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The price of nothing and the value of everything

26 May 2023

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Your correspondent has always been interested in ensuring the best value in any situation – no doubt this is why art has been a particular obsession. So, it was surprising to read Nicholas Serota, trying to defend his recent Arts Council cuts, declare in the Guardian that ‘Everything has value’ – which, to a humble rake, sounds perilously close to the idea that ‘nothing has value’.

Artists have often asked what value really is. Piero Manzoni’s Merda d’artista (1961) springs to mind: a tin of the artist’s – well, I hope you know what – that is valued, roughly, around the price of gold. While Manzoni might have been exploring how intimately collectors want to know artists, Rakewell is not sure that this is a useful model for someone in a quango valuing the works of a community art centre. Andy Warhol played a similar, if less personal, game with his silkscreens of dollar bills, sometimes a hundred, sometimes just a single one. These now sell at auction for prices far above the value of the object depicted in them – 200 One Dollar Bills (1962) sold for $43.8 million in 2009.

Perhaps the most astonishing recent exploration of what something is worth comes from a man who knows the cost of most things: Jeff Bezos. News has reached Rakewell that Bezos’s boat has finally taken to the open seas. The 416-foot yacht at one point looked like it might require the dismantling of a bridge to do so – a cost Bezos was happy to bear. Now it sails gloriously around the Mediterranean. But hark, what is this at the bow of the ship? Can it really be a figurehead carved to look like his current girlfriend, Lauren Sánchez?

It just goes to show you can’t put a price on love. Perhaps it is the love of the arts that Serota is really thinking of when he says ‘Everything has value’.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.