuff which might be of interest to you personally. And those who become high-priced stars might be popular in the art world but be of no interest to you.

It's not expensive because it takes any special talent to produce. That's what puzzles normal people. Usually things are expensive because they are rare and cannot be duplicated. Not the case in modern art. Particularly when they outsource the creation of it to tradespeople and sell the
"brand". It's all marketing.

I'm not "bothered" by the fact that it's so expensive; I'm claiming you wouldn't buy it, despite you claiming it's not crap.

IOW, I think that you agree with me that it's crap, but won't admit it

The good thing is, if you really like it you can get one similar for $215.

There was a lot of coverage recently in the NYT about a giant forgery ring involving the famous Knoedler art gallery, with forged paintings selling for up to $17 million each. But the guy who was actually doing the work of forging the famous artists' work was a semi-impoverished Chinese guy in Queens who was getting paid a few hundred dollars or a few thousands of dollars per canvas he churned out:

This is what I call the Walmart test. If I saw this canvas for $30 at Walmart, would I buy it? When looking at modern art, I answer no more than I answer yes.

@Ricardo, if people at Walmart would want to buy it, then it's obviously not "art" in the modern sense.

Tom Wolfe went over this already over 40 years ago in The Painted Word. Nothing new here.

+1 to msg. Also, some good stuff in Back to Blood.

Isn't part of the allure of these textured pieces (like the one you link above) that they are more open ended, have more of an effect on the viewer? What I am trying to say is that the value in a Rembrandt is inherent - it is in the skill it takes to reproduce the scene - while the value that is in a modern work is external - it is in the effect is has on the viewer. This could explain the larger price differences (driven more so by emotional reactions, which vary more). It might also explain why people don't want the Etsy piece for $215 - they would feel they are opening themselves up to something that is fake (essentially getting taken advantage of).

Gerhard Richter is probably a bad example when raging against non-figuratism, given he has produced stunning canvases in the figurative tradition, for example:

Not sure supply can be explained by 'finance' taking a bearish view - I'd argue almost the opposite. A high proportion of the top lots are guaranteed, and the guarantees are typically underwitten by private collectors/investors. My perception is that auction houses have to work harder to secure consignments rather than find buyers. Note that's an opinion on how market participants perceive the market, not my own view.

I think your assessment of quality is quite subjective, and I would challenge that you could get a 'good' Delacroix for $200k (& his prices certainly haven't near tripled in any medium time frame). I largely agree on reasons for contemporary prices vs old masters, but would add that it's also about plentiful supply at all levels of the market. I know of several major old master collectors who have switched into contemporary for social reasons. On the other hand, it is still possible to form really first rate collections in some areas of old masters - Tom Kaplan and the Otterloos, both in Dutch golden age painting, come to mind.

When I see these paintings, I always remember Ephraim Kishon's Piccaso's sweet revenge....

The point of this post: Tyler signaling that he's the sort of person who can tell high-quality art (that looks like crap) from low-quality but expensive art

And thus suggesting he doesn't believe the EMH?

Since when is the EMH believed to apply to art?

Well, it is a large, liquid market with thousands of participants. If you're saying this isn't efficient than I can think of many other markets (often praised by economists) that should be ignored (i.e., all prediction markets). Further, if it's not efficient than someone is consistently "losing" out to those with better information. Who are the rubes that line up to keep losing? I don't see them...everyone I know who likes art thinks they are wiser than the average collector.

It's neither large (in number of participants nor transactions) nor liquid, stock markets handle as many transactions in a millisecond as the art market does all year. Why do you believe your friends who all think they are the wise ones are correct?

EMH doesn't say there are consistent 'losers', just that no one can consistently outperform an index. I'm quite sure there are certain collectors who produce art 'alpha', and others who lag whatever you would use as an art 'index'. The insiders vs the billionaire rubes who are just playing status games.

The Emperor Has No Clothes is in full effect.

Why suppose that it is the smart people who now are selling, the dumb buying, rather than (say) the other way around?

Look at the attendance figures here. They can't all be super-rich, or people paying money to heap scorn on the artists.

"It was a different story in the leading museums of New York, London and Paris, where contemporary and Modern art dominated the city’s top shows. Around 5,700 visitors a day went to see the Cindy Sherman exhibition organised by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). In London, David Hockney’s large-scale works on canvas and iPad attracted 7,512 visitors a day to the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) while in Paris Daniel Buren’s installation in the Grand Palais for Monumenta drew 6,498 visitors a day."

