Film Synopsis
Director’s Statement
Using the Screening Guide
Hosting a Screening Event
Best Practices for Facilitating Dialogue

Key Terms
Setting the Context
Discussion Prompts  


  1. General Discussion Questions

  2. Discussion Forum: Points of View on the Market 

    • POV: Artists on the Art Market

    • POV: Curators, Critics, and Educators on the Art Market

    • POV: Museums and the Art Market

    • POV: Dealers on the Art Market

    • POV: Collectors on the Art Market

    • POV: Filmmaking Behind The Price of Everything

    • POV: Lawyers on the Art Market

  3. A Closer Look

  4. Resources for Artists to Survive and Thrive




Film Synopsis

Paintings by Basquiat and Gerhard Richter sell at auction for tens of millions of dollars; a multistory inflatable ballerina by Jeff Koons dwarfs visitors at Rockefeller Center; a solid gold toilet by Maurizio Cattelan is installed in the Guggenheim Museum for all to see and use. Today, art is spectacle, big bucks and front-page news. As a society, we have become less concerned with the aesthetic and social values of art, and more concerned with brand names and the business of it all. Many feel that art has become a pawn of the ultra rich—an exclusive investment class with perks and loopholes out of reach to the average citizen. High-end art fairs are springing up all over the world and collectors flip works at auction and squirrel away their trophies in high security warehouses.

Are we in the midst of an art crisis? Can the value of art really be measured in dollars and cents? How are these values assigned and who assigns them? Does the art market have a chilling effect on our great museums and the ability of the public to engage in the art of our time? Which artistic voices are left out of the mass marketing of art? Most importantly, what does this new consumerist approach to art mean for artists themselves?

The Price of Everything explores these questions and demystifies the rarefied world of contemporary art in a dynamic and entertaining way. With unprecedented access to artists, dealers, collectors and auction houses in and around New York City, the film takes us deep into a hidden world where nothing is what it seems. In revealing scenes and interviews, we come to understand how this part of the art market actually works and we confront the challenges of being an artist in the current environment— where success can come at lightning speed only to evaporate next season, and where even the most revered creators must find ways to block out the temptations of the market if they wish to remain in control of their creative process. The Price of Everything offers a complex portrait of a late capitalist society confronting itself. While holding a funhouse mirror up to our consumerist culture, the film ultimately reaffirms the transcendent power of art itself and the deep need we have for it in our lives.

Director’s Statement

Director, Nathaniel Kahn

Director, Nathaniel Kahn

Growing up in a family of creative people, I saw firsthand how difficult it is to live life as an artist. Of course there are great rewards for pursuing one’s artistic passions, but along with those rewards, come demons. Every artist has them, some from without, some from within, but one demon all artists seem to share is money: it’s hell when you don’t have it and, ironically, it can be hell when you do have it. Money explores an artist’s weaknesses—chase it and you can lose your way, disregard it and you can end up with nothing.

Then there is the opaque and bewildering world of the art market. The market has always been a capricious beast; favoring, ignoring, loving, withholding, elevating certain artists one moment only to drop them the next. But in recent years the market has captured the public imagination as it has soared to dizzying heights, with contemporary works going for a hundred million and more and a painting, supposedly by Leonardo da Vinci, fetching $450 million at auction in the fall of 2017. In spite of these newsy items, however, the fact remains that most artists—even great ones—struggle mightily and most of them never generate much money in their lifetimes, if ever. Does money corrupt art? Is it a necessary evil? Is there such a thing as intrinsic value that transcends the world of commerce, or is this just a comforting myth, promulgated by hopeless romantics and idealists?

The relationship between art and money has always fascinated me and I’ve wanted to make a film exploring that relationship since making My Architect over 10 years ago. But, “a film about art and money” is an absurdly broad topic. There could be a million ways of doing it. Where do you possibly start? In this regard, I was extremely lucky to work with producers who allowed me to approach the particular demon of “too many options” the only way I know how to deal with it: start shooting.

