Sunday, January 23, 2011

The World's Most Expensive Piece of Video Art

Tyler Cowan has a very short piece on the most expensive video art. Apparently "Bill Viola's Eternal Return sold for $712,452 in 2000." Considering that video can be very easily copied, this seems a bit much, to say the least. I suppose part of the agreement of buying the piece could have been that the video could not be copied, but then this raises questions of who the owner of the piece is. Is it the creator or the buyer? A contract might establish some sort of co-ownership, I suppose, but some questions about ownership of works of art could be raised here.

Suppose I bought a Monet. Could I burn it in my back yard? Why is it that your gut instinct was "of course not!" no matter how strong a property rights supporter you are? What does this imply about our deep beliefs about the relationship between art and society? Is that merely cultural? It might be for paintings, but don't other cultures hold particular objects so sacred that even if you own it, others feel like they have a right to object to your damaging or destroying it on purpose?

But let's get back to the video. What is its status? After all, if you copy it, isn't it the same art piece? Surely in the case of video art, it doesn't actually involve the actual video tape itself (or DVD), but the content. And the content is copyable in such a way that it's the same thing -- much like a print run is a run of the same thing (though the lower the number, the more the print is worth -- the first being worth the most, of course). Do copies reduce the price value of the original video? If not, why not? Is there something about it being the first, on that tape or DVD, that makes it more valuable? Is it because, in essence, the artist actually touched it, manipulated that particular tape? Then what is the relative value of the content? How much does it matter? Would it have the same value if produced anonymously? If not, why not?

I suppose too that there are many at the Mises Institute who would have something to day about the property rights involved.

Just some basic questions on the economics of art.

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