The art market Friezes over
Marc Bijl’s Triumph (proposal for a memorial to the Iraq war), left, was one of thousands of works on display at the Frieze art fair in London’s Regent’s park in mid-October. In its five years of existence, Frieze has established itself as a major fixture on the art world calendar, giving rise to inevitable complaints about extortionate prices, charlatan artists, super-rich gullibility and so on. Some of the works on display this year seemed to embody these concerns: one of the most talked-about was a “flea market” of artists’ cast-offs—Elizabeth Peyton’s leather couch, clothes belonging to Warhol “superstar” Baby Jane Holzer. Elsewhere, the Chapman brothers drew pictures on fivers or tenners presented to them—thus instantly multiplying the money’s value. But the biggest story took place elsewhere, at the auctions held by Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips to capitalise on all the money washing through town. The houses took in over £175m, but this was short of what they’d hoped for, and several works remained unsold, including a Damien Hirst spot painting (estimated value: £2.5m) and two Warhols. This represented a major setback for a market that rose 50 per cent in the first half of 2007 alone, prompting the question: is the art bubble finally about to burst?
Britain—land of 59m paupers
In his obsessive pursuit of ever wider selections of people to classify according to their wealth, Philip Beresford (compiler of the Sunday Times Rich List) has fallen into a trap, writes Harvey Cole. In The Richest of the Rich, Beresford and his collaborator William Rubinstein attempt to pick out the richest Britons over the last 1,000 years. Surprisingly, the top 16 were all dead before 1440. The top 20 contains only one living person—steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, who scrapes into 20th place.
The winner is one Alan Rufus, who arrived with William the Conqueror and plundered the north. Beresford and Rubinstein credit him with a fortune, at his death, of £11,000 at 1093 prices—and claim this to be worth £81bn in today’s money.
This conjuring trick is explained by their calculation that Rufus’s fortune was worth over 7 per cent of national income, which would amount to £81bn today. This is self-evidently ridiculous. In 1093 the population of England was little more than a million. If all those million were assumed to have…