Value and art, SK style

I participated in a panel earlier this week at Columbia called ‘Unraveling the Art Market’. It was me, two incredibly insightful women from the Christie’s Art education program, and an artist named Steve Keene. Keene does these paintings on wood in mass execution fashion, 60-80 a day, and he sells them for $10-$15 online, sometimes less in person. He was brilliantly engaging, and in the middle of discussions about the multi-million dollar secondary art market, it is worth thinking more about what he’s doing…

For him, the art is one continuous, giant piece, and he sells off little pieces of it as it becomes finished. Starting with bands in the punk music scene, his notion of selling the art is like the idea of going to a (bygone era) concert and having the band try to sell the 15-20 tapes they made to people in the audience. He noted that for many, buying his art was their first art purchase, and that when they leave their apartments, his art is maybe something that might get left behind.

sk.jpgTwo of the more interesting features to note. First, people sometimes try to resell his work on eBay, which annoys him, since: 1) he doesn’t get the money for it (and he needs it); and 2) because his art is supposed to be what it is – cheap, mass. People who buy his art, as he says, sometimes get annoyed that it doesn’t increase in monetary value, since 1) this indicates that it’s not a good investment; and 2) it indicates that its cultural value is not rising as well. That is, price is assumed to be an indicator of cultural value. If it doesn’t get more expensive, how can we know it’s really good?

Second, once a few of his pictures landed in the hands of JFK Jr. When he died, the pieces were put into a sort of estate sale/garage sale of Kennedy stuff, at Sotheby’s (the sale is here – reg required), and the lot (here – reg required) was estimated at $2000-$3000, and it sold for $12,000. SK was thrilled and hesitant, since he was not identified as the paintings’ author but he didn’t want to tell them and have the buyer feel silly for buying something he sells for $5. Anyhow, it’s the clearest example of identifying the value of Kennedy provenance yet.

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