Do we like certain things because we know that other people are liking them? How is the market affecting how we see art? How does it affect the way curators and editors see art? Does the market create a competitive atmosphere that drives artists to produce better work or does it foster empty product?
Money complicates everything in contemporary art, and affects every observer. It is impossible to look at a work in an auction preview without glancing at the estimate, and having that influence how the work is interpreted. Only very few people seriously ask why a leather jacket tossed in the corner of an auction gallery is being sold as art; it must be art if it appears at a Sotheby’s evening auction, or if the auction estimate equals the value of an average home, or maybe ten cars. When the auction hammer falls, price becomes equated with value and this is written into art history.
Or a collector enters a friend’s home, views with disbelief a Warhol torn-label Cambell’s Soup can silkscreen on the walls and thinks, not “you have cutting edge taste,” but instead “You have a lot of money.” It is easier to appreciate art when what is required is not an understanding of art history, just your memory of a recent article about high auction prices.
Art critics also follow the dictates of art prices. Expensive work becomes meaningful in part because it is expensive. Critics write essays interpreting the works of various well known artists-but will never admit that the reason the work has meaning is because so much money has been paid for it. Crowds line up to see Damien Hirst’s sculptures, in part because of what they cost. I believe the history of contemporary art would be different if there were no reported auction results, and no records of what pieces have sold for.