Artist Resale Royalties: Do They Help or Hurt?

In America, it’s sometime said, all big trends start in California. That’s true for great things like hot tubs, the iPod, and Pinkberry. It’s also true for bad things, like tax revolts, Pinkberry, and . . . artist resale royalties.

Artist resale royalties? In a previous post, we explained how California’s law guaranteeing artists 5 percent of the profits from any later sale of their artwork has some unintended consequences. The California law helps the tiny fraction of artists fortunate enough to have their work appreciate significantly in value. But it does nothing for the 99% of artists whose work has little enduring commercial value. Not only does it not help them, it probably hurts them.

The World's Most Expensive Photograph

A photograph of a river, some grass, and sky was auctioned at Christie's in New York last week for a record-setting $4,338,500 to an unknown buyer. "Rhein II," created in 1999 by German artist Andreas Gursky, beat out Cindy Sherman's previous photo auction record of $3.89 million in May, 2011.

We can't repost an image of it, copyright and what not; though you can see it in the link above. But "Rhein II" measures 6 feet by 11 feet. The picture is one in a series of six photographs - the other five live in museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Modern.

Artist Profit-Sharing: Another Example of How California Is Like Europe

How is California more like Europe than the United States? We can think of a few ways, but one of the most interesting involves the rights of artists. As this recent story in the New York Times points out, in 1976 California passed a law that guarantees artists 5 percent of the profits in a later sale of their artwork. In doing so, California copied France and a number of other nations, in which such profit-sharing with artists is required by law. In the rest of the United States, by contrast, artists have no right to the profits a collector might make when they resell their artwork.

From an economic point of view, the California rule is a little strange. As we discussed in a previous post, if I sell my house and in five years it rises substantially in value (an anachronistic example these days, we recognize), I don’t get a cut of the windfall. A deal is a deal.

Inheriting a Rembrandt: A Rare Case of a Monopoly

We inherited several art works, including a Rembrandt etching—a portrait of an old man. Is it worth anything?? An art appraiser/detective hunted down its story. The print itself is new—pulled on highest-quality paper in the 1990s from Rembrandt’s plates. Apparently no prints were made in most of the 20th century. In the 1990s the plate’s owner pulled a small number, but none since, and none planned.

The owner has a monopoly on the plate and understands revenue maximization (there are essentially no variable costs): Pull just enough prints to have sufficient quantity to drive the price elasticity of demand to unity, but no more than that. Not only does his strategy gain him the most revenue, but it keeps the price of our print up in case we decide to sell it. This is a rare case where I benefit from monopoly!

An Economist at the Museum

An Economist at the Museum: how do curators trade? The transactions of exhibiting paintings.

Smallpox as Art

Installation artist Luke Jerram creates glass sculptures of diseases to “contemplate the global impact of each disease and to consider how the artificial coloring of scientific imagery affects our understanding of phenomena.”

FREAK Shots: Bird Critics

A new study by a research team from Tokyo's Keio University found that pigeons can distinguish between paintings the researchers consider good and bad.

Stat Candy

After viewing this data candy from baekdal.com, the BBC's Michael Blastland wonders: is there a point at which sexy design overwhelms the usefulness of the data?

It Takes a Free Market to Build a Toaster

It takes a lot of people to manufacture even the simplest products, so making a household appliance on your own shouldn't be expected to be easy. It may even be impossible. That's what the artist Thomas Thwaites is finding as he tries to make a toaster from scratch, traveling around the world to collect raw materials and refining his own petroleum for plastic moldings.

FREAK Shots: Business Cards of the Unemployed

The Cardsofchange website posts photos of revamped business cards sent in by the recently laid-off. The cards, most of which are marked up in pen or marker, reflect what each person has done since losing his or her job.