Film Review: ‘The Price of Everything’

Every so often, when you hear that a painting by Picasso just sold at auction for a record $179 million, or that a Pollock or a Basquiat or a Jeff Koons now routinely fetch prices worthy of a Silicon Valley start-up, it’s easy to wonder what, exactly, is going on. Is this a true expression of the art’s value? Or is it the symptom of some skyrocketing hothouse bubble that has decadently transformed art into gold?

“The Price of Everything,” Nathaniel Kahn’s brilliant and captivating documentary about how the art world got converted into a money market, is shrewd enough to know that the answer is both. The movie gazes, with a good amount of woe (but also with the pleasurable voyeuristic charge that tends to accompany displays of great wealth), at what the art world has become: the staggering auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, where masterpieces, old and new, are put on the block to be sold at prices that are 10 times higher than what they would have fetched just 15 years ago; the elite private collectors who are the ones snapping up all the paintings — a global demimonde of connoisseur/investors who, over the last three decades, have made the art market into a de facto stock market, complete with trading and flipping and commodities futures.

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