It's one thing to look at interesting stuff (and contemporary art is interesting stuff!) for a day for the price of a museum ticket. It's quite another to pay millions of dollars for something that any art-and-design-school graduate could produce so that you can look at it every day.

The viewing public is paying pittances for the aesthetics. The mega-rich buyers are paying kings' ransoms for the provenance. Why? To prove that they can.

Okay, but Cindy Sherman is 60 years old and Hockney has been famous forever. I remember a friend tried to buy a Hockney in 1984 and it was already hugely expensive.

Well, to be clear, I do not personally see how these prices can be justified for the high end of contemporary art (I certainly wouldn't put my money there if I had it), and I find it hard to imagine how such an illiquid and unregulated market could possibly be good for investing. I only wish to argue that there is some value there, not that the market values are solid and permanent. Gut instinct: I would pay $1 million (if I had it) for the Giacometti that just sold for $100 million.

About "any art school grad could do it": Yes, once someone else has already done it first. Many people could "do" an Andy Warhol or a Cindy Sherman at this point, but they get credit for being the first to "do" exactly what they did, and plenty of rich people apparently see value in owning a genuine piece of the "original." Even if it would be easy to produce a physically identical fake, the market value apparently comes from having a real original. (Yes, I see all the paradoxes here, which is another reason I personally wouldn't spend money for it...) I think Denis Dutton wrote about the philosophical problems posed by fakes and forgers.

If I had the money (which again, I don't), I'd probably just hire someone from Dafen Oil Painting Village to duplicate the original piece that I liked.

About the age of Hockney and Sherman: yes but again this is the very high end of the market. If you go to Bergamot Station or Chinatown on a gallery opening night in L.A., there are going to be hundreds of people milling around dozens of galleries, and a (fortunate, small fraction of the many total) fine-art MFA grads who, a few years out of school, can pull in five or six figures net from one exhibition.

Maybe it's more like they are just putting it out there to see if they can get a very high price as opposed to many owners at the same time thinking that they will need to cash in before prices collapse.

Consider Ebay, where often there are people putting something up for far above the market price, presumably on the off chance that one day someone will come along and just say "sure, that's what I'm looking for".

"younger finance types" like to decorate their apartments with contemporary art?

And here I thought they were mostly into cocaine, hookers, and their fantasy football teams.

I'd need a couple more data points before adjusting my mood affiliation.

Also, people seem to be forgetting that the auction houses represent the very, very highest end of the market. There is an entire market below that. There are plenty of thirty-something professionals who will pay $10,000 for something new and original by a living artist whom they can meet, whose studio they can visit, with whom they can build a relationship if they want.

Here's a site that tries to measure aspects of that market: The first column is "buy now under $10,000." Some of it is conventionally beautiful and some of it is not.

Here is an exhibit that just opened in Los Angeles. His works go for the low five figures. Even a grumpy philistine ought to be able to understand why someone would buy one of his artworks. There are probably thousands of artists of roughly this stature. (And many more who would like to reach that level)

Thanks. My impression of what sells to upper mid-level movie people are pretty pictures like these. There are a huge number of people in my part of L.A. with excellent visual skills who work in film and TV. If they make, say, mid 6 figures, dropping 1% every year on a big beautiful painting by a local craftsman that looks good with the latest couch sounds like fun. It's kind of like buying a lottery ticket: maybe the billionaires will decide it's worth a fortune someday. But probably not, and you'll probably get a new couch in a few years and need something else.

So, what gets a painting from $10,000 to $10,000,000?

Traditionally in the 20th Century, you had to have a theory. Just being a nice-looking picture of a potted plant or your favorite L.A. sports star wasn't enough. To be a superstar painting you needed a theory about why this painter would change art forever! This Jasper John flag is flat but it's also representational! This picture of a soup can is art, but it's also a soup can!

Essentially, a painter needed a conceptual sales pitch to make it to the top rung.

Does anybody besides billionaires and people who think billionaires are cool care anymore about these theories?

Maybe it's just the Internet. Back in the days of Time and Newsweek it was kind of hard to avoid getting exposed to fervent articles about the latest theory of painting and why it was massively important. But now it's easy to avoid sales pitches.

Here's the fundamental question about painting: the history of art is usually told as a tale of discovery or progress or innovation or whatever. So, in much of the 20th Century, it seemed important to know What Comes Next.

