A fun insider’s look at the excesses and intrigue of the contemporary art market.
When artnet contributor Polsky (I Bought Andy Warhol, 2004, etc.) sold his beloved Warhol, a green Fright Wig, at auction in 2005, he thought he pegged the market at its peak—the painting sold for seven times what he’d paid for it in 1987. Little did he know that in the next three years, the art world would see a shake-up like never before, culminating in Rothkos, Picassos and Warhols selling for unprecedented sums as high as $80 million. Suddenly, the long-established relationship between dealers and collectors was turned on its head as the auction took center stage, in some cases allowing artists to bypass dealers and galleries completely, setting the scene for wealthy media moguls and businessmen to invest in art the way they invest in the stock market. The author, who has 30 years of private-dealer experience, found himself not only without his treasured painting but also struggling to keep up with the new demands of the market. “The sobering message,” he writes, “was the emergence of the auction houses as the new alchemists, converting oil and canvas into gold.” With refreshing frankness, Polsky delves into that chaotic time, detailing the careful combination of smarts and schmooze—and the occasional artificially enhanced auction result—necessary to stay in the game. His knowledge of the market makes his narrative as informative as it is engaging, and his enthusiasm for revealing behind-the-scenes tales brings the eclectic cast of the art world to vivid life. One telling anecdote describes his efforts to find a Fright Wig painting for a client, a task that had increased in difficulty because of Warhol’s steadily escalating value. Polsky ultimately found two, procuring the pair for just under $1.7 million. Weeks later, a single Fright Wig sold at auction for more than $2 million. Though the transaction netted the author a sizable commission, he still mourns the era when art was valuable for its aesthetic value and not simply as a commodity.
Insightful, exciting art-world memoir.