The Big, Bad World of Over-Priced Art

By / 3 years ago / Art / 7 Comments
The Big, Bad World of Over-Priced Art

It was my first visit to this swanky, snobbish hotel in Mumbai – no wedding of any celeb is apparently complete without at least one function being held here (am reliably told that new functions are being devised just so that this hotel can be included in the Wedding Program). Anyways, was having a meeting with a Lah-Dee-Dah brand re social media and realized the hotel had just been taken over by the swish, upmarket brand of Starwood. I guess it was the thought that I could actually use some of my points and stay a night there which was making me peer at things in greater detail. And that’s when I saw it…


Art put up in hotel isn’t usually great anyways – most of it is like the guy playing piano in the lobby – just meant to be a sensory filler, remain in the background rather than be a conversation piece – but this was quite extraordinary, in a bad kind of way. Imagine one of those wooden toys from Gujarat or Rajasthan – you know, the ones I’m talking about – the kind the NRIs and the very stingy rich relatives buy for your kids to ostensibly show they are green, environment conscious when all they’re doing is saving money – well, this was the same, replete with gaudy colours except it had been made life-size. And to top it all, it was like a transgender, multi-headed Hydra-esque Centaur, albeit with a turban. When I went closer, the mystery cleared up – a bit. It was a Paresh Maity.


Now the funny thing is – if my wife had made this and gone to aforesaid hotel – she would’ve been laughed all the way back to Pune. But because it was a Paresh Maity, an artist who rich, pretentious Madu’s in particular seem to love, these guys were happy paying top dollar for this overblown kids toy. Which got me thinking. Which would be the top 5 over-priced works of art ? I could probably make a global list and then an Indian one. I mean, I love art and am an enthusiastic collector but my principle is to first buy something I would be happy to hang in my living room (within my budget, of course) and only, as a secondary criteria, bother about who made it. Which is why artists like Bijay Biswaal and Dilip Choudhury continue to delight us and occupy pride of place in our hall.


Anyways, I digress. So here goes my global list…for the 5 most over-priced works of art…



Woman III

Artist : Willem de Kooning

This looks like something I would make while playing Pictionary. The most redeeming thing that can probably be said about it is that you discover new elements to dislike everytime you look at it. Was the artist drawing a woman or a concept for a horror movie ghost ? Did the painter suffer from cacomorphobia or ‘obesophilia’? Why is it so grey, so wavy, so dirty, so cluttered ? Could it be used as a form of torture – ie put toothpicks under a person’s eyelids and force him to gaze at it for a few hours – much as we do in India, with particularly recalcitrant people, with RGV’s Aag?

Price : $137.5 million






Balloon Dog (Orange)

Jeff Koons

His Wikipedia page describes him as an American artist who does reproductions of banal objects. So there’s not much left to say, is there ? Apart from the fact that this work of art is actually available in 5 colours – so all hope isn’t lost yet. I can sense thousands of clowns, who do this everyday in a circus, or child carers – who’ve made a half a dozen a day for their wards – wailing in grief

Price : $58.4 million



Violet Green Red


No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red )

Mark Rothko

I last saw something similar when I was asked to go through the school books of friend’s child. Ever since I’ve begun to teach in IIM-A, parents want me to look at their kid’s educational books and Give My Opinion. This zealous tiger mom wanted me to look at her precious baby’s nursery books and tell me what I thought of the curriculum

They had a whole page, exactly like this work of art, under the heading Colours. They had symmetrical squares of colours with the names in block letters underneath. The next page admittedly got a little tougher (this artist may not have been able to pull it off), with slightly more abstract concepts – they had a whole rainbow in there with each colour identified separately…

In any case, something crushing about your entire net worth (20 years of being an ace performer) being less than three strips of colour, but I shall soldier on…

