By Richard Polsky
New York, Other Press, 2009
Week 10 Non-Fiction
This week’s blog is going to be short and sweet because the dissertations to edit are backing up. I found it amazing that I actually got this week’s book done, because I have been sitting at my computer night and day. However, willpower and a shorter book won out.
This week’s book is I Sold Andy Warhol. (too soon) by Richard Polsky. I read about this book in The New York Review of Books and found it at the library because I am buying too many books. (It’s just so easy to press “buy” on Amazon.) By the way, if you are looking for liberal reading about non-fiction books, The New York Review of Books is a great resource.
I knew nothing (and I really must emphasize nothing) about the art market before I read this book. I always feel intimidated by art galleries (to be distinguished from art museums), feel like I am an intruder since I’m not going to buy, and don’t know what to look for once I get into one of them.
Polsky’s book doesn’t help with any of those anxieties, but it does help the reader understand what has happened to the art market in the last few years, when the market passed by most collectors, gallery owners, and art dealers--even Polsky, who has been a player for 30 years. His premise is that art became a commodity in the early part of this decade when buyers and sellers acted like works of modern and pop art (Andy Warhol’s as an example) were stocks, futures, or real estate.
He tells the story of one of Andy Warhol’s fright wigs -- one of the green ones -- and the wild ride it took on the market, and he uses that piece of art as the metaphor for the whole business. As he chases the painting around the globe for a client, the reader gets a glimpse of the amazing heights the art market reached. The epilogue tells of the crash and the enormous losses collectors, dealers, and auction houses took in 2008.
He says, “ Since no one in the art business has any traditional job skills, everyone has to create some hustle and bustle to validate their existence…The reality of the art trade is there isn’t a whole lot to do…It’s because everyone is dependent on a few big buyers to keep them in the black. The art business runs counter-intuitive to most businesses, where you are taught not to put all your eggs in one basket.”
Interestingly enough, while Polsky is a dealer in art of the late 1900s and early 2000s and the book is about the art market in those works of art, today’s Wall Street Journal has a major article about the art market in the old masters, and I was able to read it with some understanding about the European Fine Art Fair, the auction houses, and the side deals. “During the book, collectors put a premium on high-profile contemporary art sales. While prices for Rembrandt and Raphael rose slightly, prices for living artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons were skyrocketing to record highs. Now, the Old Masters are staging their comeback.” Here’s a link to the article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703701004575113812459542060.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
Well, now I know all about Damien Hirst. There is a whole chapter in the book devoted to him. I also know Jeff Koons because my sister and I took our children (one about 5 years old) to a Jeff Koons exhibit at the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis in the late-1980s. Bad move!
At any rate, this book is a chatty look at the art business with a lot of name-dropping and a lot of self-deprecating humor. I had fun perusing the web for photos of the art works mentioned. It’s an easy non-fiction read. I promise that next month I will be more serious.
The other book by Richard Polsky is I Bought Andy Warhol. The two titles probably tell it all!
Here is an interesting review in the Huffington Post:
Next week I am reading a memoir about a musician. I’m back on familiar territory.