Quizzologists Hate to Say They Told You So, But…

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The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

Ha! See? We Quizzologists knew it. Just two weeks have passed since we posted an article on the ephemeral aspects of the art marketplace and already it’s sparked a major uproar in the creative community and academia! Man, are we influential.

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OK, maybe that wasn’t because of our article, but the new debate, (which we consider “new” on the firm intellectual grounds that it’s new to us), does go to the central point of that post: that art, as an investment, relies upon an almost totally subjective market valuation, and is far from a sure-thing as a serious part of portfolio diversification.

This article in the Christian Science Monitor discusses the merits of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt’s work “The Kiss”, and goes on to mention that some people these days consider it the greatest painting of all time—specifically, better than the “Mona Lisa”. It’s a gutsy proposition to say just about anything’s “better” than the “Mona Lisa”, but nevertheless, some are actually arguing the point, which seems a little silly to us.

I won’t get too far into the tall wheat on this, but to give you an idea of the kind of arguments being made, among the bill of particulars for pro-Klimt partisans: the physical size of the paintings, ergo, the effect the works have upon the masses viewing them. Yes—they’re comparing how the pieces are observed in a museum-setting, hundreds of years (in the “Mona Lisa’s” case) after they were painted. (“The Kiss” is from 1908). Since the “Mona Lisa” is quite small, some say, the much larger, gold-leafed “The Kiss” excites a greater wellspring of emotion when you actually show up and see it.

On the other hand, many art scholars defend the “Mona Lisa” on historical grounds, comparing the respective artists’ impact on the disciplines in which they worked. On that turf, these critics say, Klimt is appraised as almost negligible, whereas Da Vinci is among the most important artists in Western and global history.

Ultimately, which is better? I have no idea—I guess I’m more comfortable in a world where the “Mona Lisa” remains the most acclaimed painting of all time. Plenty of other things change every day, so I suppose I’ll stay traditional and go with the lady with the cryptic smile. But who cares what I think?

Nobody. And that’s kind of the point. But if I had $135 million, my money, at least, would be respected if not my opinion. Another Klimt work—the portrait “Adele Bloch-Bauer I”—fetched that tidy sum at auction in 2006 and set an all-time record for the price of a painting. Of course, that’s now ancient history—it was decisively unseated just five years later by a Paul Cezanne work that went for a stunning $250 million.

So, I guess you could say Gustav Klimt and Paul Cezanne stocks are comers right now, whereas shares of Da Vinci have plateaued…? (Who thinks in terms like these?)

In our previous article, we used Michelangelo’s “Pieta” as a (we thought) clearly unassailable example of a cultural treasure whose value couldn’t begin to be assessed, much less compared. We were obviously thinking too small. But if Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece isn’t a safe hedge in these uncertain times, what possibly could be in the art marketplace? He has a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle named after him, for Pete’s sake!

It all just serves to highlight how difficult it is to precisely price a piece. And that, among other factors, makes rare artwork a less-than-ideal investment strategy for most of us. So, as we’ve said before, let’s leave the high-dollar auctions to the ludicrously wealthy, or you might end up with this thing and an empty bank account.

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