Awhile back, I was leafing through an upscale shelter magazine, the cover story was on Crown Prince and Princess Pavlos’s enormous house in London. The cover featured a picture of the princess swathed in couture satin in front of the fireplace in her glamorous drawing room surrounded by her brood of perfect little children. Above the mantelpiece was a painting by Donald Baechler, a large-scale black and white stylized depiction of a bunch of flowers in a vase. Nothing to write home about, if you ask me. Overly simplistic. And I gather that’s what it’s all about. Baechler is probably making some ironic statement on the state of the arts. But more to the point, the work is simple to understand and easily recognizable, so it’s not hard to do the math and figure out how much it costs.
In any event, I forgot about it until a couple of months later when I was reading yet another shelter magazine and another, nearly identical Baechler vase of flowers over a mantle, caught my eye,this time in New York. I proceeded to read the copy (which included a picture of the chatelaine of the house standing in front of it shamelessly clutching a purse that I know costs as much as the down payment on a pretty nice house). The light bulb went on when I read that she and her husband had purchased the brownstone from Crown Prince and Princess Pavlos of Greece. Now, you just know when they were shown the house, they spotted the Pavlos’s painting and decided they had to have one just like it.
Fast forward to this morning, I’m reading an old Vanity Fair on the stationary bike. The article on billionaire Steve Cohen mentions that he has a Jeff Koons Balloon Dog on the grounds of his estate in Greenwich, Connecticut. I know that Peter Brandt not only had a balloon dog but also a Koons topiary Puppy (that costs $75,000 to $100,000 per year to maintain!) at his house, also in Greenwich. (Post-divorce action, they were relocated to his new art center down the road. Now that he and the Missus have reconciled they may be back home.) Whether you love or loathe Jeff Koons (I happen to feel the latter) you will agree that his work is simple, easy to understand and in his case, funny (I’ll give him that). There is a joke there and I like to think it’s on the buyer and Jeff is in on it and laughing all the way to the bank.
I know that there’s nothing really new here. Among the haves, there’s always been a kind of one-upmanship going on, just look at the pyramids, Renaissance patrons and Americans scooping up treasures on the Grand Tour in 19th century Europe. But more than ever, these days if you’re lucky enough as an artist to get into the right collection, your future is assured because those competitive lemmings out there with ready bags of cash will soon be following suit and snapping up your art for their walls.