In a statement, Christie’s said that the famed auction house will sell off more than 150 ‘masterpieces’ belonging to Allen’s foundation. The collection spans over 500 years of art history while the value of the works is more than $1 billion. The auction is titled: ‘Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection.’ The proceeds will be divided up among various charities.
Among the artists’ whose work is featured in Allen’s collection include Paul Cezanne, Jasper Johns, David Hockney, Edward Hopper, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Georgia O’Keefe, Paul Gauguin, Roy Lichtenstein and Claude Monet. Following Allen’s death, it was revealed that he was the anonymous buyer of Monet’s haystacks painting titled Meule in 2016. The painting sold for $81.4 million.
Because I am teaching a class titled Culture, Media, and Society this semester, a sociology of culture course, this news caught my attention for several reasons:
- The amount of wealth concentrated in a set of created objects is fascinating to consider. This is considered a good investment for those with the means:
In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the art world continues to see major gains. According to a UBS study, the art market generated over $65 billion in 2021 alone. The US art market made up 43 percent of the value share.
- This is a reminder of the amount of wealth – and presumably networking – involved in the major art markets. People with fewer resources can see major works in museums or galleries but the owners of such works are in different social categories and circles.
- Living with such work that is considered important and/or expensive must be interesting:
In 2015, he told Bloomberg: ‘To live with these pieces of art is truly amazing. I feel that you should share some of the works to give the public a chance to see them.’ Allen said in the same interview that his art collection was a ‘very, very good investment for me.’
- How does someone become invested – economically, socially, personally – in art? According to Allen:
It was a visit to London’s Tate Gallery that exposed him to classical works by J.M.W Turner as well as the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein. That visit left Allen ‘profoundly moved.’ The bio continues by saying: ‘That experience ignited within him a passion for art — and for making art accessible to more people.’
As we consider culture as “processes of meaning-making” (definition from sociologist Lyn Spillman), there is a lot of meaning-making in Allen’s milieu, actions, and legacy.