Should We List Prices With Art Reviews?
by Jen Graves
on Wed, Jan 23, 2013 at 2:31 PM
Courtesy of the artist and Francine Seders Gallery
This painting, along with every other not titled, 36-by-36-inch black-and-white painting by Lauri Chambers that I wrote about in last week's paper, costs $5,000 to buy but it's free to see them at Francine Seders Gallery in Phinney Ridge. We only mentioned free, not $5,000. Does it make any difference to you that it's $5,000?
It's one of the conventions of art criticism: Thou shalt not talk about art in terms of money. There are good reasons for this, one being that the price of a work of art can be genuinely irrelevant information. There is a stark dividing line between looking at art (which is almost always either free or affordable and imparts its own kind of experiential value) and possessing art.
Theater and music writers list how much a performance will cost, while art critics list prices for admission, not possession. When you buy a museum ticket, your eyes are renting art you can't buy—the art in museums is neither for sale nor could you likely afford it if it were. At art galleries, admission is free, but the difference from museums is that you have the option to buy. Still, even when I write about a gallery show, I don't tell you how much pieces cost. It's just a standard of the profession: Art critics don't list art prices.
But would it be a bad thing for art and artists if the line between looking and possessing were less stark? What about for audiences? As art critics, do we implicitly support a system built on inequity when we leave out information that would point to the fact that most people can only afford to vicariously experience what certain people can take home and live with? Or is even entertaining that thought inviting more trouble than it's worth? (Capitalism begins unraveling in the mind...)
A few months ago, noticing that an artist was showing powerful works that were also extraordinarily affordable, I broke my silence and mentioned at the end of a piece of writing that, by the way, those great pieces only cost $300. Did I violate a rule I should have followed? Should The Stranger (and A&P) change our policy and list prices with art reviews? Would it mean anything, or change anything, if we did?