Conceptual Pricing, Conceptual Profit
Yesterday in The Art Newspaper, Jori Finkel wrote a short feature on Ana Prvački's soon-to-debut solo exhibition, "Stealing Shadows," at 1301PE in Los Angeles. Prvački's concept for the show is to create a series of works in felt and/or projected light that ape the literal shadows cast by some of art history's most iconic sculptures, from Michaelangelo's "David" to Jeff Koons's "Rabbit." It's an ingeniously simple, graphic, and easily installed way to offer collectors a second chance on otherwise-unattainable landmark works. And I'm fairly confident Prvački could sell out the entire exhibition––if only she hadn't also cast her concept into her pricing.
I'll turn the explanation over to Finkel:
The idea is for each shadow in the gallery to cost 1% of the price achieved by the original work of art at auction. The shadow of Duchamp’s celebrated bicycle wheel for example would come in at $16,000, because the readymade sold for $1.6m at Phillips in 2002, while Louise Bourgeois’s Spider shadow would be priced at $281,650 because it sold for a hundred times that at Christie’s in 2015.
Prvački confirms to Finkel that some collectors have told her she's pricing herself out of the market by standing her conceptual ground on the one-percent model. While I respect her argument that "super thin and really poetic" artwork "should be really valuable," I agree with the cost critics here. No matter how lyrical and intelligent her work may be, the reality is that her name doesn't (yet) punch hard enough in the art market to command six figures worth of lunch money from collectors.
However, I disagree with the dissenting collectors' further suggestion––mentioned by Finkel––that Prvački keep her conceptual pricing model intact but alter the number to something like 0.1 percent. That would make Prvački's Bourgeois homage a reasonable $28,165, but it would also deflate her Duchamp shadow to a measly $1,600. I don't know Prvački's market well, but I know that 1301PE is a legitimate blue-chip gallery. It would be equally damaging to both artist and dealer alike to tag a unique work in one of their solo shows at undeniably low-end pricing.
To me, the above examples show that the real problem is the conceptual pricing model itself. Maybe you can shift the digits or the decimal point to some magical median that excites everyone involved. But if you can't, is extending a metaphor worth losing multiple sales on what might otherwise be a floor-to-ceiling sell-out?
I realize that may sound crass to some (including Prvački herself). But my default in cases like this is always to ask, "What's best for the artist?" And to me, any kind of conceptual pricing is only advisable if it aligns the work with what the market would bear regardless. Otherwise, the idea tends to literally be more trouble than it's worth––unless the artist is just as happy with conceptual profits as actual ones.