This film is very much the record of the odyssey we took through the art world over the period of a couple of years. It evolved organically and it is populated by remarkable characters from all parts of the art world, and by artists with many different trajectories through it. It is a film composed not of interviews, but of scenes—encounters—through which we explored a world vastly more puzzling and contradictory than I ever imagined. In the end, it seems to me the art world holds a much-needed mirror up to our contemporary society, allowing us to glimpse ourselves for a moment and to question where we are going as individuals and as a civilization.

If there’s one thing I’d like audiences to take from The Price of Everything, it’s to open their eyes to seeing art again on their own terms. The people in the film taught me to do that, each in their own way, and I am very grateful to them for it. They also taught me, whether they intended to or not, that in spite of what the market may say, there actually is very little intrinsic connection between value and price. The idealist and hopeless romantic in me believes that now, more than ever, there really is something in art that transcends money, that twists free of commerce and that, at its best, points the way towards some kind of enlightenment. Most artists pay a high personal price for what they do, but they are bringing things into being that we human beings cannot do without.

– Nathaniel Kahn

Using the Screening Guide

This Screening Guide is a resource to engage audiences with the documentary film The Price of Everything and to spark informed and thoughtful discussions. General audiences, youth and university students, educational institutions, and professionals  working to support working artists and organizations will have ready access to discussion questions and supporting content to delve deeper into conversations on the art world and the part of the market featured in the film, its overall sustainability, and how this sector of the art community affects contemporary working artists.

Visit the website to learn more about bringing the film to your community.

Hosting a Screening Event

The Price of Everything offers numerous opportunities to partner with community organizations and leverage the film for engagement and connection. Here are recommended steps for planning a successful screening event.

Consider hosting a panel discussion. A post-screening panel enables you to invite multiple expert perspectives into the room, such as working artists, museum curators, gallerists, educators or other professionals working in arts organizations, to share their perspectives and experiences creating art and/or working to support artists.  In the Post-Screening Discussion section, this guide includes suggestions for other ways to engage viewing audiences in dialogue after the film.

Planning an Event

Six weeks to two months prior

  • Brainstorm and prioritize a list of possible community partners to support outreach

  • Set a time, date and location

  • Identify your guest list, secure community partners

  • Decide on the format for your screening and post-screening event
    (e.g. Will you have a panel and/or organize another engagement activity? If you are planning a panel, identify and invite appropriate panel members.)

One Month Prior

  • Send out invitation with time, date, location and description of the film and the post-screening event

  •  Confirm logistics with partners and other invited guests

Day Before

  • Test all a/v equipment

  • Copy and assemble any discussion materials or promotional handouts

Day of Screening

  • Arrive at least an hour prior. This allows for enough time if you need to set up the room, test the a/v equipment, greet guests and panelists, and review your agenda.

Best Practices for Facilitating Dialogue

Watch the film beforehand. This will both help you tailor the event to your audience and help you anticipate questions and responses that might come up during the post-screening discussion.

Be knowledgeable. Reading this guide, watching the film, and exploring the recommended resources will help you be more fluent and confident to lead a community discussion.  You do not need to be an artist or art historian to facilitate a screening event with The Price of Everything, but it is helpful to invite artists, organizations and others who support culture and art in your community-- especially if you are hosting a post-screening discussion.

Set the tone and encourage multiple perspectives and open discussion. In order to promote dialogue, be clear about your role as a neutral facilitator during the discussions. It is often helpful to share your expectations about being in a community where respectful civic dialogue is fostered. This entails actively listening to multiple perspectives and being open to learning from another’s point of view. Most importantly, remember that your role is to set a tone and monitor the dynamic to ensure that all participants feel comfortable engaging in a rich discussion. 

Be thoughtful with your language. For viewers who are new to the topics covered in The Price of Everything, it may be helpful to remind audiences of general parameters for engaging in respectful dialogue. For example, avoiding generalizations, using “I” to explain a point, and avoiding interrupting while another is speaking.

