By Richard Polsky
Richard Polsky, an art dealer who is emotionally an art collector (he hates to sell his inventory), describes the boom and bust of the fine-art market from the mid-1990s to the autumn of 2008. He builds the story around his own experiences with a favorite Andy Warhol painting, which he sells too soon, as prices are rising rapidly—only to see prices of similar works keep going up to a level more than three times what he realized. The financial crisis arrived in the fall of ’08, prices for art collapsed, and Polsky’s favorite Warhol came back onto the market for sale at exactly the same price he sold it for three years earlier. Most of the book is devoted to the boom years, and the author adds incidents of reckless buying, fraud and price manipulation by collectors, dealers, auctioneers and artists.
Polsky describes the furious buying and selling during the art boom. Dealers and collectors behaved casually, flipping pictures and millions of dollars as if it were all a game of Monopoly.
Back then Warhols were trading like crazy. Dealers gloated over selling paintings they never laid eyes on. When a crate arrived containing a Warhol, the dealer would take delivery, remove the old FedEx air bill, slap on a new one, and ship it off to the next buyer—without ever opening the wooden container.
The author’s voice is light-hearted, breezy, informal and slangy, perfect for describing the boom years of short-term trading of art, and the blatant self-promotion by dealers, artists and collectors that characterized the period. The party ends abruptly:
Based on auction house propaganda, November 2008 promised to be the highest grossing season ever.
In September, the American economy fell apart, thanks to a credit crunch, and the rest of the world followed.
i sold Andy Warhol. (too soon) by Richard Polsky. Other Press, 2009.