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August 17 2012

Picasso's Child with a Dove barred from export

Government fixes restriction until December but chances of purchase look slim after recent string of similar campaigns

The government has barred the export of a tender early painting by Picasso, his 1901 Child with a Dove, in the hope that a museum or gallery may manage to raise the £50m price and keep it in the country. The painting has been in British collections since 1924 and on loan to public collections in Britain for decades.

However it will take a miracle, or an exceptionally benevolent millionaire donor, to keep it here: the pockets of major museums and grant-givers are almost empty after a string of recent high-profile campaigns for other artworks.

The charming painting, made when the artist was just 19 and owned by the aristocratic Aberconway family in north Wales since the 1940s, is a significant transition piece from Picasso's earliest work to his later blue period. I has also been an infallible crowdpleaser whenever it has been exhibited in UK galleries over recent decades. There are only five early Picasso oil paintings in UK permanent collections.

Its UK significance is underlined in its current exhibition, part of the Picasso and Modern British Art show at the National Gallery of Scotland, which traces the artist's influence on generations of British artists. It would fit happily in either the Tate or the Courtauld collections, which have both displayed it in the last 30 years. It was once owned by Samuel Courtauld, co-founder of the art school and the gallery with its superb impressionist and early 20th-century collection. However, the Tate still has some heroic fundraising to do to build its major extension at Tate Modern, and the Courtauld has no purchase fund, relying instead on gifts and bequests.

The National Gallery, where it was on long loan from 1974 to 2010, almost exhausted its reserves (and the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund and other grant sources) when it bought the Duke of Sutherland's great Titians with the National Gallery of Scotland, in 2009 and this year, for £50m and £45m respectively.

Last week, the charity Art Fund, which has bridged the funding gap for many acquisitions, gave just £100,000 to the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge towards buying a famous painting by Poussin, because its reserves are still low after the Titian campaign and the £850,000 it gave to the Ashmolean in Oxford to buy a Manet work.

The National Museum of Art of Wales, which also has an outstanding late 19th- and early 20th-century collection mainly purchased directly from the artists by the remarkable sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies, would love the painting but have little hope of raising the price.

Significantly, no UK museum was able to make a bid for the painting before it was sold at a Christie's auction earlier this year to an undisclosed overseas buyer.

The painting came to London in 1924 with Mrs RA Workman who was, along with her husband, a major collector of impressionist and post-impressionist art. She sold it a few years later to Samuel Courtauld, and on his death in 1947 he left it to his friend Lady Aberconway, and it had been in her family ever since.

The export has been barred by the government until December, but could be extended for another six months if there is a chance of any gallery finding the money.

Aidan Weston-Lewis, a member of the reviewing committee which advises the government on such export bars, said: "Child with a Dove is a much-loved painting, whose iconic status, together with its long history in British collections – latterly on loan to public galleries – make it of outstanding importance to our national heritage." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 21 2012

Gunter Sachs: a playboy's pop art goes under the gavel – video

Watch behind the scenes at Sotheby's as they prepare for a dazzling auction of art owned by dashing millionaire collector Gunter Sachs

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May 08 2012

Scream if you want to bid higher: the high cost of art

At £74m, The Scream went to a buyer with very deep pockets. Such prices destroy rather than celebrate creativity

What is the man on the bridge screaming in Edvard Munch's most famous work? I will tell you. He is screaming: "I am too expensive! I belong in a public collection!"

As an artist, the price of art makes me want to scream. Munch's pastel drawing of The Scream, one of four versions, sold for $120m (£74m) last week in just 12 minutes. When the bidding reached $100m, the audience applauded. As he recorded the final offer, the auctioneer joked: "I love you." What is that love born of? It would be mean to say the love the auctioneer proclaimed was simply born of greed. After all, perhaps you really have to love art, love The Scream, and love its buyers, to value it at £74m. But trophy prices that only the super-rich can afford are damaging. Few public collections could even begin to raise £74m for a single acquisition.

This version of The Scream is the only one to include a poem by Munch on the frame, which describes the inspiration behind the series. It reads: "I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."

A piece of this magnitude belongs where everyone can see it. The enjoyment, understanding and popularity of such iconic works is humanity's inheritance. Human beings can fall in love across generations; people from all over the world can come to understand each other through their cultures; and we can all celebrate together by listening to great music – but not if the great artefacts of our age are squirrelled away in a rich person's downstairs loo.

Even if a public collection could afford to plough huge amounts of its energy, effort and cash into making such a purchase, it would not be right: there is so much else you could do with that kind of money. Think how many great works by younger artists you could buy with just £500,000. Think what a difference a sum like that could make to gallery education departments (schemes aiming to widen access to the visual arts). From time to time, galleries do attempt to rescue an important work "for the nation"; but, despite some high-profile successes, such as the purchase last year of Bruegel the Younger's Procession to Calvary, the capacity to do this is more limited than is widely perceived. Crazy auction prices do nothing to help us hang on to our art.

There is another pernicious result of the art market's buoyancy. In this recession, art is still seen as a good investment: everything else may be in flux, but Picasso will always be Picasso. This inflates the value of public collections, meaning galleries come to be seen as places housing treasures with a high monetary value – not as buildings filled with ideas, aspirations and possibilities. National collections, with their armies of trustees, are protected from local councillors eager to sell off a Lowry to manage a deficit – but smaller ones aren't. Last year, a painting by John Everett Millais was sold by Bolton council for £74,400 to fund a new museum warehouse. Such de-acquisition should go from being a taboo to being illegal.

What's the solution? That's trickier. We can appeal to rich people's sense of public spirit, in the hope that they will donate, or at least long-lend, work to museums. But the problem is that public officials in museums are not there to chase and flatter wealthy collectors but to display the important art of the past, to reveal unseen histories, to reflect what is going on today while pointing to tomorrow.

Contemporary artists are split into two camps: those who are quite happy to create objects that work well as investment vehicles; and those (mainly younger) artists who couldn't care less. Neither group has a claim on making better art. You can make valuable, interesting, important art out of gold as well as sausages. I am keen on contemporary artists making a living, but we all need to beware the dangers of the inflated art market.

If contemporary art remains too expensive, it will not be bought by public museums. The collections of the future won't have good work that reflects, challenges or explains what is going on now. In the end, the best currency an artist can receive is footfall and discussion. There is no point in showing your work only to the "right people". Art shouldn't just be available to all, it should also be available in multiple ways – and we should encourage all people to make it.

Hey artists! Don't turn ideas into cash. Make art cheap. Give your art to public collections and don't demand a tax break. Make art that has no investment potential. Don't get caught up with making money. Get caught up with making things better. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 07 2012

The Gunter Sachs appeal – life and legacy of the playboy art collector

Sotheby's to auction off trove of art treasures and memorabilia owned by the renowned playboy. Mark Brown, meets his son Rolf

Picture the scene. A ruggedly handsome, impeccably dressed man is enjoying a snack with his superstar wife, Brigitte Bardot, in St Tropez's Gorilla bar in the late spring of 1967. A pale, odd-looking white-haired man with a large entourage notices him and marches straight over, complaining that the Cannes film festival, of all places, has refused to screen his film because of its nudity. The man agrees to see the film, Chelsea Girls, and everyone bundles into speedboats and heads for the Carlton Hotel on La Croisette.

That chance meeting between the millionaire playboy Gunter Sachs and artist Andy Warhol had a profound effect on both men. For Sachs, a serious collector, it led to a sea change in his art buying; for Warhol it marked a vital first foothold in Europe.

Sachs became an assiduous collector of pop art and in 1972 opened a gallery in Hamburg. The Warhol exhibition he staged there was one of the first in Europe, although as Sachs's son Rolf recalls: "Nothing sold. My father was highly embarrassed, and he bought most of the exhibition himself – which was of course the best investment he ever made."

Rolf Sachs spoke to the Guardian ahead of a dazzling auction of artworks and objects that belonged to his late father. The Sachs family is selling following Gunter's death last year when, at 78, he turned a shotgun on himself.

Over two days, Sotheby's will sell a collection estimated to be worth more than £20m that includes art spanning surrealism, new realism and pop art, as well as furniture and personal objects. They shine an often fascinating light on a man who liked, perhaps more than anything, to enjoy himself.

"He had a great creativity for life, combined with a joie de vivre and an ability to live it," says Rolf. "He was interested in the zeitgeist."

Categorising Gunter Sachs is tricky. Sotheby's describes him in the catalogue as a "playboy, businessman, gallerist, museum director, art collector, film-maker, celebrity, photographer, astrologer, director and sportsman".

Certainly he was the man of a thousand stories. He created the Dracula Club, an exclusive private members' club in St Moritz; he was vice-president of the Cresta Run, an epic skeleton bob run also in St Moritz; he encouraged Salvador Dalí to shoot a gun in his penthouse and, of course, he married one of the most famous women in the world. He proposed to Bardot by dropping hundreds of roses on her villa from a helicopter before diving into the Mediterranean and emerging from the sea.

Something beautiful

Was it really like that? "I wasn't there," says Rolf, smiling. "It gets embellished every time, but so what? It has something beautiful about it. Stories should have a poetic, dreaming effect." The couple married in Vegas, honeymooned in Tahiti and divorced as friends in 1969, both of them having had affairs.

Born in Germany in 1932, Gunter Sachs inherited fortunes from his mother's side of the family – she was daughter of Wilhelm von Opel of the car-making dynasty – and his father, who owned Fichtel Sachs, one of Germany's largest automobile suppliers.