Be culturally aware and sensitive. The Price of Everything is a film touching many audiences and community issues such as: who has access to art; economic and cultural privilege; gender and inclusion; and the role of art in a democracy. It is very important to have working artists in the audience who are comfortable and open to sharing their experience as an artist today, who or what are their support systems and how they thrive and survive as an artist.


Key Terms

It may be helpful to open your event by ensuring your group has some shared understanding of the terms in the film and in this guide. The following key terms may be helpful to print and distribute as a glossary, or to walk through together as a group as a point of discussion prior to screening the film. Additionally, Appendix I includes brief biographies each person appearing in the film for easy reference.

Art: The subject of this film is visual art by living artists. For the purpose of this guide and discussion, we will assume the word “art” refers to visual art, rather than music, theater or other kinds of artistic expression.

Primary Market: In the world of visual art, “primary market” refers to the first time a work of visual art is introduced for sale, whether through a gallery or other kind of exhibition. The seller and the artist work together to establish the appropriate price point for the piece.

Secondary Market: A work of art enters the secondary market when the original purchaser, such as a collector, curator or auction house, chooses to sell the piece.

Setting the Context

Especially for audiences who are new to the world of visual art, it may be helpful to give some context to the film’s topic by reading the film synopsis or another introduction appropriate to your event’s goals and purpose.

For example, visual art is at the same time a human expression of creativity and the object of an enormous, diverse and growing marketplace. An report on the 2017 Art Market estimates that the total global market for fine art is approximately $14.9MM. In his introductory editorial to that report, founder Thierry Ehrman says, “In 2017, Artprice celebrated its 20th anniversary: twenty years during which the global art market has been metamorphosed by the emergence and subsequent consolidation of China’s art market, but also by the globalization of the market’s networks, a diversification of the offer, a massive acceleration in the speed of news diffusion and its ease of access, and the increasing fluidity of transactions--amongst other phenomena.”

The Price of Everything represents multiple points of view on how artists, dealers, gallerists, auction houses, collectors and others interact with one another and with the market, from art’s inception and creation through its resale. The film is not intended to support one point of view or another, but rather to present a world with interwoven characters and perspectives. It is likely you will agree and disagree with various people and statements, and during the discussion we will have the opportunity to explore those different reactions.

Discussion Prompts

Audiences will come to The Price of Everything from diverse communities and with a range of personal and professional experience in the art world, including as working artists.

Pre-screening questions can help set expectations for your group about what to look for during the screening, and what to anticipate for the discussion following:

  • How do you define art?

  • What makes art ‘good’?

  • What makes art ‘valuable’?

  • To whom does art belong?

  • What is your view on the role artists play in communities, and in the economy?


After screening the film, offer the audience a few minutes to sit with their responses to the film. It may be helpful to offer paper and pen for people to write down particular quotes, scenes or characters who stood out to them.

1. General Discussion Questions

  • Are there particular moments, quotes or characters in the film that stood out to you or elicited a strong response? What were they and why did they stand out?

  • What ideas or information in the film were new or surprising to you?

  • Think back to our pre-dialogue discussion. Did watching the film influence your ideas about “What is art?” or “What makes art valuable?” If so, how did your thoughts change?

  • The film offers a perspective into a particular part of the art market. What kinds of art or artists are not represented in this film? How do you think they relate to what you saw?

Discussion Questions for Art World Audiences

  • Was there a particular character or point of view in the film with whom you identify? What does that person or perspective mean to you?

  • What artists, or aspects of creating and selling art were not represented in the film?

  • How do the characters and themes of the film apply to other parts of the art world?

  • Whatever your role in the art world, how does this film resonate with your own experience?

  • In what ways might this film influence how you teach/create/represent art?

  • If this film were the first in a series of films about the art world, what do you think the next chapter might be?

