Review: I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon) by Richard Polsky



Richard Polsky’s I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon) sounds like a follow-up of I Bought Andy Warhol, and that’s probably what it is (I admit I haven’t read the first book). It’s not hard to figure out what I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon) in part is about, namely how Polsky ended up selling an Andy Warhol painting before the most recent art-market bubble had reached its maximum point of expansion. Of course, it’s easy to sell art works at the wrong time - especially if there is a bubble developing, but you really have to know it’s a bubble to feel better about it. Thankfully, the book is about more than just that, though.

How the art market really works is a true mystery to all those who are not involved in the selling of art. Reading I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon) undoubtedly will bring you a little bit closer to understanding how everything works, especially what dealers and auction houses do etc. The book also neatly summarizes the aforementioned bubble, and it describes how the way the market works is actually not static - not only do some players disappear or fade away, to make place for new ones, there are also shifts in where the action might actually be happening (auction houses versus galleries versus dealers).

The art market has always been said to be an unrelated stock market, and even though many people will probably disagree, that’s not such a bad picture - especially if one realizes that the value of both stocks and pieces of art is not necessarily determined by what financial experts call “the fundamentals” (which makes me wonder why people have not started dealing “options” for art works - or maybe they have, and I’m not familiar with it: Wouldn’t it make perfect sense to bet on the future value of an Andy Warhol?). The fact that the art market is unregulated makes it infinitely more opaque than the stock market (where, for example, insider trading is illegal). That’s where I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon) becomes a useful book for those who want to get an idea of how things are handled.

I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon) at times gets very gossipy, and that might not be everybody’s cup of tea. It’s certainly not mine. But all in all, it’s a fun - and quick - read, and there are many interesting details to be taken away from reading it; Polsky talks about how much money a gallery in Chelsea might really make or about a legal fight about the authentication (or actually its non-authentication) of an Andy Warhol art work (I blogged about that here).

I think the most useful thing to take away from I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon) might be how Polsky, at the end, decides how to buy another piece art for himself. I don’t want to give it away, but it’s a useful reminder of the most fundamental difference between art works and stocks.