It appears that even during rough economic times, there is one thing for certain that art can be sold at auction like a commodity. It can be used to liquidate, pay debt, and get quick cash. I can’t help wonder how art and money has morphed into its dysfunctional relationship today.
For example, a Seattle collector, Barney Ebsworth decided to finance a church designed by Tadao Ando by selling a piece of art at Christie’s auction. Mr. Ebsworth knew his 1962 Warhol painting, Big Campbell’s Soup Can With Can Opener, could fetch between $30 to $50 million dollars. He bought the painting in 1986 from a London dealer, James Mayer, for $264,000. Mr. Ebsworth should be pleased with his investment but what returns do artists get?
Unfortunately, poor Lehman Brothers didn’t have the same return. Can you sense my cynicism? In case you weren’t on planet Earth when the latest financial crisis hit, the investment firm was at the heart of the meltdown and claimed bankruptcy in 2008. However, like all good investors they recently auctioned off art at Christie’s but their return was only $2.5 million dollars. Far from the $613 billion dollars in debts it held when the company collapsed.
It appears that the returns are highest for investors. I can’t help wonder where the art ends up and if the public will ever get a chance to see it. We will just have to follow the money trail…