“The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the world’s great galleries. Visitors flock to see Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and Grant Wood’s American Gothic, two of the most recognisable images in modern American art. But what has stunned art collectors is that a photograph of visitors to the Art Institute, taken in 1990 by Thomas Struth, fetched more at auction than any other photograph last year, selling for $777,088. And it’s not even the only one in existence – Struth produced 10 prints.
As bankers to the wealthy Coutts revealed in a recent report, Old Masters have fallen from favour, with prices down 40% from their peak a decade ago. Oriental carpets and rugs are completely out of fashion, with prices back to where they were in 2005. Even the boom in classic cars has stalled, with Ferrari prices in reverse by 10% last year. But Coutts said photography has emerged as the hottest new investment for the very well-off. Photos by Gilbert and George, Robert Mapplethorpe and Andreas Gursky all fetched more than $400,000 at auctions in 2016.
Photography has until now had an ambivalent status in the art collecting world, and for good reason: collectors value scarcity. There is only one Nighthawks, whereas Struth could have reproduced thousands, indeed millions, of his image of visitors to the gallery.”
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