He located to France in 1958 which in itself was a brave move, says Rolf. "It took a special character to go and live in Paris in 1958 – which was 13 years after the war – as a German. It probably was quite difficult."

At the time, Sachs did not have huge amounts of disposable cash so he would spend his afternoons playing cards – at which he was extremely good. "He wasn't that wealthy then. Father would play ecarté with friends in the afternoon and he would invest his profits in art. At the time nobody was really buying art, people were building up their businesses, everything had been shattered."

Sachs began buying works by the likes of Yves Klein, Jean Fautrier, César and Arman, who are far better known today than they were at the time. "He bought it for the love of the art."

Sachs collected with passion and skill; he was an aesthete, says Rolf, who is a professional artist and designer himself partly as a result of his upbringing. "I was very much aware of the art in the house and as an eight-year-old I knew every painter, I knew every painting. I had a very strong relationship with all the art we had."

Sachs is mentioned in Warhol's memoirs as one of the young Europeans who went to New York and had the whole Studio 54 experience. "At the time you didn't think much of it, but it was fun. You don't appreciate those moments enough because you don't realise."

Surrealist work

Sotheby's has described the sale as "among the most desirable single-owner collections ever to come to market", but it is only part of what was an extraordinary collection. Sachs collected surrealist work by the likes of Dalí, Yves Tanguy, René Magritte and Max Ernst. He owned important pieces from the new realism school including Klein, Jean Tinguely, Arman and Martial Raysse. And there were works that could be described as art informel, including pieces by his friend Fautrier whose studio in the early years of the war was a refuge for intellectuals and artists associated with the Resistance.

Sachs decorated his homes and hotel penthouse suites with the most fabulous art and furniture. He had Lichtensteins in his bathroom, a Warhol Campbell's Soup in his kitchen, a Mel Ramos Banana Split in the guest bedroom. He commissioned a table direct from the sculptor and designer Diego Giacometti and was a big fan of Allen Jones, a star of 1960s British pop art, and had a set of his furniture that used fetishistic female mannequins.

Jones once recalled staying in Sachs' St Moritz Palace Hotel penthouse. "It was the most ritzy place I had ever been in. One wall of the apartment seemed to be entirely glass, with a breathtaking view of the Alps. There were Lichtenstein panels around the bathroom, a flock of Lalanne sheep on the carpet and the set of my sculptures."

If he had stayed at another time he would have seen Warhol's 1974 portrait of Bardot taking pride of place in a kind of pop art concept apartment. One of the last Warhol's Sachs bought was in 1998 – Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) which Warhol produced in 1986, a year before his death – and it is being sold for between £2m-£3m.

Another talking point in his penthouse suite was a bulletproof glass panel which Sachs would cheerfully stand behind and ask guests – Dalí was one – to shoot.

Works in the sale include Les Feux de L'Enfer, a piece Klein made using an industrial blowtorch at a state-owned gas research facility near Paris; pieces by Max Ernst, Magritte and Dalí; and a thickly painted gold canvas by Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale (1961), estimated up to £900,000.

"There was never a thought of it being an investment," says Rolf. "In fact, he stopped collecting in the 1970s because he was disillusioned with the art market – it became so aggressive. It had a strong business component."

Not that he entirely lost his love for it. "He always wanted to find the new, and even at 72, he started collecting graffiti art. We have tons of it," says Rolf. "It shows a curious mind, a young mind, looking for what is the next thing and what is the next trend."

Speaking of his father's death, Rolf says: "It came as a big shock to us all, but as a family we are not bitter towards him … I admire the courage."

It has been suggested that he feared the onset of Alzheimer's: "Perhaps in his mind it was speculation. Whenever something like this happens, obviously, there is chemistry involved. Chemical imbalances, which do things to your mind."

The decision to sell the works was taken as a family, and Rolf stresses they are keeping the items that hold the most importance for them. "People have said, 'Oh my god, you're selling the collection,' but the real core of his collection is staying in the family." He adds that they want to do a museum exhibition at the Villa Stuck in Munich in October.

Fond memories

Rolf Sachs has many fond memories of growing up. He remembers Bardot as his step-mum – "she was very kind to me, very sweet. I have only the fondest memories of her." He remembers one of Sachs' girlfriends, the Swiss biscuit heiress and champion water-skier Marina Doria going back and forward, back and forward in front of the house, pulled by Riva, a speedboat that is also in the sale.

He remembers the parties his dad would organise. "He made some of the most spectacular parties. Everyone would dress up, there was always wonderful music. Once he did a party where he played as if there was a hold up and everyone was surrounded [laughing] and people were getting frightened.

"A lot of fun people surrounded him, people who were spirited, who were good laughs."

Rolf Sachs has taken on some of the responsibilities his father had such as being vice-president of the Cresta Run and on the day the Guardian talked to Rolf he was beaming with pride at a purchase he had made at auction that day: a vampire killing set from around 1900 which he can't wait to show fellow members of the the Dracula Club. It is meant to be the most select club in St Moritz but Rolf says it is full of fun-loving. "Father created it and it is a very nice group of friends. Every member loves being part of bloodlessness."

Gunter Sachs was also interested in astrology, publishing a bestselling book on the subject and creating the grandly titled Institute for the Empirical and Mathematical Examination of the Possible Truth of Astrology in Relation to Human Behaviour.

Two months ago Rolf floated 3,500 candles on the lake in St Moritz in the shape of Scorpio in memory of his father.

There are clearly things going into the sale tinged with regret but Rolf says the family tried to create a rounded sale that was also fun, so there are pieces of art estimated in the hundreds of pounds up to one of Warhol's Brigitte Bardot canvases, estimated at £3m to £4m.

The auction will be held at Sotheby's on 22 and 23 May. Highlights go on show in London from 18-22 May and in New York from 5-9 May. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 03 2012

The Scream sells for record $120m at auction

Edvard Munch's painting bought by unnamed telephone bidder during auction at Sotheby's in New York

To mere mortals it hardly seemed like a bargain but someone, somewhere, has decided that owning a rare version of Edvard Munch's 1895 painting, The Scream, was worth shelling out an eye-watering $119.9m (£74m).

The price, one of the highest ever paid for a work of art, was reached after just 12 minutes of bidding and paid by a so-far anonymous telephone bidder.

As the auctioneer's gavel came down at Sotheby's in New York, the crowd in the room cheered the remarkable event. Bidding had started at a relatively modest $50m with at least five interested parties but the field narrowed as the price sky-rocketed.

One of only four versions of the work in existence and widely regarded as the best, the painting sold on Thursday night is one of a handful of artistic images that have crossed over from the world of high art to popular culture.

It has inspired film references, from the knife-wielding villain of the Scream slasher movies to a famous scene in Home Alone, where child star Macauley Culkin imitated the painting's famous pose.

It is also celebrated by the therapy industry with its horrific depiction of stress and terror.

"This is not a a beautiful landscape in Surrey or a harbour on the French Riviera. It is a representation of extreme anxiety. Imagine if a shrink in London had this on their wall. It's a fantastic painting for their profession. Of course, they could not afford it," said Mark Winter, director of Munch Experts, a company specialising in appraising and valuing works by the Norwegian expressionist.

This version is the only one whose frame was hand-painted by the artist to include his poem explaining the work's inspiration. Munch described himself "shivering with anxiety" and feeling "the great scream in nature".

It was sold by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose father was a friend and patron of the artist. Proceeds of the sale will fund a new museum, art centre and hotel in Hvitsten, Norway, where Olsen's father and Munch were neighbours.

"It is a unique chance for someone to acquire this version. It is the crown jewel of the four but you really need a national budget to buy it. And not the budget of a small country either," said Winter.

The Scream will join a select group of works that have sold for more than $100m, including Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust, which sold in 2010 for $106.5m.

Yet even that hefty price tag feels like a snip compared with the staggering $250m paid by oil-rich Qatar to snag Paul Cezanne's The Card Players for a new art museum. Details of the deal struck in 2011 only emerged earlier this year.

Simon Shaw, head of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art in New York, said the work was one of the most important to ever emerge from private hands on to the open market.

"Instantly recognisable, this is one of the very few images which transcends art history and reaches a global icon. The Scream arguably embodies even greater power today than when it was conceived," he said. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 16 2012

Don't judge an artist by his bank balance

From Raphael to Leonardo da Vinci, artists have been getting big money for centuries. So why do we judge contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons on the fortunes they make?

The 16th-century artist Raphael once wrote a very frank letter to a relative. He wanted to explain how well he was doing in his career. The Pope was paying him thousands of gold ducats, he explained, as well as loads of gold scudi. He had also agreed to an arranged marriage with a cardinal's niece. Essentially, he was coining it in. He lived in a palace, and a visitor was amused to find it contained a statue of Philemon, an ancient writer famous for being money-grubbing.

Meanwhile, at the end of his life in France, Leonardo da Vinci was paid several thousand ecus a year by the French king and got a chateau thrown in.

It's worth remembering such tales of the wealth of the great artists when the subject of art and money comes up. There is no doubt that art and money have a crazy relationship in the 21st century. A picture of Cézanne's recovered painting The Boy in the Red Vest at a press conference in Serbia shocked me. This beautiful painting was stolen in 2008 and has now been found, mercifully unharmed. At the press conference it was flanked by two masked, armed men, just to be on the safe side. And why? The painting is valued at £82.8m.

