Money, money! Prices and quality

Or why it is increasingly difficult to take the world elite’s luxury art industry serious. And why there are better deals at places no one has heard of…

Take a close look at these three images:

# 1


# 2


Lanscape Drops2_PhSh
# 3

The basic idea behind them is pretty similar. It’s a landscape shot in rainy weather through a window filled with raindrops. It’s a gray day; dark mood. The camera has been set to focus primarily on the raindrops and thereby make the landscape further away bleary.

It’s a – fascinating – phenomenon in and of itself: what our eye do not see sharply at once demands more extra attention and reflection. German artist Gerhard Richter has used this challenge too in numerous of his works in which you think you see a blurred photograph while in fact it’s an oil painting. # 1 is the relatively sharpest image.

Then there are some obvious differences between the three. 

In # 1 you see a road and the photographer seems to have been sitting next to the driver. The windscreen wiper has just passed over the raindrops. If there is a hint of drama in # 1 – the dangers of driving in such a weather –  that’s not the case in # 2 and # 3 which could have been shot from inside a house, a train or a parked car.

The colours are quite different too. Photo # 1 is really gray, gray road, gray sky – just a little yellow in the field to the right. In # 2 colours do not immediately seem to be natural – it could, however, be a winter landscape with sun falling on snow. The third is probably summer – and there is a sense of movement in it, in contrast to # 2, and also a sense that the rain is about to stop and light coming up over the hilltop.

And there are more differences than meet the eye…

Photograph # 1 is shot by world famous Abbas Kiarostami (b. 1940), an Iranian film director, screenwriter, photographer and film producer. He has called it “Rain Series n 1” and it is from 2007-2008.

Photograph # 2 and 3 are shot by me, Jan Oberg, # 2 in January 2016, # 3 in 2012.

Kiarostami’s Rain image is about 103 x 150 cm and printed in an edition of 2 only. My works are printed by me in maximum A1 format, i.e. roughly 60 x 90 cm, on matte fine art papers (Canson or Hahnemühle) and in editions of 50. Like his they are signed and numbered on the print.

Which of the three do you like – if any? Can you rank them? Would you like to own one or more of them?

If so, there is one more difference you should know: the price. In January 2016, Kiarostami’s print was estimated at an auction at US $ 20,000-30,000.

My price tag on # 2 and 3 is US$ 450 for the image printed inside the 90 x 60 cm format.  So smaller yes – but not that much smaller.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to say that my work is better than this world renown artist’s. The work that attracts you the most is simply the best. And, probably, if you have US$ 30,000 – you’re likely to make a better investment when buying a Kiarostami photograph. But if you are an art lover and not an investor, that shouldn’t count; you should buy what you like, shouldn’t you?

I’m also not implying that expensive art is not or can not be good. Of course it can.

But what I am saying is that the today’s global market is indeed enigmatic and only a fool may seriously believe that there is a direct relationship between prices and quality in the real world.

I’m also saying that for me as some kind of art photographer, I would much rather that my works make the average citizens happy and give them an opportunity to feel the joy of owning something unique in our mass producing society.

To have my works available to only a few people in some corporate board room or only in museums or more or less closed private collections might be exciting and feel like a boost – and I would not mind some income that would allow me to pay my costs and also do projects that I dream of.

But whatever the price level or place – I’d like my customers to be art lovers, perhaps in particular young people who are establishing a family and home, don’t have so much money in that stage of their lives but anyhow want to explore the joys of art and of owning something that makes their walls unique. An affordable quality piece.

These very months we are seeing artists like Gerhard Richter protesting the ridiculous prices some works fetch – his own as well as works by Picasso, Hirst, Warhol, Munch or Koons. We see various connoisseurs predict that the art market price bubble will burst any day. No wonder! It’s the equivalent to artificial Wall Street finance capital illusions.

Here is what former Art Basel director, Lorenzo Rudolf, had to say about the global art market – the “luxury industry” for investors – to the Artsy Magazine on January 19, 2016 – and it is really worth a thought:

“We are in a moment, especially in Asia but all over the world, where the art world is increasingly driven by the market. Today, what is good is what is expensive. The art world has become a more and more brand-driven world, where knowledge is not big.

If somebody buys a $170 million Modigliani it will be in every newspaper, but the best exhibition you have in the world is not even mentioned.

We have to come back to a more balanced discussion about art. If I want to explain what art is, and build up knowledge about art, I cannot do it by the numbers…

It has to be a cultural good, a discussion, a debate. In the end, art is an attitude, not only a product.”

Couldn’t agree more.

So – are you an art lover or an investor?

And which of the three pieces above do you think will give you best value for the money you want spend if you happen to not be one of the 62 multi-billionaires who own as much as the poorest half of humanity?

I take your orders… 🙂

Would love to read your views, ideas or suggestions here

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