Pop Goes the Art Bubble
But there were surer, subtler signs of the bubble than those: paintings by Raymond Parker—that were nowhere in sight; carvings by Mary Frank, also not for sale anywhere; bronzes by David Slivka, unrepresented in any dealer’s booth. Fifty years ago, in the pages of Art News magazine, these were billed as figures “of unusual promise and achievement.” Today a huge Parker canvas sets his auction record at $60,000 (compared to $34 million for Jeff Koons), while works by Frank barely break $10,000, and a lone Slivka sculpture on the market goes for a 10th of that.
“Ernie Trova was the most famous artist in the world,” says New York dealer Marc Glimcher, “and Ernie Trova was us”—“us” being the influential Pace Gallery founded by his parents, and Trova being an utterly forgotten 1960s sculptor whose sales were once so brisk they paid for Glimcher’s education. “Those bubbles burst—they’re bursting now,” says the dealer. He points out that there’s not a soul who’d say we’re at a high point in artistic creation, even as the market for art does better than ever.
Maybe we should expect obscene price tags when it comes to the proven icons of art history: who can say if The Scream by Munch was overpriced or not when it sold for $120 million last May, or whether it made sense when The Card Players by Cézanne sold for twice that in 2011? But when prices go nuts for artists whose reputations are still in play, trouble is sure to be looming.