When artist Damien Hirst unveiled his work titled 'For the love of God', a platinum skull encrusted with 8 601 flawless diamonds, the media and the world of art went crazy. Hirst, one of the most popular of the YBA's (Young British Artists) managed to get the world of art in a jumble on wether or not there was a limit to the extravagances of art. The piece was originally up for grabs for the titanic sum of £50 million.
Although Hirst confirmed it was sold, many claim that Hirst didn't in fact manage to sell it, but no matter, because he got people asking just how far are we ready to go in the name of art. It's a mysterious market that often has prices skyrocketing for hot artists and plummeting for others who fade into redundancy.
One way to see it is to realise that art is (monetarily) worth whatever you're ready to pay for it, therefore it's not art that is expensive, but rather money that's become cheap to some. For those who can afford these prestigious prizes, spending a few million here and there is relative to you pampering yourself with a poster of your favorite band, a nice set of fancy cutlery, or a quirky decoration.
There are a few main factors involved in the price and desirability of an artist's work. In order to understand how money relates to works of art, we must first look at what kind of reconnaissance the artist is getting. Is the artist controversial, well-respected or underground or all of them at once. Think of Banksy. Another Englishman who's largest amount of work resides on the streets of london where he sprays and paints biting, moving and often very funny images. He started out as an unknown (and still is since his identity has been kept secret) and has come to join the names of the great modern artists and sells works at 25,000 and 50 000 a piece. Not bad for a graffiti artist.
For speculators (investors) Classic artists such a Klimt, Picasso and Pollock are always a safe bet. The value of their works will seldom go down, even in rough economic times. More contemporary artists are much more subjugated by the even shifting trends and views of the idea that is art. The art lovers, those who buy to keep and not to resell often won't bother to check what an artist is really worth (except maybe for entertaining purposes) and will ultimately buy a piece they truly care for one way or another. If they can afford it.
So long as there are people who speculate on the future of art and how it's prices will grow, humans will continue to buy up, hoping to make easy money with their investments. Its volatile nature is the very thing that keeps the buisness side of the art world healthy. Those who pay for what they really love will simply ride the wave of ups and downs it goes through. As for the artists, it's far better to have ignorant but wealthy investors than to face-off the often cynical and jaded art lovers. However true respect, gratitude, and the future worth of their pieces comes from the latter.
Detail of Gustav Klimt's 'Adele Bloch-bauer I' sold for $135 million.