The Price of Everything

International Feature

Sundance Film Festival - Nominee

It’s 15 years since Nathaniel Kahn made his last film, My Architect, an extraordinary documentary about his architect father Louis Kahn. And it’s been worth the wait as The Price of Everything is a captivating and intelligent look at the rarefied world of creativity and commerce.

It’s a regular news feature – the staggering prices paid for old and new ‘masters’ traded at auctions in the capitals of the world. A Picasso or Monet is beyond the reach of most, selling as they did for between $115m and $84m respectively at a recent Christie’s auction in New York.

Are these exorbitant prices at odds with the spirit of the creative muse? Few artists have lived to tell the tale, there are only two handfuls of living artists who can command such prices in their lifetimes. Most have greater value when dead, when demand exceeds supply…

Kahn doesn’t take sides. The middlemen, many of them women, know that great art collectors with deep pockets are necessary if it is to survive – that the tag of ‘priceless’ ensures works of genius are valued and protected.

And who decides what is genius? The genius of the documentary filmmaker is access and Kahn interviews ‘players’ across the board, curators, critics, historians, collectors, gallerists and auctioneers. Among them are Mary Boone, who ushered Schnabel and Basquiat to fame and fortune, but who lost her own – fortune, clients and reputation – in the 1990 art market crash; the plastics mogul and holocaust survivor Stephan Edlis and his wife Gael Neeson who, in 2015, donated some 42 works valued at between $400m and $500m to the Art institute of Chicago; and Amy Cappellazzo of Sotheby’s, once a hedge fund tycoon, now trading in art.

Rare footage of the 1973 Robert Scull auction shows Scull, a taxi tycoon, telling Robert Rauschenberg thathis stock, though he saw none of the profit of this sale, had risen in value. And so it did. It was a seminal moment and the value of art has exploded since, a veritable stock market where paintings and sculptures are traded, flipped and ‘futured’.

And what of the artists themselves? We see Jeff Koons, once a commodities broker, still a commodities broker, in his factory expounding on the metaphor, and rediscover Poons in his rustic, ramshackle retreat. There are a few women – Marilyn Minter and Njideka Akunyili Crosby – and George Condo throws in his two cents worth. …

It’s all so telling, jam-packed with quotable quotes, it’s a Festival must!

Cape Town
V&A 4
Thu 7 June / 8.45pm
Labia 1
Sun 3 June / 5.45pm
Sun 3 June / 5.30pm
Thu 7 June / 8.30pm
Nathaniel Kahn
98 minutes