2. Discussion Forum: Points of View on the Market

The Price of Everything weaves together a range of perspectives and experiences from the contemporary art world that may be controversial to some while reaffirming to others.  These responses are all welcome; they reveal our passion and need for art and its ability to move, inform, provoke and compel each of us. And yet, the high stakes and the amount of money involved in the contemporary art market attract a different kind of passion—one that creates a tension between the intrinsic value of art and the monetary value that has been assigned to it.

To encourage conversation, the “Points of View” section is a curated collection of quotes from the film that capture a variety of ideas and opinions from the points of view of different “players” in the art world: artists, curators, critics and educators, museums, dealers, and collectors. You may elect to read through the sections one at a time and engage with the suggested discussion questions or select quotes from multiple sections to contrast and compare.

If you are screening the film in an educational setting, consider organizing the viewers into small groups and encourage them to work through the sections and questions together. Time permitting, ask the groups to share out a summary of their discussions as a closing.

POV: Artists on the Art Market

“...people say that all the time to living artists, ‘Oh, man, you know, you're doing too much.’ But you know, if you think about a guy whose work you really like, you don’t think, ‘wouldn't it have been great had Monet done like 3,000 less paintings.., or Picasso had done 500 less.’ … You don't have to sell everything you create. It's not about that. It's just about making sure that you never sort of deprive yourself of an inspiration as an artist.”

–  George Condo, Artist

“I think it’s very heartening to know that the work is connecting the way it does. Where the anxiety comes in, it’s saying ‘It’s scary I’m getting all this attention’, it’s ‘How do I keep evolving this work? How do I keep changing it? How do I not stagnate?’ And especially when you feel like, ‘Ooh, I've stumbled onto something pretty cushy. I can just cruise and ride this out…’”

–  Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Artist

“I don’t care if they buy them—I just needed to make them. And my gallery would like it if I made much more sellable things...I've really never made any money until recently, but I always got by. If you have something to say, it will be seen. You just might not be alive. That's the sucky part. You might be old or dead, and if you're female, you're bound to be old or dead.”

– Marilyn Minter, Artist     

“Art and money have no intrinsic hookup at all. It's not like sports where your batting average is your batting average. You know, that's - that's the bottom line. You know, and they tried to make it much like that. Like, the best artist is the most expensive artist, same thing.”

– Larry Poons, Artist

Suggested Discussion Questions

  • The artists quoted in the film have varying opinions on whether they should make art they believe will sell, regardless of whether that is the art they want to make. Is there something problematic about art that is created to sell? Why or why not?

  • Several of the artists in the film have careers with dramatic trajectories. For example, Larry Poons gets a second wind in the marketplace, Jeff Koons is “in the lobby,” and Njideka experiences a meteoric rise. What was your response to these changes? How do you think the anticipation of their reception in the marketplace does or does not influence their work and their careers?

  • The majority of working artists do not sell their work in the part of the art market represented in the film. In what ways do you think those artists are or are not influenced by this part of the marketplace?

  • Do you believe commercially successful artists have a responsibility to give back to the art world, especially to support emerging artists? If so, what would you like to see them do?

  • In what ways do the high prices we see at auction in the film harm artists? What might be done to protect the interests of artists?

POV: Curators, Critics, and Educators on the Art Market

Curators, critics and educators all relate to the art market in different ways than artists, and different ways than those who are directly involved in buying and selling art. They have a unique role in that their work interprets art for the larger society. In The Price of Everything, several characters in these roles describe their views of the art market.

“Someone said to me once, the work of art is not the artist, but the artist is the work of art. And that's a very mystical saying. But what I think that means is, only Rembrandt could've made this picture (referring to Rembrandt’s Self Portrait, 1958 hanging in the Frick Collection, New York). This is an aged artist who's showing us his flesh and his worldly scars and beatings he's taken — not just as a person, but as an artist. It makes you think about life in the raw. And I think that paintings, when they're at their greatest, are making demands on us, and it's easier for us to just walk away. Can you imagine what it would be like to have this in one’s house, and how...irradiated one would feel as one sat down for breakfast with the sports page and Special K? You know, that would just be such an overpowering sacred presence.”