But how many people care anymore? Or do most people suspect it's just going to be a Giant Hamster Wheel of Fashion spinning endlessly, going nowhere?

Vogue is full of pictures of beautiful clothes created by talented people. But nobody assumes you'll learn anything of lasting importance from Vogue.

On the other hand, paying $10,000,000 for a nicely textured white painting suggests that this isn't just fashion, this is ... history! This represents a great leap forward in Man's Creation of Art!

But does anybody really believe in stuff like that anymore?

Or is this just a fun way for billionaires to try to put one over on each other?

My gut feeling is you are right about this. As a layman, it's hard for me to see how this is not a bubble. In some cases, like Warhol, it could be just market manipulation.

The size and scope of the market means that young artists (like those in the right-hand column of -- Jacob Kassay, Oscar Murillo) can boom and bust in a very short while, before being processed through the Theory Machine.

It's hard to imagine that anyone who lived through the 1980s in the Soho and East Village era could be fully taken in that any boom is permanent. The big painting stars of that era (like David Salle, Julian Schnabel, and Eric Fischl, mentioned by Tyler, who wrote a great, very readable book about his life and career) for a long time stood for "boom and bust."

The big theories of art are alive and well within the academic-industrial complex, where both the theorists and the artists can get tenure, and shape the worldview of the next generation of collectors. But this is NOT the same list of people as the stars of the market. There are a few artists on both lists ("Cindy Sherman, like Judith Butler and Michel Foucault, shows us that identiy is simply a subjectively willed and socially constructed performance!!"), but not that many. There are plenty of artists who are big in the world of leftist and/or postmodern theory (Martha Rosler, Allan Sekula) whose work is not big in the market.

There are a few expensive artists who sometimes try to say something Big about History, like Gerhard Richter's October 18 paintings, but this is more the exception than the rule.

I basically agree about the lottery-ticket nature of buying a painting like that, and also agree about the internet taking away the ability of the New York intellectual/media nexus to determine What Really Counts.

But I think it's easier to tackle the question: what gets an artist into the $100K to $1 million range? I think the answer is: an original, signature style, that cognoscenti can recognize as being somehow genuinely unique and distinguishable from everything else around. Which is hard to do. I see the relatively small number of artists (200 to 500?) who reach this point as falling into two categories, with some overlap:

* Paintings or photographs that look very intricate and expensive, and offer "lots to look at": Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Anselm Kiefer, Julie Mehretu
(The New Yorker is still a good source for agreeable, moderately sober reports on the art world, and Calvin Tomkins, born 1925, and Peter Schjeldahl, born 1942, have some perspective on the current situation)

* Duchampian pranksters who shock the bourgeois and titillate their patrons with a sense of superiority for having such super-refined taste: Bruce Nauman, Christopher Wool, John Baldessari, Martin Kippenberger

Thanks. Most informative.

Tyler is giving free investment advice.

That tells you something about the strength of his belief in the investment.

Buying original art is not "investment," it is speculation. The price goes up because it has gone up and buyers expect it will continue to go up.

Unless it doesn't. And there are costs associated with owning a valuable work, as presumably one insures it against theft, vandalism, environmental damage, etc.

Why would speculating in art be different than speculating in any other commodity? Other than the absence of futures markets..

It's consumption, with the potential for capital gains, much like buying the house you live in, with the same risks if you assume it's more than consumption.

And it has the potential to be a game like flipping houses, which a lot of people find to be fun: can you figure out where the market is going and get there first?

Billionaires are, almost by definition, extremely good at buying and selling stuff. And they love buying low and selling high. After they've made their pile, buying a white painting for $8 million and then unloading it on some other billionaire a few years later for $16 million is fun for them. And the fact that the painting could turn out to be a worthless forgery made by some Chinese guy in Queens last week just makes the game more exciting. Small timers can't afford to play this game.

The more random the piece of stuff they're competing with other billionaires over, the better. A white painting is a great test of a billionaire's salesmanship and investorship precisely because it doesn't have any value other than all the salesmanship that has been projected onto it over the years. It's a blank slate! (Hey, that sounds like a pretty good sales pitch.)

So maybe that helps explain the mystery of why billionaires are so much more enthusiastic about contemporary painting these days than non-billionaires: because the paintings are just embodied metaphors for buying and selling. And billionaires love buying and selling. Buying and selling has been very very good to them.

