Art + Money = Crime
If your preferred crime fiction is measured by the number of shots fired, people killed, cars demolished, and drug busts gone wrong, my books are going to be a harder sell. The Dani O’Rourke series, the third book of which comes out February 2, is not cozy by any means, but it’s not hard-boiled.
However, if measured by the amount of money at stake in the crimes I write about, move over Dirty Harry! I write about the contemporary art market, especially that part of it that trades in paintings and other work with auction values in the multi-millions. Think this isn’t worth some desperate criminal risks? Consider these sales, made in the past 10 years:
Picasso’s “Women of Algiers” $179 million
Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucien Freud” $140 million
Warhol’s “Silver Car Crash” $105 million
Cézanne’s “The Card Players” $250 million
These are only a few examples of A List works selling for close to or over $100 million recently. They’re not exceptions to the trend. In the past two decades, with a slight pause in 2008, even works by lesser and “unproven” (that means to the market, not to aesthetics) artists have been fetching extraordinary amounts of money, been traded like baseball cards as their prices ratcheted up to swooning heights with not much in the way of market fundamentals behind them. Not that anyone is quite sure how the market can properly value anything as subjective and prone to damage and fashion and rumor as paint on canvas.
So, as a crime writer, I follow the money, a tactic that gets Dani O’Rourke, a fundraiser for my fictional museum, into real trouble again and again. Who’s buying these art works? Why? Where are they going after they’ve been claimed? And what about art that simply vanishes off the walls? And the art that turns out to be fake? So much running room for a crime writer.