Figures like that are hard to comprehend. The financial value put on art has become fanciful. Writing about art every day but never buying or selling any, in a way I am like a sports commentator who has never put on a pair of running shoes (you can probably think of better images). Yet in our straitened times, the money that art attracts is looked at more critically than it was during recent boom years. When people now see collectors' yachts at the Venice Biennale or a diamond skull at Tate Modern the money becomes the subject, and it may seem wrong and shameful, an absurd corruption of the creative spirit.

I beg to differ. Art has been a luxury good ever since people started to make "art" as such, and artists have been getting big money for centuries. If I say that Raphael was just as mercenary as Jeff Koons, a few answers are possible. One might be that he deserved his money and Koons does not: another might be that Raphael was more grasping than other artists in his time – but Michelangelo and Titian got just as rich. Another answer is that even the fortunes of these artists pale in comparison with contemporary artistic profits.

The last argument, that art's relationship with money today is more out of control than it ever was, makes little sense. Money itself is different. The economy is larger. The fact is that great artists in the past could earn sums that shocked their contemporaries just as they can today. Making a fortune from art is making a fortune from art.

The only honest reason to be disgusted with today's highly paid artists is that you believe their art is not worth the money. Thus opponents of conceptual art are not really appalled that a Koons makes so much money, but that he gets so much for doing what they perceive as so little. It is an argument about artistic quality disguised as an argument about morality. But some people can't see why painters should be paid, either. A footballer opined on the Guardian site last week that a Lucian Freud painting, although he liked it, wasn't worth the money paid for it. Er, how much do football players make again?

Personally I think art is worth a lot more than soccer. But that's just my opinion. Sports fans can presumably see why players are worth what they earn. Neither a sportsman nor a conceptual artist is a miner. Their work is "soft". We value it because we choose to.

The grimmest thing about these grim times is that everyone is more focused on money. It's better not to let that turn into envy. You can love or loathe this artist or that. It is, however, foolish to base that judgment on what you believe to be in their bank account. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 16 2012

Hirst and the great art market heist

Hirst is the world's richest artist and the Tate's big retrospective will mark the zenith of his power. But when his stock falls, how will an art world in thrall to big money respond?

The Map and the Territory, the latest novel by the mordant French satirist Michel Houellebecq, opens with a description of a painting titled Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons Dividing Up the Art Market. Koons is portrayed throwing his arms wide. Hirst is slumped on a white leather sofa, drinking a beer. For Houllebecq's fictional artist, "Hirst was basically easy to capture: you could make him brutal, cynical in an 'I shit on you from the top of my pile of cash' kind of way; you could also make him a rebel artist (but rich all the same) pursuing an anguished work on death; finally, there was in his face, something ruddy and heavy, typically English, which made him look like a rank-and-file Arsenal supporter."

Hirst is not only the world's richest artist, but a transformative figure who can be assured of his place in history. Sadly – for him and for us – this is not because of the quality of his work but because he has almost single-handedly remade the global art market in his image: that is to say, the image of the artist as celebrity clown, the licensed working-class fool who not only shits on us from on top of his pile of cash, but persuades us to buy that shit and beg for more. This cockney chancer routine, perfected in the 60s by the likes of David Bailey and Keith Moon, has deep roots in British pop culture. We have a lot of affection for guys like these, who seem to be getting away with it, sticking it to the man.

In the early 90s, Hirst seemed like a breath of fresh air, a rave-era blast against the terrible, starchy politeness that characterised the British art scene. In a world of high theory and rigorously monochrome wardrobes, it was funny to say that you paid assistants to make your art "because I couldn't be fucking arsed doing it". Then, when stories of your millions were all over the press, and it came out that those assistants were extremely poorly paid, it seemed less funny. Now, in Hirst's current incarnation as house artist to the 1%, running some kind of Foxconn-style production line on his compound in Baja California, the cheeky chappie act has lost its last residue of charm.

This year may come to be seen as the high-water mark of Hirst's cultural power. On 4 April, a retrospective of his work opens at Tate Modern in London. In January, an exhibition of his "pharmaceutical paintings", canvases of varying sizes covered in uniform coloured dots, opened in all the Gagosian Gallery's 11 locations around the world. These are major shows, intended to underscore the status of an artist who, at least in the UK, seems to need no help in reaching an audience. The most interesting thing about them is the hints they drop about the new rules of the art world, and about the artist's future reputation, which is not as secure as it might appear.

As Hirst has become wealthier, his work, which (as Houellebecq points out) incessantly circles the twin poles of death and money, has lost the cocoon of edgy cool that sheltered it through the 90s, to emerge, like one of his murdered butterflies, in its full form: as a pure commodity, fluttering free of the things that tie most art down – aesthetics, geography, the specifics of material and manufacture. He has certain signature elements (dots, pills, dead things, shiny shelves, chunks of scientific text) that can be deployed, with minor variations, at every price point from major installation to souvenir mug. His thematic interests in pop culture, shock and replication make it easy to keep a straight face while he sells his dodgier diffusion lines in markets that haven't been saturated by the earlier "better" work – see, for example, the shameless recent series of National Geographic-style butterfly photos, punted out in Hong Kong, safely away from the derision that might have accompanied them in London or New York.

This isn't just art that exists in the market, or is "about" the market. This is art that is the market – a series of gestures that are made wholly or primarily to capture and embody financial value, and only secondarily have any other function or virtue. Hirst has gone way beyond Warhol's explorations of repetition and banality. Sooner or later, his advisers will surely find a way for him to dispense with the actual objects altogether and he will package concepts in tranches, like mortgage securities, some good stuff with some trash, to be traded on the bourse in Miami-Basel.

For the moment, Hirst still has to make things and we still have to look at them. The byproduct of his activities is the most starkly authoritarian corpus of art of recent times. All those hard, glittering surfaces, those rotting animals. The body, for Hirst, is trash, which exists to be anatomised, displayed, described in cribbed Latin names. The only way to cheat death is to slough off your rotting flesh and take on the qualities of capital. It's the 21st-century version of ars longa, vita brevis. Don't just make money, be money: weightless, ubiquitous, infinitely circulating, immortal.

The aspiration to break the bounds of the particular has always shown through in such Hirst titles as I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life, Everywhere, With Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now (his 1997 book) and Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, the 2008 Sotheby's auction where he sold $198m worth of art direct to the public, bypassing the galleries who represent him.

This drive to disembodied ubiquity is a message to the proles, to awe us, crush us, sap our will to resist. We, after all, are stuck in our stubbornly physical bodies, which we need to feed and clothe and shelter under conditions of ever-greater austerity and social discipline. We are faced with an enemy that seems impossible to kill. In For the Love of God, the grinning, diamond-encrusted skull that formed the centrepiece of Hirst's last London show before the 2008 crash, we behold the face of our masters. And in its failure to sell for its $100m asking price, we can detect signs of the invisible hand moving against the skull's Barnumesque creator. The world's most expensive contemporary artwork was eventually bought by a consortium that included the artist himself and his London gallery, White Cube. It was, in an important sense, a work that would not have been complete without a buyer, and its failure to sell would have been damaging to Hirst's prices, which in art, as in any other asset class, are highly dependent on investor confidence.

Investor confidence is the key to understanding the unprecedented Gagosian show of Hirst's spot paintings. Hirst's atelier has been turning these out at every scale since 1986, and by the artist's own estimate there are around 1,400 in existence, of which Gagosian was showing 300 under the faux-definitive title The Complete Spot Paintings. They are made by Hirst's assistants to a simple aesthetic rule – the colour sequences of the dots must be "random". The paintings are given the names of drugs: Amphotericin B, Cocaine Hydrochloride, Morphine Sulphate, Butulinium Toxin A, and so on. Many of them are technically difficult to execute, such as the piece completed for the Gagosian show that comprises 25,781 one millimetre spots that the poor bloody assistants had to paint without repeating any single colour. Examples have sold at recent auctions for between $800,000 and $3m. This is to say that they are valued like unique, individual works of art, yet are made in quantities – and using methods – that seem to deny this fiction. Thus one could make the case that they are significantly overvalued. Cue alarm in a lot of penthouse living rooms.

If I were Larry Gagosian (usually cited in power lists as the contemporary art world's most important player) and I wanted to help my top client shore up the value of a body of work that was losing its lustre as its fashionable 90s aesthetic began to look tired, and the penny started to drop among collectors that at every other dinner party they went to they saw something on the wall that looked awfully similar to the something on their own wall, what would I do?

Long-term value in the art world depends in a certain raw way on scarcity, but is largely produced through a delicate process by which aesthetic value (determined by curators and critics) intersects with market value, determined ultimately by auction prices. One point at which these two types of value intersect is in provenance. The story behind an object – its past owners, where it has been shown, its place in the story of the artist's career, and so on – confers both types of value. A landmark show, geographically dispersed in an unprecedented way, is bound to be remembered as a significant moment in Hirst's career as a global art star. When that show is accompanied by a critical apparatus, chiefly a catalogue raisonnée (a meticulously documented list of works shown, accompanied by scholarly essays), those works become part of a canon and a magical walled garden of significance is erected around them.

As Francis Outred, Christie's European head of contemporary art, told the Economist, this catalogue "could bring reassuring clarity to the question of volume". The pharmaceutical paintings are frankly too financially valuable to too many people for their actual status (banal, mass-produced, decorative) to intrude on the consensus fiction that they are scarce and important. The owners of the 1,100 paintings not in the Gagosian show should be nervous, though. They just lost their AAA rating.

