Part 1: The Value of Art


Tulipmania Series, No.1 (2012) - Gordon CheungWhen Gordon Cheung looks at Jeff Koons’ artworks he finds it difficult to look through the glare to determine how much people are willing to pay for it.

The myth around Koons’ personality and his version of an artist distracts people from looking and thinking about his artworks.

The works by the ex-stockbroker Jeff Koons are worth millions because people are more interested in their financial values than in the art itself. For this reason, contemporary art is merely about the commoditisation of art – while ideas, critical approaches and inventions have move further into the background. Selling and creating images is the new way to do contemporary art.

While some people find Koons’ work “pretty funny’”, as a recent graduate puts it, the first thing which pops up in Cheung’s mind about Koons’ art is that Koons’ fame hinders to comprehend his art. The American artist is mostly in the media when one of his works reaches a new million-dollar price.

“For me the art market is just the means of surviving in order to make art. The art market is for some people just a means for making money,” says Cheung and adds, “True artists primary focus is not about making money but about making art. I didn’t write in my application that I wanted to be an artist to make money. This was not even on my mind.”

Is selling art equal to selling an image? What do images, brands and artists’ names tell us? Branded people brand their works, and this in turn sets the price range of their works. Considering Jeff Koons’ case: He made his public début in New York as a stockbroker, he then changed his profession and has traded in art since then. But making money from one’s art is only possible when you are lucky enough to find people who invest money in you.

However, making art is not about earning money – at least it should not be primarily be about gaining a monetary profit out of its creation. Gordon Cheung, like many other artists, is passionate about his art and loves his life style.

“I simply do not want to anything else. Why would you want to go on holiday if you are enjoying what you love to do? People think of going on holiday as a break, but I don’t.”

Nevertheless, Gordon is aware that money creates the freedom he wants: “To make more art”.

“ I can experiment and push my creativity without thinking ‘oh no I cannot afford it’.”

Even at primary school he knew that he wanted to make paintings, drawings or sculptures. He stayed longer than the others to finish his work; and this is what he is still doing. “I do not think about when I will go back home from work. I go back home when I get tired. People tell me to switch off from my day, but I always reply ‘I do not need to switch off’.”

Although Gordon was lucky to show his work at Frieze in 2012 and at Art Basel Miami 2013 with Lehmann Maupin, he is well aware of the true origin of the creation of art – of “how art comes about”. The purchase of his work by Maryam Homayoun Eisler,  an international collector, has neither changed his definition of art, or the morals which he holds on to.

“My mind is one hundred per cent in creating art. I am in a fortunate position to have people who are collecting my art. I don’t think most of my collectors primarily think of my art as an investment. It only becomes an investment when people buying art treat it in that manner because their focus is making money from the art market, rather than appreciating the philosophical and  human values that can be expressed so powerfully through art.”

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