“If it’s $100 million, is it art?”
James Stewart of The New York Times recently posed this question in his article “Overpriced Real Estate? Well Maybe It’s Art.” Stewart notes, and ponders the reason for, the recent surge of strasopherically-priced homes, including Sandy Weill’s 15 Central Park West home that sold last year for $88 Million (an amazing $13,000 square foot) and Steve Wynn’s purchase of a penthouse at the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South for $70 Million. Add to that a number of listings currently hovering around the $100 Million mark and, as Stewart states, “[s]omething is certainly leading to record prices for what brokers describe interchangeably as trophy or art properties.”
Stewart suggests the analogy works for some because these properties are behaving on the market similarly to rare paintings, which have surpassed the $100 million mark at auction and often rebound quickly from financial crisis.
While many buyers and sellers, along with brokers, are comfortable with the real estate-art analogy, others aren’t. Take David Kusin, a former Metropolitan Museum of Art curator, for example. Kusin, who lives in a home designed by the dean of Talieisn, Frank Lloyd Wright’s school of architecture, tells The New York Times: “There’s absolutely no statistical validity to it. It’s like comparing Earth to Saturn. And I’ve been studying these markets for 18 years.” He adds, “There is no comparability at all between the structure I live in and the art that hangs on the walls.”
Kusin sees the labeling of real estate as art as merely a way to “rationalize” these mega-million dollar purchases. “If a Russian oligarch is going to spend $88 million, then somehow he has to justify it,” said Kusin.
We were curious what The Agency’s Billy Rose had to say on this topic, as he has represented, and designed, a number of architectural homes that we’d certainly consider “art.” Here’s what he had to say:
It’s an interesting debate. I’ve long said that I’m not interested in selling “commerce”; everyday “shelter” — four walls and a roof. For me, whether you call it “functional art” or “well designed architecture” or the like doesn’t’ really matter. What makes art (and other collectible items) valuable is the fact that they are rare; uncommon.
To me, what differentiates “art” from other collectibles like, say, gemstones or meteor fragments, is the artisanship quality of the product (whether it be a painting or architecture). Perhaps for purists, it’s better to describe architecture as “collectible” rather than “art”, though I disagree with the purists who seem to suggest that true art can’t be “functional.”
Tell us what you think. Give the article a read and share your thoughts in the comments below. Is it “ridiculous,” as Kusin argues, to label these one-of-a-kind properties as art? Does the art analogy hold up to you and help explain the record-high prices a few select homes are selling for now? Or, as Rose says, does it really matter what you call it and that what it really comes down to is that, like art, the value in these homes is their rarity and artisanship quality.