Warning! Buy art because you like it not because it might make you a profit

A price drop in the art market, plus the unexpected success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D proves one thing: there's no accounting for taste


When I was a young comedian, travelling the country at night to try to get three laughs in Bolton, I occasionally used to imagine I was living in a Crimewatch re-enactment.

All those dark alleyways and empty car parks, all those lonely petrol stations with one unnerving truck-driver sweating over a curling sandwich: the only thing missing from the footage of my certain death was a stern policeman’s voiceover.

It may be just a sign that I am less neurotic, or that my life is less alarming, but nowadays I am more likely to wonder if I am living in an episode of Brass Eye. And the vague sense that Chris Morris is watching me is never more likely to come upon me than at an art exhibition.

Last year, for example, it happened at the Damien Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern, when a live butterfly escaped from the special butterfly room, and gallery attendants began pelting round the spot paintings with a net trying to catch the hapless beast.

I, meanwhile, was hiding in the Ladies, because I am afraid of butterflies. Yeah, laugh it up, you think they’re pretty. Well, I fear bugs, and a butterfly is nothing more than a bug in a gaudy dress. It is the pantomime dame of bugs. So more fool you for liking them. But, even through my crippling fear of his flappy, horrible wings, I could see the situation reeked of Brass Eye.

It was the only exhibition I’ve ever been to where there were more people in the shop than looking at the art. The point of Hirst has been – for ages – almost entirely financial. People have invested huge sums in his works, which are now so numerous that he needs workshops full of people to actually make the damn things.

Now his prices have dropped (and a third of the 1,700 pieces offered at auctions since 2009 have gone unsold), Hirst has just split up from his major dealer, Larry Gagosian. The art world is agog at what this might mean: is Hirst overpriced, has Gagosian lost his touch, has the balance of power shifted from dealers to artists?

Maybe it just means that if you flood the market with virtually identical pieces, prices drop. Isn’t that how the mass market, and the art market, works? It also means that investors, many of whom bought Hirst pieces because of the potential profitability, rather than because they liked the work, might be marginally less wealthy than they were a few years ago. If there is a message in all this, it’s that you’re better off spending money on things you know about or like. Or, ideally, both.

The Hobbit defies criticism

The Hobbit has been bumped from the top of the US film chart by a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this time in 3D. So that faint spinning sound you can hear is probably coming from Tolkien’s grave. It’s also a sign that you should never trust me with your film investments: I would never have believed that this was a film which required a(nother) remake or sequel, still less in 3D. Sure, the chainsaw would come towards you and that would be scary, but then what?

Turns out they didn’t need to worry about any of that. It’s one of those films with both poor critical reviews and poor audience reviews, which nonetheless shifts tickets in huge numbers when it opens. It’s made its budget back in the opening weekend alone. Which is probably for the best, since, when the word of mouth gets out, it may not sell so many tickets next weekend.

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