Like any major artist, Hirst is not the only person to have a stake in his success. Gallerists, museums and auction houses have investments, reputations and income streams to protect. The people with the greatest interest in maintaining Hirst's prices are the collectors who have already invested in his work. These collectors include some of the world's most sophisticated speculators: The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, the tiger shark in a tank that became the icon of 90s Britart, is, for example, now owned by the hedge fund billionaire Steven Cohen, the founder of SAC Capital Advisers, who has $14bn under management.

This is how it works. A few major collectors make the market. Where they lead, the horde of hedgies follows. Many of the new breed of art investors (not Cohen, who is known to be a man of great taste and exquisite legal representation) have jettisoned even the pretence of connoisseurship. Some of these guys care about the bragging rights that come with a blue-chip work hanging in the loft. Others are all about the numbers, and employ the same tools and decision-making processes to play the art market that they use at work. A few have also discovered that many of the regulatory mechanisms that apply in other markets – preventing insider trading, price-fixing by cartels and sundry other abuses – simply don't exist in the art world. It is possible to game the system in many ways, and the careers of certain artists look not unlike a classical Ponzi scheme, where money from new investors is used to pay returns to those further upstream.

Will every collector who bought multimillion-dollar vitrines from Beautiful Inside My Head Forever see their works increase in value? Or will that value just accrue to the early-90s works on which Hirst's reputation rests, works held by the market-makers? How about those spot silkscreens, priced attractively at a few thousand pounds but produced in editions of a thousand or more? Do they have a future as anything more than wallpaper? It's certain that pieces such as the shark, which have a place in the story of 90s British art, will retain their value – even if it's not exactly the same shark, the original having rotted and been replaced in 2006. But with such a glut of Hirst out there, there's no doubt that some people are going to lose their shirts.

In this context, art museums find themselves in the eye of a storm. Nothing confers more value on an artwork than its selection for inclusion in a museum show. It is the definitive critical vote of confidence. This, of course, depends on the fiction that such decisions are made on pure, aesthetically disinterested grounds. As sophisticated investors enter the market and work out how the game is played, that particular story is wearing thin. This is not to say that the Tate shouldn't be showing Hirst. Its director, Nicholas Serota, attended Freeze, the 1988 student show that first brought the artist to public attention, and the Tate has consistently supported the "YBA" generation of which he is a part, helping to shape the explosion of interest in British contemporary art, not just among speculators but an art-loving public who pay entrance fees and buy nothing more expensive than a postcard.

However, Serota, like other museum directors, is expected to find money to run his institution from a variety of sources, including corporations and private individuals, and this makes museums vulnerable to pressure from those who wish to use them to confer value on their holdings. For many years, the Tate had a sponsorship relationship with UBS. One of the benefits received by the Swiss bank were regular Tate shows of works from its collection. Other major corporate collectors routinely negotiate similar deals. Deutsche Bank has relationships with institutions such as the Whitney and Guggenheim, unself-consciously declaring, in a press release accompanying a recent Georg Baselitz show in Italy, that the artist's work "constitutes an important part of the Deutsche Bank collection. Deutsche Bank acquired significant works by the artist as early as 1981 … In 1999, Deutsche Bank honoured him with the show Nostalgia in Istanbul at the Deutsche Guggenheim …"

The corruption of art museums by investors is perhaps most apparent in the case of New York's New Museum. In 2009 it devoted its entire three-floor space to an exhibition of the collection of Dakis Joannou, a Greek Cypriot industrialist who sits on the museum's board. Other recent New Museum shows, devoted to Urs Fischer and Elizabeth Peyton, also relied heavily on Joannou's collection, and his wider web of patronage. The impression has been given of a museum that is no longer able to make independent determinations of value. This has become an open scandal in New York, satirised in a much-reproduced drawing by William Powhida titled How the New Museum Committed Suicide With Banality, or "how to use a non-profit museum to elevate your social status and raise market values". Likewise, Hirst's major collectors will see an effective windfall from the inclusion of their works in a Tate retrospective, and other Hirst stakeholders will benefit too. That may not be why the show is happening, but it is not without significance.

Despite the financial crisis, contemporary art continues to soar in value. The unprecedented concentration of capital in the hands of the global elite means that the art market, being essentially a very high-end service industry aimed at generating a pleasurable experience of differential consumption, is weathering the storm very nicely. The Mei Moses index, a measure that largely relies on sales of paintings in London and New York, outperformed the S&P500 by nine points in 2011. New York magazine recently printed graphs (drawn on data from Artnet) that show Hirst's work outperforming contemporary art in general.

Other figures suggest the picture for Hirst is less rosy. In 2008, the year of Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, just over $270m-worth of his art was sold at auction, a world record for a living artist. His 2009 sales were 93% lower. Capital needs to be put to work, and a double-digit rate of return looks excellent in any economy. For the moment, Hirst's work is still an attractive investment, but market sentiment may move against him. The artist himself is undaunted. He recently announced that he has enlisted two assistants to paint 2m tiny spots on a canvas. He estimates that it will take them nine years to complete. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 22 2012

Andy Warhol's legacy – 25 years on

15 minutes of fame? The artist whose radical ideas galvanised the 1960s art world continues to dominate the market and permeate popular culture – 25 years after his death

On 22 February 1987, Andy Warhol died unexpectedly in a New York hospital after a routine operation on his gallbladder. Yet 25 years on, the artist described by Truman Capote, quoting Wilde, as "a sphinx without a secret" has never gone away. Not only does Warhol dominate the art market, with his work accounting for one-sixth of contemporary art sales, his influence permeates both high art and popular culture.

Warhol's work is rarely out of circulation in galleries. A show at the De La Warr Pavilion in east Sussex closes this week, but another, of his portfolio prints, starts at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London this summer. The artists he influenced are even more visible. Next month, artist Gillian Wearing, who once photographed herself dressed as Warhol, will show a retrospective of her work at the Whitechapel, while Jeremy Deller, who hung out at Warhol's studio, the Factory, in the summer of 1986, is just about to launch a retrospective at London's Hayward.

"I think Warhol changed film and documentary forever," says Wearing. "He was completely seminal in that area. His extremely long takes, his exploration of improvisation between fiction and reality came about through his playful and irreverent manner, and gave the world new ways of looking."

Warhol's radical idea that the stuff of modern life could be art, from Campbell's soup cans to washing-powder boxes, galvanised the art world in the 60s. "I went to see his 1989 retrospective at Moma," remembers cultural historian Jon Savage. "You walked into the 60s rooms and there it all was – America. Money, sex, fame, death. Warhol summed, up, defined and in many ways embodied the world in which we now live. Everyone thinks he's emotionless and soulless, but the cumulative effect of seeing all the Marilyns and Orange Disasters is extremely powerful – it's not just a mirror," he says, referring to the verdict of art critic Robert Hughes.

Yet it is the sheer range of Warhol's work which has made his influence all-pervasive. As Wearing puts it: "Warhol left his mark in many more ways than his actual work". As well as the paintings, and the films he made of acolytes of the Factory sleeping, taking drugs or, in the case of the self-explanatory Blow Job, receiving oral sex, Warhol created a celebrity magazine, Interview; produced the Velvet Underground's first album; wrote (or dictated) voluminous diaries, and was impresario and mentor to a host of "superstars" – followers who came to find fame, or soak up the atmosphere, and became the subjects of his work.

Stuart Comer, curator of film at Tate Modern, says that the Factory blended people from different backgrounds in a kind of social experiment. "You would have somebody like Valerie Solanas" – the radical feminist writer who shot Warhol in 1968 – "a German countess; a bum from the Bowery and some artists from suburban America who'd come to NY to make it." Deller remembers being inspired by seeing the variety of activities that were happening in the Factory and realising that they were all down to one man, "not a corporation or a big business".

"One of Andy's great innovations was realising that the idea of the artist alone in his studio was not a particularly modern one, and that an artist could have a team," says Glenn O'Brien, a journalist who worked with Warhol on Interview. "Today you have artists like Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst who employ hundreds of people – it's a very understandable model for artists. And there are people in other fields like fashion, like Marc Jacobs, who has that sort of entrepeneurial sensibility."

However, it is Warhol's view of fame that seems to have predicted 21st-century culture. In a critique of the Hollywood star system, Warhol turned the likes of the Santa Barbara heiress Edie Sedgwick into celebrities, instinctively grasping decades before YouTube or reality TV that people need not be famous for acting, singing or doing anything other than being themselves.

Comer believes that Warhol's famous 1968 statement – "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes" – showed an intuitive understanding not just of our appetite for stars, but of the way the media would become more pervasive. "He understood that the Hollywood studio system was giving way to something where far more people were going to be on camera and on screen. Now, on CCTV cameras, we're all filmed and photographed thousands of times a day. Warhol realised that we were becoming more than bodies – we were becoming images. The way that we all became part of the media machine is something that he understood very early."

This process has been accelerated by the internet, which Warhol did not live to see. O'Brien says that his "gift for aphorisms" would have made him a natural at Twitter: "Even though he was a man of few words they were always well chosen."

Deller points out that the things the web facillitates best – shopping, gossiping, sharing – were some of the artist's central preoccuptions. "He would have been a master of the internet. He would have set up an auction website, a gossip website, a film sharing website. He was someone who liked to collect images and liked to collect things, and have his finger in a lot of different pies."

Deller warns against boiling Warhol down to a preoccupation with money, artifice or celebrity culture, pointing out that "he's a lot more complicated and critical than he gets credit for". After Warhol's death, the art world was shocked by his secret life. He turned out to have been a devout Catholic who visited church every day, though his work was often suffused with sex and drugs: a large strand of it validated queer and trans culture at a time when the gay liberation movement had barely begun.

