[OUTLOOK]We need homes more than paintings

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[OUTLOOK]We need homes more than paintings

Inside Korea, the people are clamoring that the prices of apartments are surging, while outside of the country, people are crying out that the prices of paintings are increasing. When housing prices go up, working class people feel frustrated. But they do not feel disappointed when the price of paintings goes up.
It is interesting to compare the prices of paintings to houses. Let’s take a look at the world’s art markets. The record for the highest price keeps getting broken.
In June of last year, Gustav Klimt’s “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” was sold for $135 million, breaking the old record of $104 million held by Pablo Picasso’s “Boy with a Pipe.” But the new record was then broken by a Jackson Pollock painting. The modern painter’s work, “No. 5, 1948,” sold for $140 million. We are now living in a world in which a painting can cost more than $130 million.
Meanwhile, how much is the world’s most expensive apartment? It is a penthouse on the 76th floor in the south building of the Time Warner Center, in Manhattan, New York City. The apartment sold for $54.7 million about two years ago. The person who bought this house is David Martinez, a Mexican financier. He is also the one who bought the world’s most expensive painting, by Mr. Pollock. Mr. Martinez is living in the world’s most expensive apartment, which has the world’s most expensive painting hanging on the wall.
I did the math. The price of the most expensive apartment is a little more than one-third of the most expensive painting. Prices of items are defined by supply and demand. The price of a certain item goes up if many want to buy the item and there is a small number of the item. In reverse, the price goes down if the supply exceeds demand. The value of an item and its scarcity decides the price.
Water and air are absolute necessities for humans to survive. But because they are abundant, they cost nothing or very little.
In this respect, it is natural that the most expensive painting costs more than the most expensive apartment. Construction workers can build better apartments in Manhattan, but Mr. Pollock has died so he can no longer paint.
Let’s see how things are inside our country. The most expensive painting in Korea was Park Soo-keun’s “On the Road.” The painting was auctioned off for 140 million won ($150,000) last year. Does it sound too expensive for a painting? The money could buy an apartment of some 100 square meters (1,100 square feet) in southern Seoul, an average apartment for a middle-class person.
The other day, I read in a newspaper that the most expensive apartment in Korea was worth 5.5 billion won. That is more than five times of the price of Mr. Park’s painting. Mr. Park is one of the best painters in Korea. Lee Jung-seop is another respected artist. The most expensive of Mr. Lee’s paintings is “Family and Children in an Orchard,” which sold for 630 million won.
Some may say these are not the artists’ most important works. Well, the world’s most expensive painting was not necessarily the most important work by Mr. Pollock, either.
The painting that has sold for the highest price in Asia is the Chinese painter Xu Beihong’s “Slave and Lion.” The work sold for about $650,000. A painting by another Chinese painter, Zhang Xiaogang, 49, sold for about $230,000. The most expensive Indian painting is a work by Tyeb Mehta, which sold for roughly $160,000.
When looking at the prices in other countries, our country feels very small. When compared to housing prices, I even feel ashamed. In our country, the value of the best painters’ work is not even the value of ordinary houses.
Whether for individuals or an entire country, when basic needs for food, clothes and housing are met, people begin to get interested in culture. When people have a warm house and fill their stomachs, they want to enjoy a noble and refined culture, feel cultural superiority and fulfill artistic satisfaction.
On the basis of these universal wishes and desires, many countries have placed the development of their cultural industry on their agenda.
People usually say a knowledge-based society will be gone and a culture-oriented society will arrive. The move in art markets is both an economic and cultural phenomenon.
The price of artwork in a country can be viewed as a yardstick of its culture. Our national per capita income is reaching $20,000, although many say it is because of the strong won and the high price of commodities. We should stop considering it to be natural for the price of artwork to be much lower than the price of housing. The gap between basic needs and the need for art or culture seems very wide.

*The writer is the head of K Auction. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Soon-eung
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