Anyone with even a passing interest in the art world should probably turn their attention to the BBC over the next few weeks. No, they’re not giving us the long-awaited Tony Hart retrospective – but it’s something almost as good.
The Beeb are embarking on a series of in-depth documentaries exploring art, from the British Masters to the radical Impressionists, in conjunction with their ‘Your Paintings’ project which seeks to create an online catalogue of the nation’s finest works of art.
However, for us here in the office the most fascinating part of their series will be this Sunday’s documentary ‘The World’s Most Expensive Paintings’, in which critic and journalist Alastair Sooke investigates the world of the ultra-rich art collectors.
The BBC promises the show will feature “stories of scandal, war, exile, revolution, paranoia, and economic turmoil – stories which range from the Holocaust to the discreet banks of Zurich and the boom of Japan in the 1980s”. That sounds pretty great to me.
Alistair Sooke’s giant right eye made him a natural art critic from an early age
We cover the art market every day here at PFC, and it never fails to entertain us. And I’m certain that viewers of Sunday’s show will be split down the middle when it comes to their opinions. Can a painting really be worth $100 million? Can anything?
And it isn’t just mind-boggling sums of money that are involved – when it comes to the art market there are shady deals, personal tragedies, daring thefts and frankly insane characters aplenty.
The thing that really interests me about the show, however, is that it offers a glimpse into the psychology of the rich art collector. What is it that drives them to acquire these paintings? A true love of art? The competition with other collectors? Or just a simple desire to show off their wealth?
Perhaps it’s simply that all-too human desire to collect, which lies in the heart of every philatelist, numismatist and sucrologist (the humble sugar-packet collector).
Whatever it is, it’s been driving the art market for hundreds of years. It’s the reason the Medici family asked Leonardo da Vinci to knock them up a picture or two, just as it’s the reason Charles Saatchi gave Damien Hirst some pocket money to buy a shark.
The art market may have a strange internal logic all of its own, but it keeps on ticking (and growing) year after year. You may not always agree with it, but you can’t deny that it makes for good telly.
Image from the BBC