Art | ISSUE III
THE SCREAM CAUSES CHAOS IN THE ART MARKET
By Marina Neklyudova
A wave of excitement recently swept through the art world, when a work by Edvard Munch was sold at Sotheby’s Impressionism and Modern Art Evening Sale for a record price of $119.9 million, breaking a record of the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction. During a course of the two-week auction, New York auction houses gathered remarkable $1.42 billion dollars, marking this season the strongest since the beginning of recession and causing much talk over the vitality of the art market.
The artwork in question is the 1895 version of the “Scream,” by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, and it was the last of four works remaining in public hands (the other three being in Norwegian museums). Curiously, not only is the record-breaking work of art not unique, it is also not a painting - but a pastel on wood. The experts, however, name it second best of the four. This version is also the only one to be frame-inscribed by the artist with the words of the poem that inspired the work.
The pervious record for publicly sold Munch belonged to the painting “Vampire,” sold at Sotheby’s in 2010 for a humble $38 million purchase. To assist in selling the “Scream,” Sotheby’s enrolled in a unique advertisement campaign – the artwork was flown to the households of potential buyers and a limited-edition catalog dedicated solely to the “Scream” was created, hailing Munch’s iconic work as the most recognizable and therefore most important image in the contemporary popular culture. As the result, the artwork was sold on May 2nd, 2012, after twelve minutes of bidding, for $119,922,500 to an unknown bidder over the phone.
The identity of the buyer who bid via telephone remains a mystery. However, there is much speculation that the buyer could potentially be identified as the Qatar Royal family, who a year earlier paid $250 million for Cezanne’s “The Card Players” in a private sale and attempted (and failed) to buy Christie’s. If it were indeed to be the Qatar royal family, then the desire to own the “Scream “could be explained as an ambition to put a signature work of art in their new museum – something like what Mona Lisa is for Louvre. Qatar has been building their art collection extensively over the course of past six years and their new National Museum is scheduled to open in 2014. A signature work of art, like the “Scream,” would be much needed to establish the newly created art center as a world-class museum, as well as helping promote tourism and their local art scene.
While these record-breaking prices signal that the super-rich are as willing as ever to spend money on iconic works of art, it should not be overlooked that many of the works auctioned the very same night at Sotheby’s barely made it over their minimum estimates, while 15 out of 76 lots have failed to sell (these include Warhol’s “Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup” and Basquiat’s “Untitled,” from 1981).
To fully comprehend the meaning of the art market boom in the period of a worldwide economical stagnation, we have to take a look at the bigger picture: As the globalization takes place, the art market goes global too, attracting a growing number of Asian, Middle Eastern and South American collectors. Art has always been a symbol of a social status, but now it’s also increasingly recognized as a reliable money investment, attracting even more potential buyers to the market. Meanwhile, many local art markets are still stagnating. In Russia, for instance, some galleries are forced to turn into non-profit organization to survive. The wave of cuts sweeping over Europe has put a number of government-funded museums in danger of having to permanently shut their doors to the public.
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Marina Neklyudova was born in USSR in 1987. She has studied History in the University of Kyiv, Ukraine and has an Art History degree of the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. A restless traveler, she is currently living and working in Dallas, Texas.