Cultural Bulletin
Cultural Bulletin is a quarterly magazine that provides an international view of creative work. We look to film, music, design and art as signifiers of our cultural moment.

In Review: The Price of Everything

Director: Nathaniel Kahn


‘Great things tell you they’re great. When you see something really great, everybody knows it. Even lay people can feel something!’ says Amy Cappellazzo, the Chairman of the Fine Art Division of Sotheby’s. The comment trips off her tongue without even a flicker of how entitled and vulgar it may sound. And, with it, she neatly demonstrates the self-contained and blindly condescending arena explored in Nathaniel Kahn’s highly enjoyable documentary The Price of Everything.

We join Kahn in the world of grossly priced works of contemporary art. How does a market get to selling Jeff Koons’s ‘Balloon Dog’ (it’s just that - a big, orange balloon dog) for $58.4 million? What forces shape and propel pieces to these staggering prices? Kahn doesn’t overtly push his opinion upon us. However, even after seeing a Russian millionaire weep over how powerful they found the colours in one Damien Hirst, the answer here is clear: money and status. This is an investment. 

Even Cappellazzo can’t convince us she these vast sums justify the price of ‘beauty’. A smirk emerges across her face and her eyes light up as she discusses the amount of money each painting might make. It’s fascinating to hear that, at one point in his career, Koons would promise to make a work of art in the future for a price. The promise itself would then get traded. 

Stefan Edlis, an art collector who has amassed obscene wealth due to his vulpine ability to spot trends, is a welcome and self-aware leveller to the surreal and farcical nature of what’s on show. He talks with a glint in his eye. ‘Ask me, is it art?!’ he says, when discussing Urs Fischer’s ‘Bread House’. Well, is it? ‘I don’t know but it’s not food.’  

The documentary is at its most eye-opening and enjoyable when we join Edlis in his apartment hearing his take on it all. There is also an undeniable drama that surrounds the auctions themselves. They are something that surely help the exclusivity of the market continue to tumble forward. For us ‘lay people’, however, we must sit back and enjoy this from afar. TS

Film, In ReviewTom SilverComment