Olav Velthuis’ book Talking Prices: Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market for Contemporary Art is the clearest explanation of contemporary art economics that I have read to date. Velthuis addresses questions such as:
- Why do gallery prices stay relatively low even when auction prices are high?
- What are the social factors that influence prices for artwork?
- How does a gallery’s status affect their power to set prices?
These questions aren’t going to go away when you read this book, but Velthuis brings economic science and actual data from European markets to the discussion. His perspective as an European economist is useful and entertaining, and he uses this point of view to explore how social and cultural factors explain some of the more irrational seeming artwork prices.
While the book is a bit academic (it was originally written as a dissertation), it is well written and generous with the anecdotes. This is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the complex collision of social mores, creativity, and capitalism called the art market.