Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Wealth Watch: the Art Market

I'm sure this is not original with me, but I'll repeat it: one reason for the high end art market is that it is so hard for the truly obscenely rich to find things they can buy not available to the ordinarily prosperous.  Charles Saatchi and I can each buy a spanking new Toyota Camry, maybe even a Lexus.  Charles Saatchi can buy a formaldehyde shark and Nigella Lawson; not INow this:
More than $70 million for Rothko’s “White Center” in 2007, a high-water mark for that artist.

More than $20 million later that year for a Damien Hirst pill cabinet, then a record for a living artist.

And $250 million for Cézanne’s “Card Players” in 2011, the highest known price ever paid for a painting.

Given the secrecy of the art market, few knew at the time who had laid out such unprecedented sums.

But it has become increasingly clear that those masterpieces and many more have been purchased by Qatar, a tiny Persian Gulf country with enormous wealth and cultural ambitions to match: it is buying art at a level never seen before.
The times keeps going on about "Qatar" as the buyer but I think the real focus should be on 30-year-old Sheika al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, whose name translates as "Richie Rich."  “Art becomes a very important part of our national identity," she (sic) said in a TED talk a while back.

In other news, from last week's Economist:
Qatar, with one of the world’s highest GDPs per person, scored lower than impoverished Albania in reading, science and maths in the OECD’s PISA study in 2009.
The Economist does add: 
Almost everywhere else [in the world] boys and girls did more or less equally well (on standardized tests), but in Arab countries girls outperformed their pampered male siblings by huge margins, and most Arab countries have more female than male university students. 
 No word yet on whether the Sheika will be making a bid on Nigella Lawson. 

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