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What makes art sell ?
on 5 January 2014
I bought this after reading excellent press reviews. It deserves them. Philip Hook gives an entertaining guide to what drives prices for artwork and artists, based on 35 years of experience, mostly at Sotheby's and Christie's. Many conclusions are fun, essentially that people pay more for works that look good on walls (including one buyer who wanted a Matisse that matched the blue his wife was painting the walls with); so prices are higher for bright colours, attractive people and popular subjects - apparently railways are particularly popular, go for big but not too big to fit through the front door, and Impressionists are so partly so pricey because they used pleasing colours - his suggestions for the most popular exhibitions imaginable are 'Monet: Colour and Light' and 'Picasso's Women'.
He has made the book as easy to read as possible. It has five sections ('Wall Power', 'Market Weather' etc) each broken up into short lively sections - for example on Nazi Germany's censorship of 'degenerate' art, or the economics of art theft. He mixes analysis and anecdotes - such as setting himself on fire trying to light a client's cigarette. Far from precious about art he mocks the art world - including a Glossary of pretentious terms ('Challenging: obscure, incomprehensible or unpleasant'). I raced through the whole thing in a couple of days, and enjoyed it thoroughly.
I sometimes felt I would have liked two different books - one of more thorough analysis of the art market, one just of his anecdotes. But by putting them together, he both gave me an excellent read and made sure I will think differently next time I hear what a piece of art has sold for.