The Giacometti Effect

Have we just reached a turning point from financial Armageddon? An anonymous art enthusiast just paid a record $104.3 million for “Walking Man I,” a 1960 sculpture by Alberto Giacometti! Someone willing to pay that much must mean we’re out of the financial crisis. Well, what a recent New York Times article proposes is that this may mean the wealthy are over it. But will the purchase of this Giacometti by one wealthy collector signal confidence in the rest of the market (i.e., for the middle class)? In other words, a Giacometti effect? $104.3 is a lot of cash and all income brackets are familiar with widely renowned artist Giacometti.

So could art save the day?

The article discusses the Veblen appeal of art, which posits that for some commodities, appeal grows as their prices rise. I see it. It’s Exhibit A at any auction house. To get the economy going again, people must have confidence in their buying power. If they see this the art market thriving — i.e., people throwing wild amounts of money at art (which is not exactly an essential good, like bread or water), they may figure ALL must be well. Perhaps a bit of trickeration would do us all good to kick-start the economy.

However, one outcome might be that the middle class would be offended by this buying spree, considering that the article claims that “art is a social marker with which the powerful signal their power and set themselves apart from other, inferior groups. Anybody can buy stocks. Hedge fund managers can buy pickled sharks by Damien Hirst.”

So there we are. I was impressed by the Giacometti purchase, buoyed by it for a few minutes, but then realized that it’s not going to make me go out and buy another Giacometti, a new car, or even a new wardrobe. Well, maybe a new pair of tennis shoes. I’ve really been needing a pair, since I just joined the gym.