March 22, 2011

Billionaires, Not Millionaires

In 1939, the American artist John Sloan wrote in the book Gist of Art:

"The buying of art comes from so tremendously different motives. Few buyers buy because they like the work themselves. First of all, the buying of well known pictures at high prices has been very logically proved to be one of the conspicuous wastes. The buying of any picture is a waste of money from the American point of view, and the buying of a very high priced picture is a conspicuous waste that will be heralded in the newspapers. People buy pictures to prove that they have money. The gods of the business man are money and power. Money brings no power except over cowards. There is only one kind of power worth having and that is power over one's self."

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In the March 2011 issue of Art + Auction, Benjamin Genocchio writes:

"During a lecture tour in Australia in the late 1960s, the American art critic Clement Greenberg was asked by a journalist what could be done to improve the international standing of Australian art and artists. Greenberg thought for a minute and then responded in a way that confounded the local audience: "You need more millionaires."

Coming from New York, Greenberg was acutely aware of the importance of money and patronage in promoting art and artists. These things are still important. But the current collectors and benefactors are somewhat different from those who were around in Greenberg's day. For starters they are more likely to be billionaires, since a million dollars these days doesn't go very far. ..."

Mr. Genocchio continues:

"Many of these superrich individuals are connected, attending the same parties and benefits in New York, London, Athens, and Moscow, frequenting the same exclusive hotels, and participating in many of the same conferences, such as those in Davos or Sun Valley. Many are also dedicated patrons who vie for big-ticket trophies on the international art market."

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