The timing could not be better for The Price of Everything to open in Seattle—it is exactly four weeks after the Banksy print Girl with Balloon (purchased for $1.4 million) "self-destructed" at the London Sotheby's auction house. This stunt, and Nathaniel Kahn's documentary, captures the buying and selling of art as exactly what it is: an aristocratic struggle for control, status, and ownership.
In The Price of Everything, Kahn pays just as much attention to the viewpoint of the artists as to the participants in the auctions themselves (the buyers and sellers). A cinematic cutting between responses from each creates a fabricated town-hall-type dialogue about material valuation and what it means to love/covet art. There is little regarding the value of art that the artists and collectors/sellers agree on.
It's not surprising that many artists resist participation in the monetization of their work and do not rest on the monetary value assigned as an aspect of success—be it out of principle or out of humility, real or false. How artists value their work verses how the collectors/buyers assign value is the stark contrast that is rarely seen with such distinction as it is in this film. There has always existed an uneasiness in defining the true value of artworks—from the French salon to Peggy Guggenheim's support of Jackson Pollock—and art's true value has always been questioned. The aforementioned publicity stunt by Banksy and the release of Kahn's documentary coincide only to punctuate this old disconnect between the artist and the value of the art.
Banksy's shredded work was initially and wrongfully interpreted as an act of commodification resistance. Do not be fooled—Banksy destroyed nothing. In fact, the work was still purchased, then renamed (Love Is in the Bin), and authenticated by Banksy's agency—reassigning its value. Other prints of Girl with Balloon have been bought and sold, but there is only one Love Is in the Bin. So the work now has two values it did not previously possess: singularity and envy.
In contrast, artists like Larry Poons have recently avoided participation in the market to the point where they are literally thought to have died, and there are also those who authentically resist auction-house price tags through donation or public view clauses. Many times, the efforts made to de-commoditize a work of art end up enticing the market even more; if an artist flips off the collector, the collector will attempt to purchase the insult. If you have any doubt about this reality, look no further than Kahn's film.