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I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon) Hardcover – September 15, 2009

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A Q&A with Richard Polsky

Question: In 1987, you set aside $100,000 to buy an Andy Warhol painting. Your 2003 memoir I Bought Andy Warhol chronicled your search to acquire that painting, which ended in the purchase of a "Fright Wig." I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon) is the story of what happened when you sold your beloved Warhol. Why did you sell? Was it worth it?

Richard Polsky: As you know, I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon) is about selling my hard-won Andy Warhol “Fright Wig” painting, which was a direct result of being under financial pressure from my former wife. As she put it, "Would you rather look at me or your painting?" The question of whether it was worth it is far more complex. From the standpoint of personal self-esteem, absolutely not. I felt like I had let myself down and in an odd way had let Warhol himself down. Financially, though, it was the right thing to do. I sold at what I thought was an opportune time and got what seemed like a strong price. I had paid $47,500 and sold it for $375,000. The irony to the situation, and hence the title to the book, was if I had only waited two years I might have gotten as much as $2 million.

Question: You take the art world to task in your new book, calling the business of buying and selling art "high school with money." What do you mean by this and where do you fit in?

Richard Polsky: Referring to the art world as "high school with money" may have been too generous. At times, it feels more like “grade school with money.” What I mean by this is that there is an inordinate amount of juvenile behavior in my industry. Because anyone can become an art dealer, since there are no qualifying exams to take, the business attracts plenty of people that are under qualified. Often, they are misfit children of the rich, or worse yet, children of art dealers. They lack a background in art history and the history of art dealing, as well. This may sound self-serving, but I happen to be one of the few exceptions, in that I don’t come from a privileged upbringing and I’ve worked hard to become knowledgeable in both the art itself and the history of the art business.

Question: You write lovingly of your "Fright Wig," calling it "more than just an investment; it was part of my soul." As a dealer, how do you balance your appreciation of art for art’s sake with the business of selling art?

Richard Polsky: A dealer’s biggest quandary is balancing his love of art with the reality of having to make a living (that is to say those few souls who actually need to earn money). In my case, I used to collect the artists I dealt and at one time owned a major Joseph Cornell "Aviary" (bird box), a John Chamberlain crushed auto-metal sculpture from the 1960s, and an Andy Warhol portrait of Chairman Mao. It was a mixed blessing, but the art appreciated and I decided it was prudent to cash out--and greatly missed the art. Having learned my lesson, I now only collect work by artists who I don’t deal in. Most of what I own are paintings by friends--emerging and mid-career talent. Since the work has negligible resale value, I can enjoy it and don’t feel compelled to rush out and sell it.

Question: There is the public perception that the art world is elitist and therefore inaccessible to the average American, and yet it’s getting its own reality show thanks to Sarah Jessica Parker. How would you wish to see both public perception change and the industry itself change?

Richard Polsky: It’s not so much that the art market needs to change. Serious art by its very nature can’t be for everyone in much the same way serious literature, wine, food, dance, and music can’t be. Enjoying art requires that the viewer educate himself. It’s kind of like learning about wine--you have to drink a lot. Art is the same way--you have to look a lot. That means going to museums, galleries, and reading art books. I just don’t think most people are curious enough to do that. I would like to see the industry itself change. Ideally, I would love for art dealers to have to become certified and pass a serious exam, much like an attorney passing the bar or a physician taking the medical boards. If that happened, I think it would expand the art market by giving a wider swath of potential collectors greater confidence in it.

Question: What interests you today, as a collector and as a dealer?

Richard Polsky: My personal interests as a collector includes collecting fossils, minerals, and natural history specimens. I’m also interested in the work of the woodcut artist Gustave Baumann. Briefly, he worked in Santa Fe during the twenties and thirties and produced the most extraordinary woodcut prints imaginable. His subject matter varied from the Southwest landscape, especially the Grand Canyon, to American Indian iconography, often abandoned pueblos--Baumann’s work breathed nature and was filled with soul. My interest as a dealer remains the Pop artists. They come from an authentic place in the art world--the days where it was still about making art rather than building careers. There’s also something about how they drew inspiration from popular culture that still rings true.

From Publishers Weekly

In 2005, art dealer Polsky's prized Andy Warhol fright wig self-portrait sold at auction for $320,000. If he had waited just a couple of more years to sell, Polsky would likely have garnered millions: in 2007, Warhol's Green Car Crash sold for $71 million. In this instructive, irreverent and often uproarious memoir, Polsky explains the capricious functioning of the art market and the economic and cultural forces that have transformed it from the 1980s, when art dealers fostered relationships with artists and other dealers, into today's market when dealers cultivate stronger relationships with auction houses than with collectors and artists. Polsky (I Bought Andy Warhol) is a high-spirited and self-deprecating raconteur who relishes exposing the idiosyncrasies, absurdities and hypocrisies of his industry and its biggest players. A highly enjoyable and informative insider's guide to a milieu to which few are privy, this will be of interest to the general reader seeking to understand the art world's economic evolution and cultural impact, told through a delightfully vital mixture of memoir, reportage and social satire. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press; First Printing edition (September 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590513371
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590513378
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,317,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David Engelson on September 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It doesn't matter if you're an art aficionado or neophyte...this book will inform and entertain you at the same time. I would even recommend this book to anyone that just wants to read a great non-fiction book.