– Alexander Nemerov, Art Historian

“There is no golden age without gold. So, if you didn't have a hundred times more collectors than existed in the '70s, you wouldn't have a thousand times more artists making art. And, of course it's a bubble. Bubbles make beautiful things. And, let's just try to keep it floating. Don't burst it.”

– Paul Schimmel, Curator

 “Larry [Poons] has been living on the edge for I don't know how long. Nothing's happening. Nothing's happening. And all of a sudden, people are looking for his paintings. And it's kind of weird because you know they do a calculation. It's sick. And the calculation is, ‘Who's the most undervalued painter?’  Because it's - it's a stock market calculation. It's a completely perverse and upside-down art world. … And that is what contemporary art has become. It is a luxury brand.”

– Barbara Rose, Art Historian

Suggested Discussion Questions:

  • How would you describe the views each of these quotes represents about the complexity of the relationship between art and the art market?

  • What statement(s) do you strongly agree with and which do you have a strong reaction against?

  • If you were (or are) an art educator, how does understanding the market figure in to how you teach art to students? If you were to show this film to a class, how would you place the subjects within the larger art world?

POV: Museums and the Art Market

For many people who cannot afford to participate in the part of the art market that is represented in The Price of Everything, museums are one way they can see and enjoy contemporary visual art. And yet in the film, there are varying perspectives on the role of museums.

“I would prefer to see it in a museum, then I'm immediately happy. Not in a private collection. Yeah, museums, they are in a special sense so democratic.”

– Gerhard Richter, Artist  

“I mean, museums are great. We love them. . . but I mean, if they have too many (works of art), they'll never come upstairs and see the light of day. So, then it's like a cemetery. Why do you want your things in a cemetery?! They're buried underground somewhere.”

– Amy Cappellazzo, Chairman, Global Fine Arts, Sotheby’s

“. . .[Museums] are, for lack of a better word, the gatekeepers of culture to some extent. I mean, you walk into - you - once you cross that threshold of the door, you're walking in, and in your mind you're thinking, these are works that matter, not just for our generation, but for future generations. So, maybe things happen, and I fall out of favor in a number of years. It'll go into storage, but someday, maybe in 50 years, maybe in 70, maybe in 150, it could come out. It doesn't just vanish.”

– Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Artist

Suggested Discussion Questions

  • What role do art museums ideally have for a community and a culture?

  • What if any ways can you imagine today’s art market may impact that ideal role? 

  • When Amy Cappellazzo describes a museum as a “cemetery,” what do you think she means? How would you respond to this statement if you were speaking to her?

  • What were your thoughts about the gift given to the Art Institute of Chicago at the end of the film, and the relationship between that gift and the film’s narrative threads regarding art and the market?

POV: Dealers on the Art Market

“In the end of the last century, we sat around at Christie’s trying to think about what the hell we were going to do next, because frankly, supply of master pictures wasn't just limited, it was diminishing. Almost all our markets and all our businesses were getting smaller. With new collectors coming into the market trying to build collections - younger people, enriched beyond imagination, were the first for new in the now, where were they going to go?

– Ed Dolman, Phillips Auction House

“The real estate people started thinking of Jeff Koons as lobby art.”

– Stefan Edlis, Collector

“That was a kiss of death. . . It’s gonna hurt him. Lobby art. Context is really key. Like if you see it in the lobby, it just kind of disappears. And then you never get out of the lobby once you’re in there.”

– Amy Cappellazzo, Chairman, Global Fine Arts, Sotheby’s

“Artists shouldn't come to art fairs. Or, they should, but they don't. . . Up in the higher reaches of the treetops is a different ecosystem, where art absolutely is an asset class. That's essentially what the auctions have become. A trading house for assets.”

– Gavin Brown, Art Dealer

Suggested Discussion Questions

  • What reflections about the “value” of art did you hear from the art dealers in the film? Did sentiments lean more towards art as an investment or art as a cultural touchstone to preserve?