For the rest of us, buying and selling is something we're not all that good at, so we don't see much appeal in playing a buying and selling game using blank slates.

It's an absolute certainty that at least once an art promoter, artist, art expert and art investor have conspired to orchestrate the fake purchase of an art object for an immense amount of money. And if it's happened once, it's happened many times.

It's also not that risky for them. They already have all the money they could ever need. These paintings are just poker chips.

It seems Tyler is getting paid to promote art now.

The notion of spending even triple digits, let alone 5-8 digits, on a painting has long baffled me. I have a nice camera; I take photos, print them out, and frame them in my home. I quite prefer them aesthetically to most paintings, and they cost much less money. I suppose that having a large number of people ready to spend copious amounts of money on a painting is a good thing for the economy though.

Much like wine experts, I don't think art "experts" would stand a chance in a controlled study to see if they could determine "high quality" from "low quality" art. Art is nothing more than status-seeking IMO

Agreed. Similar things happen in the music world.

The Placebo Effect. Your mind sees what is suggested. It creates its own pleasure and believes the artist meant for the effect to happen and that the feeling ius coming from the painting.

I personally believe that Bob Dylan did this with song lyrics a lot, and had a good chuckle. And he also copied a lot of people we probably never heard of.

He also wrote some real quality songs. A mixed bag. But lots of Placebo Effect, I think.

Interesting thought. Take Radiohead. Supposedly many of the lyrics were created by pulling random phrases out of a hat. I have had huge emotional reactions to various of their songs. If there was only one OK Computer, how much would somebody pay for it?

I've wondered why artists often seem opaque or vague about the meaning of their work, and your observation is interesting. It seems to make sense: if there's a positive buzz going and people are clearly getting what they want out of your work, why open your mouth and spoil it for anyone?

Why? Either cor ad cor loquitur or cor ad cor non loquitur. Real artists cannot be bought to prefer the latter. (Yes, literally hundreds of "artists" who preferred the latter died rich and famous in the last hundred years or so, but they will be seen a few generations from now, if not earlier, as the heartless artisans they consigned themselves to being).

Also, there are actual real wine experts. I don't know if it still exists, but there used to be a competition between Oxford and Cambridge to guess the vintage and varietal of various wines. Those who knew what they were doing usually won. I could never win because I refuse to spit out good wine, which apparently you need to do a lot of to know a lot about wine while still an undergraduate, but there are people in this world with a greater thirst for knowledge than mine.

Regarding your point on wine, that is a VERY low bar for being considered an "expert." It's a bit like saying Usain Bolt would "usually" beat me in a sprint. Further, there is a huge difference between simply being able to identify a varietal/vintage and being able to tell which bottle of a certain varietal should be priced at multiples of another. All the evidence I've seen suggests it can't be done. Nonetheless, wine "experts" continue to thrive as they dole out status. I have no problem with this but we should call it what it is: status-seeking.

I have my own theory on this.
Assume there is a fixed set of human qualities needed to make good art (attractive, significant, beautiful), and very few people have those qualities. In former times (before the XX century), anyone who had those special qualities would have developed them, would have painted night and day, and with time might have become an Old Master because there wasn't much else for them to do.
But now, those very few people live in a vastly richer world. They have many more opportunities for advancement doing all kinds of rewarding, well remunerated activities thanks to their qualities. And if they insist on working in the (visual) arts there are many more fields out there to choose from: film, comics, publicity and advertising, industrial design, etc...
It's not that there aren't more Delacroix's, Van Gogh's or Monet's today, it's just that they are busy with much more rewarding (and easier?) endeavours.

Of course this is completely eurocentric, and focused on painting, but you could probably generalize it somehow for the other "decaying" contemporary arts.

I think that is certainly true. I sometimes wonder how many people supporting a family with a solid job they enjoy actually have the talent to be a world class artist or musician had they chosen to take the time to develop their skills in that area.

Also, places like the "art city" in China shows how much actual artistic talent exists among the 7 billion humans on this planet. Sure, they are "copying" other artists styles for a living there...but they clearly have the artistic sense and painting skill to strike off into their own style if they had access to galleries.

Of course, the demand for assets prized by the wealthy has never been higher, nor have the prices for those assets, whether they be works of art, luxury houses and autos, or financial assets. That is to be expected during a time of rising concentration of wealth. It's no wonder the wealthy seem so angry in spite of (or is it because of) their good fortune.

The wealthy seem angry?

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