Cash Is Auctioned as Art in Australia — and Everyone Loses Money
Australian artist Denis Beaubois sold his piece "Currency," two stacks of bills totaling $20,000 Australian, for $17,500.
What is the value of calling something "art"? Who wins and who loses? Conceptual artist Denis Beaubois asked those questions — publicly exploring the tension between economic value and cultural value — in a very expensive way Wednesday, when his work "Currency" (2011), consisting of two stacks of crisp Australian bills totaling 20,000 AUD ($21,370), went under the hammer at Australian auction house Deutscher and Hackett.
Pre-sale estimates for the work were 15,000-25,000 AUD ($16,000-27,000), reflecting uncertainty about the willingness of bidders to pay the full value of the cash, but also reflecting the possibility that bidders might be willing to pay a premium for cash they could call "art." So, what happens when "invisible hand" of the market tries on the white glove of the auction world?
Technically, the ultimate sale price of "Currency" was 21,350 AUD ($23,000) — well above the $20,000 Australian "true" value. However, the final sale price reflects the premium charged by the auction house — a hefty 22 percent in this case. And the hammer price for the work was 17,500 AUD ($19,000), significantly below what the artist spent on it.
Consequently, at the end of the evening, calling cash "art" resulted in both the buyer and the artist losing money on the transaction. The only real winner was the auction house, which came away with 3,850 AUD ($4,000).
The artist, however, won't be losing rent money over the sale. According to the auction house's Web site, "The material for the work has been sourced from a 'New Work — Established' grant from the Visual Arts and Craft section of the Australia Council for the Arts." One can only imagine what the reaction would be in the United States if the NEA funded a similar project.