When I started reading the book, I read the first 50 pages in the blink of an eye. I had to pace myself not to read the entire book all in one night...the book is that good.

Richard Polsky is like the "Robert Langdon" of the art world. He is an art dealer / adviser that has somehow done the impossible...unveiled the "other" side of the art world that most of us, if not all of us, have no idea even exists.

Anyone that has ever wondered how one acquires a piece of art, from a $1,000 local artist to a $1,000,000 Warhol, would be startled to realize what exactly goes on behind the scenes. Well, thanks to Mr. Polsky, now I know.

What I love most about this book is that it gives us an insightful look at the evolution of artists and their art, in every aspect, over the last 40+ years (from pop art's iconic Andy Warhol to modern artists like Damien Hirst)...to what high art has possibly become today, nothing more than another tradeable commodity.

What makes a painting worth $50,000,000? Is it its artistic value? Maybe. Is it because the color of the painting is what's in at the moment? Maybe. Is it a status symbol game between billionaires to see who can spend more? Maybe. Is it because it was marketed by an auction house that made the price go up? Maybe. Is it because a powerful art dealer floated a rumor that the painting is worth $50,000,000? Maybe.

After reading this book, I'm even more intrigued with the art world than I was before. Read this book. You'll love it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By the architect on January 29, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It was a bit depressing to know that art world is moved primarily for money.
Promotion and more promotion makes an artist to became a commodity
I wonder if its important know all this or remain innocent about the value of art.
Nonetheless is a well written story ,with many known names in the art world
For those interested in the commerce of art a must read
I have recommend it to my artist and gallerist friends
The architect
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on December 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Art has become a multimillion dollar business. "I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon)" is one man's reflections on the world of art and how it has quickly departed from admiring artistic expression to being all about the art on green paper we call money. Jaded, surprised, and disappointed, Richard Polsky tells what can be a sad tale of the commercialization of human creativity. "I Sold Andy Warhol:(Too Soon)" is a fine and recommended read that is well worth considering for art fans critical of the direction of the modern world of art.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Muriel Egan on June 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book picks up where the first one (I bought Andy Warhol) leaves off. Important information if you are at all interested in fine art.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By lookingatwalls on September 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a great sequel to his first book. I really enjoyed this book like a great art salesman he tells a series of events all centered on his quest for a new Warhol..

It is fascinating, informative and a fun read. You really cannot ask for more. I am eagerly awaiting another book from you Richard, Thank You for the hours of enjoyment in telling your tale
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By Joe Stephens on December 13, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I will make two confessions at the beginning of my review:

1) I went to the same high school and college as the author. I knew him fairly well.
2) I know nothing about art.

Richard provides a first-person perspective into how the art business works in a witty and at times self-deprecating way. The book traces his various business dealings and relationships in the art world. Sometimes he comes across as being on the inside and at other times as an outsider being dissed by the big shots. The latter is much like his days in high school.

I have a much better understanding and appreciation of how the art business is conducted after reading this book. Richard does a nice job providing historical context and how the different relationships in the art business have evolved. His coverage of the roles of collectors, dealers, gallery owners, art fairs and auction houses is quite interesting. The manipulation of the market and the hubris of some of the major players is an eye opener. If you ever wondered about the astounding prices being paid for some works of art, Richard's book will provide some answers.

Richard was quite the character in school. Apparently he still is. I like the story about the woman who put him on the point system (100 points earned the right to sleep her). Rather than telling her off, he arranges to go on a date with her and lands up with negative points by the end of the evening. Another good story is when he locks his keys in the car with the engine running at the studio of an important artist he is meeting with to pitch some ideas. These anecdotes are vintage Richard Polsky.

Richard's passion and knowledge for art come across very well in the book.
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Format: Hardcover
In i sold Andy Warhol. (too soon), Richard Polsky takes the reader on a tour of high priced art and the dealer world of artists, buyers, sellers, galleries, auction houses, and of course, the deal. Polsky is well suited to this task as he has been involved in most of these roles. As a former galley owner and collector, he purchased art and sold it. He is intimately familiar with the big auction houses and the inside manuverings that characterize the transfer of great art from one collector to another.

The book is loosely organized around Polsky's quest to find an Andy Warhol painting for one of his clients. They work the network, approaching known Warhol collectors, quizzing galleries, and attending auctions. All of this brings angst to Polsky. He had had a Warhol and sold it years ago, before the meteoric rise of art prices. Seeing what a Warhol brought at today's prices (a million or more) made his selling that much more painful.

I found the discussion about how the art world is changing quite interesting. Polsky sees a decline in galleries and more and more attention shifting to the big auctions. He redefines himself in this world, changing his role to an art purchasing advisor rather than a gallery owner, and believes this is where many who want to stay in this world will end up as a career choice. I also found the world of the super-rich and their concerns interesting.

This book is recommended for anyone interested in art, how artists work, and especially the finance of great art.
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