Available on November 12th, 2018 at 8:00PM ET HBO Go, HBO Now and TV sets. “The Price of Everything” looks at the Art Market from top, bottom, left and right- but mostly from the top. Here’s a review.
There is something almost satisfying about the nearly-annual nature of the art market movie. They go high, with jazzy music, thrilling looks at art, the “gotcha!” moments- it’s exciting and delicious. It’s not a groundbreaking idea. But Nathaniel Kahn puts an elegant spin on things- a documentary that feels finished- that you feel wraps up just in time. In fact, one of the most satisfying moments of the film comes toward the end- as each celebrated and sky-high expensive artist wraps up their work- artists like George Condo, Marilyn Minter, Jeff Koons. It was a reckoning moment that made me giggle- the factory of work. The important thing is, The Price of Everything doesn’t discount anything as invalid or no-good. There is no capitalistic teardowns, no pleas for equalization. Of all the films that poke at the high art market, this is the most successful one in that it doesn’t make you feel bad or guilty or anything. An artist is an artist, no matter what.
The story is wrapped loosely around an auction at Sothebys, a global art-auction behemoth, some weeks away, as viewers meet the artists, buyers, commentators, and sellers that are involved in the show. Indeed, you’re invited into rare air- the busy studios of Jeff Koons, which is more like a humming beehive of creativity with assistants assembling works as Koons observes and approves. George Condo’s studio is more subdued and his work is his own- he talks freely as he effortlessly works out a masterpiece. Minter’s studio is intimate and pensive. As these globally-celebrated artists work, we hear from buyers- wannabe owners to those with such vast and priceless collections that they can simply give them away. But the art market is made of people, and big personality is on full view here.
You will be captured by Sotheby’s Amy Cappellazzo’s personality- someone so deep in the world, you can’t help but admire her ability to spin up a comp. Her enthusiasm and occasional triumphantly vivid way with words is the art market personified- and for this reason we must celebrate her.
Jeff Koons will sell you anything, and that makes him lovable as a person. And uber-collector Stefan Eldis said it best: “He’s going to become lobby art”. Nonetheless, it’s enchanting to hear Koons speak so passionately about work that has so many people talking.
Jerry Saltz (I-am-the-only-real-critic-so-let-me-speak-like-this) appears as the critic here, his boring incantations recited perfectly, so he brings nothing compelling. Alex Nemerov appears as a forlorn man humbled (OK, rather, tortured) by art when in reality he’s a big shot at Stanford University. His lack of enthusiasm for expensive art makes sense- the guy is suppose to be training students and telling them it’s not really like this… Gavin Brown makes an appearance. Gerhard Richter appears (and is the first time I’ve ever seen the man beyond his work). He’s a slight and friendly soul who’s absolutely bewildered his art is worth as much as it is. It’s endlessly charming and I wish we saw more of him.
There is a long side story documenting the re-emergence of artist Larry Poons, who’s dotted stylings of yesteryear are triumphantly superseded by a Monet-esque meltdown of color across acres of canvas. It’s a cautionary but extraordinary tale of the rough-and-tumble character life as an artist who tasted the top.
On the whole, The Price of Everything is a nice film that does it’s best at tackling an issue that isn’t likely to go away soon: the world of art. But that’s the nice thing about The Price of Everything, it doesn’t treat the art world like an issue. And that’s deeply refreshing.