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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Modern Art Versus Ancient Art

Andy Warhol auction record shattered

A man looks at Andy Warhol's Silver Car Crash painting The grisly Silver Car Crash (Doubled Disaster) is part of Warhol's death and disaster series.  It sold for $105m (£65.5m) in the US, breaking the artist's record by more than $30m.

Now, Andy Warhol is an interesting artist.   And much of his artwork has certainly stood the test of almost fifty years.  Fifty whole years.  Wow.  If something has not only retained value - but appreciated over 50 years, we can say for sure that by a certain narrow set of standards endorsed by a tiny group of experts it has been judged to be a worthwhile creative endeavor, as well as a solid investment.

But what about in oh, let's say another 50 years.  What will people think then?  Or say in 500 years.  Will anybody really care about this painting in 500 or 1000 years?  Who knows.  Chances are pretty dim.  It looks a lot like a lot of other Andy Warhol "paintings." And there are probably about 50,000 other genuine warhols and maybe that many fakes - which are damned hard to tell apart, since they look identical.

Of course, whoever shelled out 105 million probably doesn't care about the value of this painting in 50 years.  They only care that there might be someone to shell out 200 million in two years.  And there may be.  Possibly. 

But let's say you don't have a hundred million to throw around.  What about an artwork from 480 BCE?   Like the Athenian Dekadrachm (ten drachm piece) pictured below.  There are less than a dozen known.  And of those, very few in this extremely fine condition.  It sold for $375,000 three years ago.  It would probably cost twice that now. 

The Dekadrachm of Athens

Triton XIV, Lot: 124. Estimate $200000.
Sold for $375000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Sure it's not as big a the warhol.  And not as grisly.  And you can't hang it on your wall.  It's only 42 grams and 31 milimeters.  Big enough to have some heft in your hand, but it may not  impress many of your friends.  On the other hand there are less than a dozen known.  And of those, very few in this extremely fine condition. And though there are a few fakes they are not that difficult to discredit.

As for the question of what will people think of this artwork in 50 years - well, it's already been admired as a masterpiece for 2500 hundred years.  So in another 50 or 500 it's doubtful that opinion will change much.  But it was also used to commemorate the Battle of Marathon - one of history's greatest battles.  And it is emblematic of classical Athens - the city that invented Democracy.  The city that invented the entire system of political thought upon which our society is based.  That's kind of interesting too.  And you could sell the one Warhol above to buy 200 of these coins.  Oh, but only five or six exist in this condition.  And even if you wanted to buy one: None are for sale right now.  Too bad.  Maybe you'd have to settle for this coin:

Triton XVII, Lot: 263. Estimate $15000.

This portrait of Dionysus reclining on a rock was done by some Kyzekene artist in 450 BCE.  It's being auctioned off in January.  It's estimated at $15000 but I'll bet you'll have to pay closer to $30,000   There are probably fifteen or so in existence - not terribly rare by the standards of Kyzekene Electrum coinage - But there are probably a couple hundred Kyzekene Staters in this near extremely fine condition.  Fairly common right?  (Though not quite as common as the 40-50000 Warhols.)  Still, there is an elegance, and dignity, and a decadence to the portrait, that speaks volumes about the importance of the entire Dionysiac Religious philosophy to the people of 450 BCE - a tradition that extends back to 3000 BCE.  Kind of interesting, no?

And will it be interesting still to people in 500 or 1000 years?  Pretty safe bet.

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