What does the word "skin" mean in the context of the fine art market?
September 16, 2016 12:20 PM   Subscribe

I inquired online about the price of a particular work of art from a gallery in greater Boston. The response contained the following sentence: "This particular piece is listed for $X which is certainly a great deal of money and yet, relative to a lot of the contemporary fine art world, given his skin, demand, and sizing it is a good price." What does the word "skin" mean in this context? Or is it just a typo for "skill"?
posted by slenderloris to Writing & Language (4 answers total)
I have an art history degree, focused on contemporary art during my studies, and now work in the museum world and I've never heard anyone use that term. I would assume a typo for "skill".
posted by cpatterson at 12:37 PM on September 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

Traditional vellum is made of animal skin, and there are some preserved Yakuza skins with tattoos on them, but it's probably an autocorrect error. Although the foreskin could be another possibility, but I doubt it.
posted by effluvia at 12:55 PM on September 16, 2016

Ok good, Thanks MetaFilter! It's definitely acrylic on canvas, not animal or human skin. Although that might make the price more swallowable... :)

Even the word "skill" seems a little strange to me. I guess it's just referring to the painter's technical facility (it's a representational piece).
posted by slenderloris at 2:40 PM on September 16, 2016

I think cpatterson is right that it's most likely a typo for 'skill', but 'skill' clangs a bit in that sentence, the general burden of which seems to be that this piece is a good investment.

I found one use of 'skin' in the context of the art market which I thought was at least intriguing [my emphasis]:
The history of art funds is littered with dashed hopes and discarded business models. The past decade particularly has witnessed numerous attempts at pooling investors’ money to buy and sell art instead of, say, stocks. These are often announced with great fanfare, but it sometimes turns out that the fund has not raised enough money to operate and that the fund manager is no longer responding to phone calls.

Still, the dream never seems to fade, and articles this year by the New York Observer and CNN have proclaimed, despite scant evidence, a new “boom” in art funds. And there are a couple of examples of undeniable success, beginning with La Peau de l’Ours, run by the Paris-based businessman André Level from 1904 until the fund’s sale through Drouot in 1914.

Level borrowed the phrase La Peau de l’Ours from the moral of an anti-speculation fable by Fontaine: “Never sell the skin of the bear before you’ve actually killed it.”
In this case, to mix metaphors, the investors did kill it. Level’s investors spent FF27,500 in ten years on 145 works that made nearly four times the original outlay when they were sold in a high-profile auction at Drouot. The highlight was Picasso’s Les Bateleurs, 1905 (known as The Family of Saltimbanques and now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC), which made FF11,500 against a purchase price of FF1,000. According to the French consumer price index, one French franc from that period is worth roughly four euros today.

The New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki and Noah Horowitz, the author of Art of the Deal, acknowledge La Peau de l’Ours as the first successful art investment fund. In her book Art as an Investment, Melanie Gerlis, The Art Newspaper’s art market editor (Europe, Asia and Africa), suggests that it could also be the last successful one. But writers, collectors and fund managers seem to know relatively little about how the fund operated. Why was it so successful? What art did it buy, and how? Did the fund manager work with galleries or circumvent them?
posted by jamjam at 5:36 PM on September 16, 2016

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