Art: Displaced Values

The past six months have seen some of the highest prices ever paid for works of art. From this ebullience one might deduce a healthy art market. In fact, the market is utterly schizophrenic. Living artists and their dealers are the casualties; dead artists and auction houses have been the beneficiaries.

The recession in America has been hardest on those serious painters whose work has not yet entered the $20,000-minimum empyrean where the De Koonings, Motherwells and Stellas reside. In bad times, there is almost no free money to buy anything but sure bets. And, since the collecting of art has largely...

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