The Price of Everything (2018)

93% – Critics
95% – Audience

The Price of Everything Storyline

With unprecedented access to pivotal artists and the white-hot market surrounding them, this film dives deep into the contemporary art world, holding a fun-house mirror up to our values and our times — where everything can be bought and sold.—lisa remington

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The Price of Everything Movie Reviews

“It’s important for good art to be expensive” and other adventures in contemporary art

“The Price of Everything” (2018 release; 100 min.) is a documentary about the world of contemporary art. As the movie opens, we watch a Sotheby’s auction unfolding. “It’s important for good art to be expensive”, observes an art dealer, as we see the prices at that auction reaching ludicrous highs. The documentary focuses on two artists with similar last names (Jeff Koons, and Larry Poons), and who couldn’t me more different in their approach and creation of contemporary arts. Koons is like the CEO of a mega-company, with many underlings cranking out new works (and these works are snapped up by eager collectors), whereas Poons has left the “corporate track” decades ago and now works with his wife in a remote location and at his leisure (but no less passionate about art)…. At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you’ll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the latest from documentarian Nathaniel Kahn, whose previous films include the excellent “My Architecture”. Here he takes a look at the contemporary arts scene: what constitutes art, do art collector collect as an investment or for the love of art, why at times it feels more like a stock market than a museum, how new art is created, etc. Many ‘talking heads’ pass the review. I have to admit that I am not at all a connoisseur of contemporary art. Who am I to object against someone paying an outrageous amount of money for a piece of art? It reminds me of the seemingly limitless amount of money thrown at free agents in sports: are they worth it? Well, someone thinks so, so yes, they are. Kahn collects many great quotes from his talking heads: “Auction is a trading house for assets”, and “To be a collector you have to be shallow”, and “In the art world, there are many followers and few leaders”, and “A lot of people know the price of everything and the value of nothing”, and that’s just a handful of them. In the end this is an enjoyable film, but there is nothing “revolutionary” in here as such.

This documentary premiered at this year’s Sundance film festival to good acclaim. HBO snapped it up and I saw it recently on HBO On Demand. If you have an avid interest in art, and even more so if your interest is in contemporary art, I’d readily suggest you check it out and draw your own conclusion.

Meandering yet trenchant

It’s hardly a new observation that capitalism and money have swamped the production and appreciation of art around the world in recent decades. It’s not even a new subject for a documentary.

Yet “The Price of Everything” explores this topic in an unhurried and largely nonjudgmental way. Sharp and thought-provoking comments are provided by working artists, dealers, art historians, wealthy collectors, and even auctioneers, but the movie doesn’t take sides.

Hugely successful and almost industrial-scale sculptor Jeff Koons (fittingly, a former Wall Street trader) is contrasted with once-hot, now largely forgotten abstract painter Larry Poons, quietly continuing to labor in his converted barn of a studio in the woods at the age of 80.

Nigerian-born collage and paint artist Njideka Akunyiki Crosby pursues her work calmly and wonders about how she can and will develop over time. Older photorealist painter Marilyn Minter looks wrily back as much as forward. Amy Cappellazzo, an executive at Sotheby’s, speaks feelingly of the beauty and meaning of art while simultaneously citing the prices she expects pieces to bring at auction and the people she has in mind to get to buy them.

Although it can feel a bit aimless — more of a mosaic than a panorama or story with an arc — there is a structure to this film. Preparations are made in anticipation of a major Sotheby’s auction and an exhibit by a once-celebrated-but-now-obscure artist, both of which occur near the end.

There’s no urgency, and no climax. If there are heroes or villains, you’ll have to pick them yourself. Just allow the comments of the articulate interviewees, and the beauty of the artpieces, wash through your eyes and ears . . . and draw your own conclusions.

Why do we enjoy what we enjoy?

I really enjoyed watching this, but I don’t know why.

It didn’t reveal anything new about the art world or the art market. It had some interesting art in it, but nothing earth shattering.

I think it was simply that many of the participants — artists and collectors — clearly cared so much about their artworks and, moreover, seemed to be good people. That, I think, is what made it so enjoyable.