Veblen good of the day, Julie Mehretu edition

By Felix Salmon
December 16, 2010
Lloyd Blankfein, talking about the art in his lobby:

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Do finance types pay millions of dollars for art because of how good it is — or do they pay millions of dollars for art precisely because it costs millions of dollars? If there was any doubt before, you only need to listen to Lloyd Blankfein, talking about the art in his lobby:

Lloyd was overheard bragging to one extremely powerful hedge fund manager and renowned contemporary art collector (Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol among his acquisitions) to the penny what the canvas costs.

“Guess how much?” “Three?” “No.” “Four?” “No.” Blankfein flashes five fingers, says “Five….Five!” and breaks into a big wide grin.

You can only imagine how this went down with Julie Mehretu, the artist. “It took me a long time — six months or so — to decide I wanted to do this,” she told Calvin Tomkins earlier this year. “What would be the reason to make a painting for a financial institution?” The reason, in the end — or at least the stated reason — was the sheer acreage of space that Goldman was offering her: “I could never make a painting on this scale anywhere else”. Left unsaid was the obvious reason not to do it — that the painting would be reduced, just like everything else at Goldman Sachs, to a dollar amount.

Goldman, it’s clear, buys artists as much as it buys art (or buys regulators): remember how they coopted Ric Burns to make a puffy marketing documentary over which Goldman has editorial control. You can do that, when you have as much money as Goldman does. But increasingly I feel that when I buy art I want to buy unlimited editions or other work with no resale value. Because the art-as-luxury-object game has become completely disconnected, at this point, from the art-as-art game, and has become nothing but a pissing match between oligarchs to see who has the largest bankroll.

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