There has been a lot of teeth-gnashing this last week over the $1bn+ spent on art last week as if the money was corrupting the values of art history. The implication is that too much value is being placed upon unproven, living artists like Jeff Koons.
The panic comes against the backdrop of Gerhard Richter’s powerful market run which surprisingly halted last week. His abstract works had been the motor of so many Contemporary art sales. But last week it was abstract art of a different sort that beguiled buyers.
This isn’t to say that the works that were the most expensive were, ipso facto, the best or most important works. Many observers wondered at the price achieved by the Marion Rothko. We were told it was the only remaining privately-held work from an important show of Rothko’s work. )Perhaps there was a good reason no museum had taken it?)
Nonetheless, as Colin Gleadell points out:
it’s the proven genius of yesterday that is proving the main attraction. Of the 45 artists’ records set last week, the majority were for American artists who are no longer alive. “There was less hunger for the younger generation,” says Meyer.
Notwithstanding, there was a string of record prices for living artists – Jeff Koons, Mark Grotjahn, and Wade Guyton among them – all, with one or two exceptions, like the Brazilian, Beatriz Milhazes, North American.
But the show belonged ultimately to the post-war Americans, seen not, as McAndrew suggests, as “the Old Masters of the future” (as this might imply a far more selective market in waiting for them) but as contemporary art, now.