Warhol's art and ideas remain controversial: last year an article by Brian Appleyard in the Economist predicted that art history would see Warhol restored to "his rightful place – as a briefly brilliant and very poignant recorder of the dazzling surface of where we are now". Yet his influence seems destined to endure for the forseeable future.

"He understood the very core of how industry and society and economics come together," says Comer. "Until capitalism ends, his influence will be irrevocable." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 28 2012

Feelgood art: the pick-me-up to get us through an age of anxiety

British artists used to delight in shocking audiences, but now many are involved in projects intended to cheer people up

Young British artists once rocked the world with a volley of pickled animal cadavers, unmade beds and flicking light switches. But now, against the backdrop of a grim economic climate, some of the movement's biggest stars appear to be concentrating on cheering us all up.

Feelgood artwork is everywhere, from the life-affirming London Underground project of Michael Landy, who has invited commuters to log incidents of kindness, to the uplifting public art commissioned for the top of bus shelters to herald the Olympics.

"There is a second world war kind of thing going on about 'keeping the home fires burning' at the moment; a bit of 'keep calm and carry on' art, if you like," said the Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller this weekend as he prepared for the opening of his retrospective show, Joy in People, on London's South Bank next month. However, his own work, as he explains, is not intended as a simple pick-me-up.

"The title of my show is apparently positive, but the show itself isn't all positive. There is anger and there is frustration too," he said.

Other leading artists, such as Martin Creed and Tracey Emin, who established their careers with work on challenging themes, are now producing art that urges their public to think positive thoughts. "Don't Worry", reads Creed's neon work, while several of Emin's recent neon signs are equally direct, reading "Trust Me" and "I Keep Believing in You". The Turner prize-nominated artist Mark Titchner is one of those to contribute to Bus Tops, a Cultural Olympiad project which has seen inspirational digital commands such as "Act or be Acted Upon" and "If you don't like your life, you can change it" adorning London bus shelters.

Much of this work is tongue-in-cheek, or at least invites a few questions, but the overall effect is to emphasise the better things about human existence.

"When times are difficult, values are going to be questioned," said Ralph Rugoff, director of the Hayward Gallery. "You look again at what's important and at what's less important in life. It is usually a time when culture and art can play an important part, whereas in a boom period there is too much focus on the hype around the boom and on all the alluring baubles it holds out before us."

Rugoff, who is staging the Deller show and an exhibition of the wry sketches of David Shrigley, is clear that art should not be regarded as "a nice sedative we can take together … What it can do, though, is function as a catalyst and bring people together. Art can connect them in new ways."

On Tuesday, a group of artists including Gillian Wearing, Antony Gormley, Yinka Shonibare and Jonathan Yeo are to launch a more practical response to the financial slump. The group are staging a major exhibition in London this spring that will raise money for the homelessness charity Crisis. "Art reflects on situations in ways that cold hard facts can't," said Wearing, who won the Turner prize in 1997. "It tries to make sense of the world subjectively, whereas facts tend to ignore our subjectivity."

Her partner is Landy, and she explains that the idea behind his Acts of Kindness on the London Underground came to him before the financial crisis took hold. "For me it was powerful that an artist was working with kindness, something that we easily overlook," she said this weekend. "It actually inspired some works of mine, including the one for the Crisis Commission, where I wanted to look at people who have overcome difficulties in life and have become heroes."

But on the weekend when film-maker Danny Boyle, director of the Olympics opening ceremony, announced his Isle of Wonders theme, Deller for one is decidedly grumpy about the pressure to be jolly in preparation for the summer. "The Olympics, of course, is something that will attempt to brainwash artists into expressing positive things," he said. "Some will. But I am the kind of person who will try and do the opposite. I find these big cultural and sporting events unbearable."

In 2009 Deller invited London Underground staff on the Piccadilly Line to help him produce a booklet of quotes called What is the City But People. The booklet aimed "to generate a more positive atmosphere during peak times", but his best known work also tackles the violent 1984 confrontations between striking miners and police and the Iraq war. His recent work What It Is, the remains of a car destroyed at Al-Mutanabbi book market in Baghdad, will be in the new exhibition.

"Historically, art began by giving people what they needed, as it was tied up with religion. Now it is much more fragmented and it can be about how miserable and rotten things are," he said. His own collaborative work with the public is born of the fact that he is not traditionally trained, Deller suggests, as much as it is due to his belief and interest in people.

"At its simplest, I would say art is another way of looking at life, or perhaps another way of dealing with it."

Deller points out that BritArt started under a Conservative government "in difficult times" and was later "appropriated by the Blair regime".

"At that point it did all become a bit celebratory," he said.

For several young artists the benevolent act of making communal art has become part of the reason for doing it. Max Dovey, 23, is one of the artists featured in the 2012 Catlin guide to the 40 most promising art school graduates. "Apart from one or two notable exceptions, the response by new artists to the recession hasn't been as political or aggressive as one might have expected," said Justin Hammond, who wrote the guide. "Looking at the selected artists, there's a lot of humour running through the work though, and Max Dovey's work is very much about encouraging communication and embracing the idea of community."

"The Emotional Stock Market, which was the piece I did last year, was about trading well-being as a commodity like shares," said Dovey, who is from Bristol and lives and works in south London. "There was a lot of political talk about moving away from gross domestic product to valuing how people were feeling, and my piece was a satire or a comment on that. We tracked the levels of well-being by looking at status updates on Facebook and at Twitter to see how many were happy or sad, and then we traded them in live performance."

Dovey argues that there is a new growth of "careful art" among contemporaries who are making community projects. "Artists don't want to shock or upset. There is more interest in how art makes people feel and the experience of art has become at least as important as the practice of it." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 17 2012

Damien who? Meet the new breed of YBA

The YBA days of pickled sharks and stardom are long gone, but as a new art guide shows, there is top talent for a soberer time

As Damien Hirst dusts off his £50m diamond skull in preparation for his Tate Modern retrospective this spring, a new generation of young British artists are working in a very different climate from the brash super-confidence of his 1990s heyday.

"Before I did an art degree I knew I wasn't doing it for financial gain," says Max Dovey, 24, who graduated with a first in fine art from Wimbledon Art College last year.

"At art school I was always telling everyone else that no one would be a successful artist, to make sure they had a skillset so they'd be employable and [not to] wait to be picked by [Charles] Saatchi because it won't happen."

Yet there are flecks of light for Britain's fledgling painters, sculptors performance artists and video installation-makers – not least from the Catlin Guide 2012, being launched at the London Art Fair on Wednesday.

The guide showcases what its editor, Justin Hammond, claims are the country's 40 most promising young artists.

Some art world observers say the guide is premature, as it is based on BA and MA graduate shows. But many of those chosen – from recommendations by tutors, bloggers, collectors and critics – have received recognition elsewhere.

Alison Stolwood's work was selected for the influential Bloomberg New Contemporaries show at London's ICA. That work, a photographic animation of a wasp's nest spinning back and forth, has been sold and will be exhibited at Preston's Harris Museum later this year.

Meanwhile, Royal College of Art graduate Jonny Briggs has defied Dovey's dire prediction and has sold work to Saatchi, But the days of Hirst and the Young British Artists (YBAs) – when this would have been a fast track to stardom – have long passed.

In October Briggs, 26, won New Sensations, a competition created by the Saatchi Gallery and Channel 4 to find Britain's most talented art graduate.

His work documents his attempts to "connect with his childhood self", and includes a photograph of him wearing a giant wooden mask made to look like his father's face.

This theme could be taken as making a virtue out of necessity; Briggs cannot afford to move out of his parents' home, though he does rent a studio in a former factory in south London "where Twiglets were invented".

Of the other artists picked by the Catlin Guide, Gabriella Boyd, a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art who was runnerup in the competition, has managed to fund her large-scale oil paintings through portraiture commissions.

Adeline de Monseignat, who makes disconcerting sculptures she accurately calls "hairy eyeballs", works as a nanny to pay the rent on her studio. But she has recently sold two works.

Catherine Parsonage, 22, considers herself "incredibly lucky" to have won a scholarship from the RCA, though, she says, she is "struggling – it's expensive to live in London".

Her portrait of her friend Charlotte was longlisted for the BP Portrait award at the National Gallery last year.

Few young artists are producing work with the in-your-face iconoclasm of classic YBA works such as Hirst's shark in formaldehyde or Tracey Emin's My Bed.

Dovey is a performance artist. Previous work includes The Emotional Stock Market, which recreated an exchange based on the "trading" emotions every time they were mentioned on Twitter.

He says that the bold individualism of the YBA years, when art schools encouraged students to create their own brand identity to make them stand out in the art market, has given way to more diverse, less easily digested work, as well as a more sober attitude. "The YBAs made art school a very cool place to be, and possibly a very golden route to stardom," he says.

"Slowly there are becoming more and more realists around the art school environment. "With the rise in fees, I hope prospective students looking at creative courses in art school will value coming out with an employable skills-set over a strong professional art identity.

"So the effect of the YBAs on academia is slowly wearing off, which – looking at the economics and the politics – is probably a really good thing."

Most of the artists say the tough financial climate has led to a greater atmosphere of collaboration and mutual support.

Stolwood says that her peer group from Brighton University "email if there are any competitions people should apply for", while Boyd's colleagues band together to try to stage exhibitions.

Though this year's students have to contend with increased fees, the British art market is still buoyant, outperforming the stock market by 9% last year.

