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An eye-opening and highly entertaining ride through the excesses of the contemporary art market, The Price of Everything loosely tracks the lead-up to a major Sotheby's auction in New York City. This is a world in which visual art “has become a luxury brand,” an acceptable, if not essential part of any self-respecting super-wealthy investor’s portfolio. Works are traded like stocks. There is even a futures market.
Oscar-nominated director Nathaniel Kahn (My Architect) has won extraordinary access to this strange and at times intoxicating bazaar. Conceptual artist Jeff Koons guides us through the workshop where, under his instructions, technicians knock out artefacts that will sell for tens of millions despite his barely having touched them. As Zen as a comic-book supervillain, Koons has mastered the marketplace. Some artists, not so much; they watch their works being onsold between collectors without getting so much as a sliver of kickback.
Among the other characters we meet along the way are the auction house’s encyclopaedic art expert, who disdains sales to public galleries and lives for “the chase and the deal,” and an amiable, ancient collector. “Bubbles make beautiful things – keep it floating,” he chuckles. At the film’s heart is Larry Poons, the abstract painter who enjoyed a burst of stardom in the 60s before disappearing from view. After decades of artist exile in upstate New York, Poons has put a new collection together; a dealer is enthusiastically arranging a comeback show in Manhattan for an underappreciated talent. Or, to put it another way, for an undervalued stock. — Toby Manhire