Price : $186 million





Dora Maar au Chat

Pablo Picasso

Am sure I’m an art philistine who doesn’t get what Picasso did for the cubist and overall art movement. Am sure he’s made some profoundly moving pieces of art, contributed to classicism, surrealism and several other –isms and the fact that I have yet to see one, has nothing to do with anything

But if I made a portrait of my girlfriend which looked like this, I know one thing for sure, she ain’t ever seeing me again. The fun doesn’t stop here. An American pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein, cannily smelling money, makes a version of this – it looks like the Queen of Hearts in a deck of cards is getting strangled and guillotined simultaneously – and even this print, grandly titled Woman With A Flowered Hat, sold for $56.1 million – which is probably more than the GDP of Liechtenstein (non sequitur)


Price : $95.2 million






Maurizio Cattelan

This is the cheapest one in the list here but there is something wonderfully regressive about taking a billionaire art collector’s wife, making a wax topless model of her and selling it back to him. There are so many things deliciously wrong about this that it features prominently in the title and the book The Supermodel And The Brillo Box by art-buster Don Thompson

Stephanie 2

The back story is, indeed, fascinating (you can read it here) and is made even more interesting by the fact that he made two more models in different hairstyles and put them up for sale !


Price : $1 million (estimate)


Marshall McLuhan once said “Art is anything you can get away with”. Don’t the above paintings prove him right ?

Film, travel and sport fanatic. Loves & lives life to the fullest ! Author, Eighteen Plus Also Visiting Faculty, IIM-A


  • Rishi23. Nov, 2015

    Brilliantly written, I could see the joy in your eyes while watching these paintings :-)

    My 2 cents to this collection – and I mean $40.4 million at that!!! Franz Kline – untitled – 1957! My 11 month daughter actually drew something similar on her bib!!

    • Apurv Nagpal23. Nov, 2015

      Thanks, Rishi – your retirement plan seems assured then. Please to comment with a link of the Kline painting you’re referring to…so we can also appreciate her art

  • Rishi24. Nov, 2015

    • Apurv Nagpal24. Nov, 2015

      Oh ! This is awesome…
      Am sure your daughter’s will be as good but will pass on both the wonderful works of art !

  • Anonymous24. Nov, 2015

    Picasso’s sculptures are not as familiar as you might expect. The reason is pragmatic : bulky and breakable.. Simple Maths also plays its part. Picasso produced some 4,000 paintings versus roughly 700 sculptures, so the odds are against them – but if you push the practicalities to one side, things get interesting… Picasso developed a deep-rooted relationship with his sculptures, growing more attached to them as if they were members of his extended family, or characters from a series of novels. For most of his career, he kept them close by, nested in his own private world, protected from the public eye… It was not until 1966, and a sprawling retrospective in Paris, that the public became fully aware of them.. Why so ? Some might ask.. Because sculpture has this privileged position… With no formal training, no rule-book to follow, Picasso invented his own way of working. He started to combine bronze with basic, everyday materials and moved away from traditional figurative sculpture to subjects that were highly unorthodox. His canvases drip with pathos – the more you look, the more you feel.. Oozing raw emotion…

  • Anonymous24. Nov, 2015

    Take a look at “Glass of Absinthe”, 1914. For the first time, Picasso introduces a found object (a silver spoon) to create a new, hybrid form that challenges the very notion of what a sculpture was and what it could be.. ( He was much ahead of his time ! ) …. More primitive than beautiful, it has a technical immediacy and authority that is difficult to achieve in metal.. Then there is ” Flowery Watering Can” – different altogether, but armed with the same anthropomorphic quality that is trademark in nearly all of Picasso’s sculptures…

  • Anonymous24. Nov, 2015

    Pray, no one goes through such kind of torture.. Eeeeks ! To put toothpicks under the eyelids…. How gruesome.. Nanaji used to tell incidents of the torture during the world war.. Thin metal rods used to inserted in the nails and fingers, the prisoners couldn’t make a fist because of the extreme pain in the knuckles..

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