De Monseignat says that while she will go and see Hirst's retrospective, the YBAs are now part of art history.

"At some point every artist has to be interested in them and understand what happened at that point in the UK," she says. "It's a very important period."

And despite Hirst's continuing presence, one that seems a long way in the past. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Rising stars: Britain's most promising young artists

The Catlin Guide showcases what its editor, Justin Hammond, claims are Britain's 40 most promising young artists

December 18 2011

Asian art turns from plaything of Hong Kong's young rich into moneyspinner

Demand for high-end Chinese art booms as the growing number of millionaires seek alternative investments

In a luxury apartment perched on the leafy hills of Hong Kong, Kai-Yin Lo browses through a trove of Chinese art acquired over several decades, reflecting how her niche, scholarly pursuit has hit the mainstream.

Despite giddy Chinese art prices showing some strain from global economic uncertainty, collectors like Lo think values will continue to rise due to limited supply and continued strong demand as Asian collectors become more affluent.

"As east and west get into more of a confluence in taste and in the market place, it will still go up," said Lo, a Cambridge-educated writer and jewellery designer known for wearing mismatched designer shoes.

Lo is one of Hong Kong's leading art collectors, her home stacked with rare Chinese furniture, stone carvings and paintings, including an inkbrush panorama of the Grand Canyon by 20th-century Chinese master Wu Guanzhong.

Hong Kong's auction market turnover trebled between 2009 and 2010. The Mei Moses Global Art Index – a broader measure – showed an 11.8% rise in the first 11 months of 2011, statistics belying the global fiscal crisis.

Despite the art market's vulnerability to shocks, including the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, when unrealistic estimates left scores of unsold lots amid tepid bidding even in the red-hot Chinese ceramics market, Asia's rapid wealth accumulation is likely to result in more cash flowing into art and other alternative investments.

Asia's wealth management and private banking industry remains a growth area for banks, with an estimated 3.3 million high net worth individuals worth more than $1m, according to Capgemini and Merrill Lynch's latest annual World Wealth report.

With a combined wealth of $10.7tn (£6.88tn), Asia's wealthy have eclipsed the $10.2tn held by Europe's generational millionaires. "The exponential growth in the number of emerging market [millionaires] ... is expanding the global market for investments of passion," the report said.

"It may not be a good time for sellers but it's an excellent time for buyers. During late 2008 and 2009, I highly advised clients to buy," said Bobby Mohseni of art consultancy MFA Asia. "With Chinese contemporary art, some prices have gone exceptionally high and that's just over a decade ... so it's best to look at upcoming or mid-tier artists."

While stocks on the S&P 500 in New York have outperformed western art over the past 25 years, according to Mei Moses data, Chinese and Asian art is still comparatively cheap compared with the Impressionists or American contemporary art. A Mei Moses index for traditional Chinese art showed a 24% jump in the first threequarters of this year.

"Confidence in the Chinese contemporary art market remains high despite art market confidence dropping sharply in the US and European contemporary market," said Anders Petterson, head of art research consultancy ArtTactic.

Even for those with less purchasing muscle, experts say bargains can still be had, including modern Filipino and Indonesian painters, as well as photography and Chinese snuff bottles, to name a few categories.

"Collect what other people aren't collecting," said Tony Miller, a former top Hong Kong government official who collects Chinese art. "If you can't afford Qi Baishi paintings, and they're going at HK$2m a throw, well, go for prints."

Qi is one of the masters of inkbrush paintings and his pieces routinely sell for millions of dollars.

Owners of Hong Kong's art galleries, many of them crammed along the winding Hollywood Road in the Central district, say timing is key.

"If you get good works of art, then without any question it is a safe haven, but it doesn't have the liquidity. That's the difficulty," said Sundaram Tagore, whose galleries in Hong Kong and the US feature a stable of culture-bridging artists.

"If you're trying to sell at the wrong time it becomes part of the distressed market, but if you're selling at the right time then you could make 100 times more, maybe more than property or any bonds can provide you."

The search by Asian investors for alternative assets has extended beyond art into wine, gems, watches, postage stamps and other memorabilia – the rarer and more exclusive, the better.

With about two-thirds of the world's stamp collectors in Asia, the stamps and collectibles market has surged, says Geoff Anandappa of stamp and memorabilia retailer Stanley Gibbons.

Hong Kong-based InterAsia Auctions – which specialises in Asian stamps – broke world records for Chinese stamps in September, taking $12.6m over four days. A 1941 Dr Sun Yat-Sen inverted centre stamp fetched $221,000, up 66% from a similar sale a year ago.

Chinese and Asian buyers have cornered the fine wine market, with a Hong Kong Acker Merrall & Condit wine auction in December bringing in $9m, including a single super-lot of 55 Romanee Conti vintages that fetched a record $813,000.

Similarly, Asian buying is behind the boom for diamonds and gems. China is on course to become the world's top diamond buyer and retailers in Hong Kong report a rise in the number of men coming to buy loose diamonds for investments.

A Hong Kong jewellery retailer recently raised $2bn in one of the city's biggest initial public offerings this year to fund expansion in the region.

"It's not the old days of 'safe as houses', put your money in the bank and that will sort you out," said Jon Reade of the Art Futures Group, a Hong Kong-based art investment firm. "Those are the days probably of my parents' generation … people are getting more creative with their money." © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 08 2011

Manet painting under export ban while £28m is sought to keep it in UK

Arts minister Ed Vaizey defers export decision on 'outstanding' but unfinished Fanny Claus portrait last exhibited in 1883

An outstanding, unfinished Édouard Manet portrait of a woman sitting sedately on a balcony has had a temporary export bar placed on it by the government in the hope that someone will raise £28m to keep the painting in  the UK.

Ed Vaizey, the arts minister, deferred the export decision until February at the earliest to allow an individual or institution to raise the required sum, which is a high figure by any standard and exceeds the present auction record for the artist.

The picture, entitled Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus, was painted in 1868 as part of the process of completing what is now one Manet's most popular pictures, The Balcony, which hangs in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

The unfinished work shows the young violinist Fanny Claus seated on a balcony, although in the final portrait she is standing.

Lowell Libson, a member of the reviewing committee that makes recommendations to the culture department, said Manet was one of the 19th century's most important painters who had had "a profound influence on the development of impressionism".

Libson said Manet's painting demonstrated his ability to innovate while working with a framework of historical reference and allusion. "The painting in its unfinished state adds to its interest, revealing the artist's creative process whilst emphasising the haunting beauty of the portrait."

The portrait was last seen in public at the National Gallery in 1983, at a show marking the centenary of Manet's death. It was originally bought by the London-based American painter John Singer Sargent, in 1884, at the Paris auction house Hôtel Drouot. It has remained in the UK ever since and is now owned privately.

The reviewing committee recommended deferral on grounds that the portrait was "of outstanding aesthetic importance and outstanding significance for the study of French painting of the second half of the 19th century, and in particular the work of Manet, one of the leading Impressionist painters of the period".

The painter, the subject of one of this year's biggest blockbusters – an exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay in the spring called Manet: the Man Who Invented Modernity – fetches big money on the rare occasions his work comes on the market.

A Manet self-portrait, sold at Sotheby's in June by the US hedge fund tycoon Steven Cohen, set an auction record for a work by the painter when it was bought for £22.4m. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 02 2011

Charles Saatchi: The hideousness of the art world

Even a show-off like me finds this new, super-rich art-buying crowd vulgar and depressingly shallow

Being an art buyer these days is comprehensively and indisputably vulgar. It is the sport of the Eurotrashy, Hedge-fundy, Hamptonites; of trendy oligarchs and oiligarchs; and of art dealers with masturbatory levels of self-regard. They were found nestling together in their super yachts in Venice for this year's spectacular art biennale. Venice is now firmly on the calendar of this new art world, alongside St Barts at Christmas and St Tropez in August, in a giddy round of glamour-filled socialising, from one swanky party to another.

Artistic credentials are au courant in the important business of being seen as cultured, elegant and, of course, stupendously rich.

Do any of these people actually enjoy looking at art? Or do they simply enjoy having easily recognised, big-brand name pictures, bought ostentatiously in auction rooms at eye-catching prices, to decorate their several homes, floating and otherwise, in an instant demonstration of drop-dead coolth and wealth. Their pleasure is to be found in having their lovely friends measuring the weight of their baubles, and being awestruck.

It is no surprise, then, that the success of the uber art dealers is based upon the mystical power that art now holds over the super-rich. The new collectors, some of whom have become billionaires many times over through their business nous, are reduced to jibbering gratitude by their art dealer or art adviser, who can help them appear refined, tasteful and hip, surrounded by their achingly cool masterpieces.

Not so long ago, I believed that anything that helped broaden interest in current art was to be welcomed; that only an elitist snob would want art to be confined to a worthy group of aficionados. But even a self-serving narcissistic showoff like me finds this new art world too toe-curling for comfort. In the fervour of peacock excess, it's not even considered necessary to waste one's time looking at the works on display. At the world's mega-art blowouts, it's only the pictures that end up as wallflowers.

I don't know very many people in the art world, only socialise with the few I like, and have little time to gnaw my nails with anxiety about any criticism I hear about.

If I stop being on good behaviour for a moment, my dark little secret is that I don't actually believe many people in the art world have much feeling for art and simply cannot tell a good artist from a weak one, until the artist has enjoyed the validation of others – a received pronunciation. For professional curators, selecting specific paintings for an exhibition is a daunting prospect, far too revealing a demonstration of their lack of what we in the trade call "an eye". They prefer to exhibit videos, and those incomprehensible post-conceptual installations and photo-text panels, for the approval of their equally insecure and myopic peers. This "conceptualised" work has been regurgitated remorselessly since the 1960s, over and over and over again.

Few people in contemporary art demonstrate much curiosity. The majority spend their days blathering on, rather than trying to work out why one artist is more interesting than another, or why one picture works and another doesn't.

Art critics mainly see the shows they are assigned to cover by their editors, and have limited interest in looking at much else. Art dealers very rarely see the exhibitions at other dealers' galleries. I've heard that almost all the people crowding around the big art openings barely look at the work on display and are just there to hobnob. Nothing wrong with that, except that none of them ever come back to look at the art – but they will tell everyone, and actually believe, that they have seen the exhibition.

Please don't read my pompous views above as referring to the great majority of gallery shows, where dealers display art they hope someone will want to buy for their home, and new collectors are born every week. This aspect of the art world fills me with pleasure, whether I love all the art or not.

I am regularly asked if I would buy art if there was no money in it for me. There is no money in it for me. Any profit I make selling art goes back into buying more art. Nice for me, because I can go on finding lots of new work to show off. Nice for those in the art world who view this approach as testimony to my venality, shallowness, malevolence.

Everybody wins.

And it's understandable that every time you make an artist happy by selecting their work, you create 100 people that you've offended – the artists you didn't select.

I take comfort that our shows have received disobliging reviews since our opening exhibition of Warhol, Judd, Twombly and Marden in 1985. I still hold that it would be a black day when everybody likes a show we produce. It would be a pedestrian affair, art establishment compliant, and I would finally know the game was up. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 27 2011

Fraudsters target art and antiques world

Traders snared in a conmen's scam are pursued with demands to pay huge sums for an advertising listing

Thousands of art and antiques dealers, fair organisers and auction houses have been targeted in a global extortion scam that involves victims being subjected to months – and even years – of threatening demands for money.

Unsuspecting British and foreign traders have been conned by what appear to be bona fide forms – either sent by email or posted – merely purporting to check whether their business details in a "free" international trade listing guide are correct. Only after sending off the form do victims discover that the small print commits them to paying thousands of pounds for placing an "advertising order" in the guide.

Those who are caught out are pursued relentlessly, enduring intimidating threats by letters or phone calls to pay up or face prosecution and debt collectors.

The art trade is not alone. Great numbers of people from other business sectors have been conned. The European Commission is now so alarmed that it has launched an investigation, calling for evidence to be submitted by 16 December.

Ivan Macquisten, editor of industry newspaper the Antiques Trade Gazette, which was itself targeted by the scam last week – told the Observer about the fear experienced by victims: "It has affected, personally, thousands of lives. It is a huge problem, but one that lots of people have never heard of."

The fraudsters trade under different company names in different countries and, if the authorities catch up with them, they pop up again somewhere else. Many victims do not realise there is no legal basis for paying or are reluctant to incur legal advice, and are embarrassed into silence. Most recently, the art trade has been targeted by companies apparently based in Spain and Mexico.

The victims include Ian Butchoff, a dealer in antique furniture in London. "I wouldn't think there's anybody in the trade who hasn't been targeted at one time or another. How many people have paid is another matter," he said.

The form that he received looked "very official", he said. It was followed by a letter "confirming" his annual €700 (£600) payment, which he was advised to ignore by a solicitor friend because the company, based in Austria, had no jurisdiction under English law. "But they kept harassing me … with official-looking solicitors' letters from Switzerland, which were very menacing. They eventually went away."

His wife, who has a framing business, was also targeted and paid up "because they were threatening her", Butchoff said. When the conmen came back for more money, she refused, and eventually they went away.

Butchoff said: "I still get letters … from different companies. Now they're asking for €12-13,000 a year."

Macquisten has put together a huge dossier of evidence. "Thousands of people have been targeted … and that's just in our industry," he said.

"It is a global problem involving huge sums of money. They are banking on enough people being scared into paying." © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 21 2011

Art to download is little more than dead-eyed commercialism

The vogue for selling digital editions of art by Hirst and Emin at 'affordable' prices is a trivial luxury for a fabled moneyed elite

Human beings are better at inventing things than we are at asking why we invented them. If we can do it, we will. But just occasionally, a supposed wonder of the new age makes me mutter the question: "Why?"

That is how I feel about the vogue for digital art marketing. This week sees the launch of s[edition], a website dedicated to selling digital editions of art. It has been founded by top art dealers and offers the works of top artists, including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, to download for "affordable" prices. You can get a limited edition Hirst skull to put on your mobile phone for £500.

Emin, telling the BBC about the project, said it gives art back to the people by making it affordable (or something like that). But are the starving masses or the squeezed middle really going to fork out £500 for a mobile phone picture? Isn't it more like a trivial luxury for the same fabled Russian moneyed elite who buy their art yachts at Frieze?

To put it another way, what kind of person would want a Britart phone image anyway?

The website kept crashing for me this morning – I don't know if the problem was at my end or theirs – but I saw enough to be uncharmed. The enterprise is straightforwardly commercial in a way that opposes the culture of the internet. If artists such as Emin wanted to reconnect with the youth, surely they would give images away online – not participate in a site that presses you to sign up and join the collectors' club.

This is not the first attempt to marry the modern-art market with the internet. The VIP art fair takes a comparable approach, inviting visitors to sign up – and pay an entry fee – for access to its exclusive dealer rooms. The difference is that it sells material works of art.

Both enterprises seem oddly clumsy to me. The art market works through snobbery and sleight of hand, but here it becomes a bit like a TV shopping channel – watch out, the dead-eyed determination to shift product is showing.

One news story compared the artists involved to Hockney on his iPhone, but where is the comparison? Hockney has played creatively and idealistically with a new medium. This is just a less than charismatic new way of flogging a few ephemeral images.

Could the cold wind of financial crisis be driving the art market to cheapen its style? Will we soon see besuited art dealers hawking their products from disused stores on Oxford Street? These really are the last few skulls and the jewels were hand-crafted … © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

For the love of Damien Hirst: Tate Modern hosts first UK retrospective

Diamond-studded skull to take Turbine Hall pride of place as economic crisis puts Hirst's career in new light

Damien Hirst's famous – indeed notorious – platinum and diamond skull will go on show in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall next year, in the first survey show devoted to the artist in the UK.

The work, For the Love of God, has recently drawn huge crowds at museums in Florence and Amsterdam – but has not been seen in London since 2007 when, at the height of Britain's pre-crash prosperity, it was sold (for £50m, Hirst claimed) to a consortium that included the artist himself.

Hirst, 46, occupies a unique place in British culture: the prime mover among a brash and brilliant generation of artists who emerged in the early 1990s, determined to be famous, unabashed by controversy. And, although he has had retrospective exhibitions in Naples and Monaco, he has never been the focus of a solo show in a British museum that would allow visitors to set aside the hype and judge the works on their own terms.

Over 70 pieces, a number of them room-size installations, will come to Tate Modern from April to September next year. But, significantly, the show will not include recent works such as the critically panned skull paintings he showed at the Wallace Collection in London in 2009 – described by the Guardian's art critic, Adrian Searle, as "a memento mori for a reputation".

Instead, the exhibition, curated by the Tate's Ann Gallagher, will mainly follow ideas he began to explore when young. "We did have to make decisions," she said. "We are concentrating on series established early in his career, not the series that began later." There will, she said, be at least one new piece – but it will follow the route of early series, rather than developing his recent experiments with figurative painting.

There will be plenty of familiar signature pieces, such as the pickled shark – The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) – and the picked cow and calf, Mother and Child Divided, in the version made for the Tate's Turner prize retrospective in 2007. Hirst's vitrines and pharmaceutical cabinets will be explored from their earliest incarnation: Sinner, a medicine cabinet he made in 1988 while still a student at Goldsmiths College. Also featured is A Thousand Years (1990), consisting of a glass box containing flies, maggots, a cow's head and an Insect-O-Cutor. It was one of his earliest works to explore mortality via living creatures as the flies fed, reproduced and were killed.

With a great deal of the work in the exhibition made familiar by media exposure, the organisers claim the show will give visitors a fresh perspective. "They are very well-known as images," said Gallagher, "but they have not been brought together ever before, and we want to show the unravelling and unrolling of an entire career."

Chris Dercon, Tate Modern's director, said: "We all think we know this work through the media. But if you are actually with the work, and can experience it, smell it, and I shouldn't say this, but touch it – it will be very different. There is a claustrophobic, congested feeling from experiencing these works … these are rooms, environments, which invite the spectator to interact. There is a kinaesthetic aspect when you are in the room with these works, seeing your own reflection in the vitrines. It is as if you are stepping into his laboratory of ideas."

One of the high points of the show will be the chance to see a two-part installation shown together for the first time since it was installed in a disused London shop in 1991. In and Out of Love (White Paintings and Live Butterflies) consists of a room lined with white-painted canvases with pupae attached to them. Butterflies hatch and feed, then eventually die. The second part is called In and Out of Love (Butterfly Paintings and Ashtrays), a room in which dead butterflies are stuck to canvases, with a table nearby, on which sits an ashtray and cigarette ends – an early example of Hirst's use of cigarettes as a metaphor for pleasure and death. Visitors will be able to walk through the room with butterflies fluttering through it.

One of the fascinations of the exhibition will be the chance to reassess Hirst – who, perhaps more than any other living artist, is associated with the vagaries of the art market – in the light of what appears to be a new economic era. A recent world tour for the diamond skull was cancelled because of fears it would look "inappropriate" in the current financial climate, said Jude Tyrrell, the director of Hirst's company, Science. It will surely look very different in the uncertain London of 2012 compared with its sensational appearance in buoyant 2007.

The exhibition will also have a room devoted to Hirst's auction at Sotheby's, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, which raised £111m on 15 and 16 September 2008, the day before Lehman Brothers collapsed. It will provide a chance for visitors to reflect on an event in which art and commerce were intermingled in an unprecedented way – with Hirst "curating" the event as if it were an artwork in itself, and bypassing his gallery, White Cube, to sell direct to the public.

The Damien Hirst exhibition, part of the Cultural Olympiad's London 2012 festival, runs at Tate Modern from 4 April to 9 September. For the Love of God will be free to view in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall for the first 12 weeks © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 17 2011

Export bar placed on Guardi painting

Sotheby's sale to anonymous bidder of work formerly in Guinness family fetched record price for depiction of Italian city

A Francesco Guardi painting of the Rialto Bridge and a busy Grand Canal under a dramatic and luminous blue sky has had a temporary export bar placed on it by the arts minister, Ed Vaizey.

The work set an auction record for a painting of Venice when it was sold in July for £26.7m to an anonymous bidder at Sotheby's in London.

Before that the painting – Venice, a View of the Rialto Bridge, Looking North, from the Fondamenta del Carbon – had been passed down through various members of the Guinness family including, recently, a former arts minister, the late Paul Channon.

It is regarded as an extremely important example of Guardi's work. The export bar allows time for someone to come up with the money to keep the painting in Britain.

The work certainly has a wow factor. Simon Swynfen Jervis, who sits on the reviewing committee which decides on export licences for such important works, said: "This noble painting represents Francesco Guardi on a grand scale, emulating Canaletto and Bellotto.

"Whether it was patterns of patronage or his own inclination which later impelled him towards a smaller scale and lighter touch, this View of the Rialto demonstrates that in 1768 he could impress as well as delight."

The reviewing committee decided that the export decision should be deferred because of the "outstanding aesthetic importance" of the work together with its significance to the study of Guardi's development, Venetian view painting and Grand Tour patronage and taste.

The price the painting fetched at Sotheby's in the summer surpassed its pre-sale estimate of £15m-£25m. Before then it had been sold only once. It was first acquired in 1768 by a young English grand tourist called Chaloner Arcedeckne and it stayed in his family until it was sold to Sir Edward Guinness, the chief executive and then chairman of the brewing company. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 16 2011

If you want to distinguish art's hoaxes from its frauds, ask a metadadaist | Tim Williams

The motives guiding the likes of Nat Tate and Rrose Sélavy diverge fundamentally from those of the sinister Pietro Psaier

For some time I've been contemplating the difference between hoax and fraud, and I've yet to establish solid parameters for which to define either, which is problematic. I remember as a 15-year-old watching the first broadcast of Peter Jackson's Forgotten Silver on New Zealand television and being completely taken in (having few critical faculties at such a tender age) – as was a large percentage of the country's population, one viewer even writing to the New Zealand Listener claiming to have discovered a historical link to the mocumentary's protagonist, the fictional film pioneer Colin McKenzie. Of course there have been many similar hoaxes, the Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio broadcast springs to mind, and recently William Boyd discussed his invented artist Nat Tate. We might deem these "celebrated hoaxes", as sometimes it's entertaining for the perpetrator, the victim and the observer, but not always.

I suppose one could claim a distinction between hoax and fraud as the subversion of systems and institutions v deceit for financial (even emotional) gain — though I'm not even certain the two can be separated so distinctly. The agenda and vehicle of a hoax often take the form of parody and satire.

In January 2006 a friend and I exchanged a number of amusing emails that resulted in the invention of a new art movement we called metadadaism. Intended as affectionate satire on contemporary art, at the core of metadadaism was a fictional exhibition titled Nothing — an empty art gallery.

We added metadadaism to Wikipedia, where it remained for a number of years unchallenged, additionally picked up by various other encyclopaedic websites. To our amusement, later that year an exhibition titled Gallery Space Recall – an empty gallery – took place at the Chapel Arts Centre in Wales. Although I may fantasise about it being the first metadadaist exhibition, any concrete link is surely spurious: an empty gallery was obvious evolution for the art world.

Of course William Boyd was not the first to invent an artist complete with biography and art works – there are hundreds of examples, the motives of which could perhaps be deemed as pseudonym, alter ego, propaganda, satire, homage, fraud and others. Many artists were and are tied to exclusivity agreements with art galleries and sign works with a pseudonym in order to earn extra revenue on the side; others have used pseudonyms to create distinction between their primary "creative" artworks and those that pandered to say a "tourist" market.

Marcel Duchamp used alter ego in the guises of R. Mutt and Rrose Sélavy for purposes of subversion, humour and critique. I'm unsure what the motives were for the Spanish/Mexican writer Max Aub who invented Jusep Torres Campalans, perhaps a number of the above, but the fictitious artist is in most cases allied to a celebrated master (Campalans was associated with Picasso) as well as historic events (Colin McKenzie at Gallipoli and the Spanish civil war); by these associations the fictitious artist is seeded in reality and gains kudos.

One invented artist I'm certain falls into the category of fraud is Pietro Psaier. Apparently Psaier lived some kind of global traveller's existence; according to various biographies he originated in Italy, later living in Spain, the US and lastly Sri Lanka, where he "died" in the tsunami. Psaier conveniently collaborated with famed artists such as Andy Warhol, Mel Ramos, Rupert Jasen Smith, John Lennon, hobnobbed with celebrities, and must have spent a fortune lugging around the thousands of artworks he never exhibited, as well as all the essential printing equipment.

Psaier artworks started appearing on the market in the late 1990s and have been sold at every major UK auction house, most provincial auction rooms, and others across the globe. Not just a few either: by my estimation approximately 5,000 Psaier works have been sold in the past 10 or so years, ranging in price from £50 to £14,000 – easily well over a million pounds' worth.

You could view Psaier as altar ego, in the same way as Aub's Campalans or Boyd's Tate, but the absence of an "in joke", or indeed any joke or agenda apart from intent to defraud monies by deception, is for me a vital distinction. As with Forgotten Silver and Tate, people have claimed to have known Psaier, including Uri Geller (who later backtracked) as well as the Madrid-based psychiatrist Carlos Langelaan Alvarez.

At least six Psaier works were marketed as collaborations with Mel Ramos – these works were copies of Ramos works and signed with both artists' signatures. Ramos himself told me they were (and I quote) "knock-offs" and that he'd never heard of Psaier. As yet there have been no investigations and the work still appears regularly in auction houses. (Don't even get me started on the ethics of some auctioneers.)

The naivety of the art world is oft exposed and curiously celebrated, with hoaxers and fraudsters gaining the celebrated status of the anti-hero, perceptively beating the establishment at its own game. I can take pleasure from a good hoax, but more sinister applications leave you contemptuous, resentful and out of pocket. I'm not exactly sure where the line is, but there must be one, surely? As for the people who claim to know these fictitious characters: well, some people apparently talk to aliens, others to God. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 11 2011

The fine art of making money

As autumn's art fairs begin, the art market gets wealthier. Is it because the financial elite who buy it continue to prosper?

The financial value of art is one of the mysteries of the modern world. If a painting called Salvator Mundi that appears in this autumn's Leonardo da Vinci exhibition is indeed universally accepted as a Leonardo, and then put on sale, it might fetch about £120m – a tidy sum, but as it is a Leonardo, scarcely out of proportion to the mad prices art now commands. If a Hirst auction can raise £70.5m, surely a painting by Leonardo should logically be worth a lot more than £120m.

But none of this is very rational. The Frieze art fair and all the commercial gallery openings that constellate around it will once again confirm that London is a hub of the contemporary art market. But why has this market fizzed on so relentlessly when the rest of the economy spluttered and slowed?

The financial crash in 2008 was predicted to hit the art market hard – at least that's how it looked in the brief period when bankers were scared for their livelihoods. At the Frieze art fair that autumn, a leading artist worried that her new show coincided with the crash. That winter, artists (like other people) were planning for tougher times. But for the gallery and auction house world the times have not turned out too tough.

To see how art prices have continued to increase since 2008, consider the case of Andy Warhol. Art Market Monitor points out that seven of the top 10 prices ever paid for Warhol paintings have been recorded since 2008. But Picasso has been the biggest beneficiary of the continuing art boom: in 2010 his 1932 painting Nude, Green Leaves and Bust sold at auction for £70m.

The reasons for the enduring, and gobsmacking, wealth of the art world are not hard to see. The money that funded the art boom before 2008 came from the financial sector. Hedge-fund star Steve Cohen bought Damien Hirst's shark for $8m in one feted episode.

What happened to Cohen in 2008? He did fine – Forbes ranks him today at the 35th richest man in America. And that is the obvious point. The financial elite whose irresponsible dealings and in some cases manifest incompetence did so much to cause the 2008 crisis did not, themselves, come crashing down – they continued to prosper. Now they speculate against the governments that stepped in to save the City and Wall Street. Will the ongoing second crisis bring down this elite? Want to bet on it?

So – wealth sails on, and so do the art fairs and dealers who cater to it with art, the ultimate luxury. Good thing or bad thing? © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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