  • While there are many well-known figures in The Price of Everything, there are also many people in the background who support the collectors, auctions, art fairs, and art exhibitions featured in the film. Some of the people in those support roles are themselves artists. Discuss your observations about the relationship in the film between those who make art and those who sell it. What do you imagine it’s like to be an artist whose ‘day job’ is working with the auction houses, galleries and collectors? 

  • Are there important historical distinctions to discuss when comparing how art is bought and sold today with, for example, how it was supported by art patrons in the past?

POV: Collectors on the Art Market

Art collectors are people who purchase art. The collectors in The Price of Everything have enormous assets, as well as a very privileged degree of access to the art world and market. And yet, theoretically, anyone can participate in the art market.

“To be an effective collector, deep down, you have to be shallow. You have to be a decorator. You want this thing to work with the rugs, you want it to work with the furniture, and I notice different styles of collecting. There is the collector that is the wolf in sheep's clothing, and then there's the sheep in wolf's clothing, and everybody has their own style.”

– Stefan Edlis, Art Collector

“Recently, I sold some things, and now I have a little excess, and I’d like to take that excess and buy this, (a painting by Njideka Akunyili Crosby) very, very much. ...  I think the gallery is nervous. They're concerned. Because there's 12 people who want it. And once you're playing with sharks, it's just--it's a whole different ball game. You know what they say about sharks, that they (sharks) have to keep moving or they die, right? And I'm not gonna play that game because I don't wanna really be a part of the, kind of, jerk who goes so high and kind of out-prices the artist, and contributes potentially to a crash-and-burn situation for that artist.”

– Holly Peterson, Art Collector

“Art is different and, uh, we all have different tastes, and now it's, of course, it's all about conceptual artists, so this is conceptual art. And… sometimes it's provocative, sometimes it's beautiful, sometimes it's super dark. A few of my friends have this piece, and of course in Russian tradition, if a few people have it, everyone else must have it!  So, it's (a) very, very, popular piece.”

– Inga Rubenstein, Art Collector

“Ownership is involvement. Ownership is…. acquisition is involvement. And with art, it's probably the most exciting kind of involvement. Of course, owning a nice share of IBM is an involvement, too.”

– Robert Scull, Art Collector

Suggested Discussion Topics

  • Have you ever been moved to buy a work of contemporary art? Why did you buy it? What does it mean to you to “own” a piece of visual art?

  • What reflections about the “value” of art did you hear from collectors in the film? Was there something you heard that resonated with you? Offended you? That made you think about art in a new way?

  • In what way do you think everyone can participate in the art market?

  • The film did not take on the impact of online opportunities to exhibit and purchase contemporary art. What role do you think the internet plays in terms of opportunity and access for collectors and for artists? 

POV: Filmmaking Behind The Price of Everything

In his Director’s Statement Nathaniel Kahn writes, “The Price of Everything demystifies the rarefied world of contemporary art, [taking us] deep into a hidden world where nothing is what it seems…and we come to understand how…this part of the art market actually works and confront the challenges of being an artist in the current environment…”  Critics have hailed the film as consummately entertaining while at the same time striking a nerve about the relationship between art, price and value in our culture. This twofold success can be understood as a tribute to the talent and skills of the filmmaking team: Kahn’s directorial vision and selection of narratives and characters to reflect it,  shaped and interpreted by skilled cinematography, editing, use of archival footage, sound design, and music into an immersive, enjoyable viewing experience that leaves audiences with profound questions about the roles art, art-making, and artists themselves have in our lives and communities. The filmmaking team has described dimensions of that process:

“For the verite cameraman, empathy and trust are as vital as any other technical tool, if not more so. They enable the most intimate moments to be captured in such a way that viewers can appreciate them viscerally.”

Bob Richman, Cinematographer.

“…I’ve wanted to make a film about [the relationship between art and money] since making My Architect over ten years ago. But, ‘a film about art and money’ is an absurdly broad topic. There could be a million ways of doing it. Where do you possibly start?’”

Nathaniel Kahn, Director

“Director Nathaniel Kahn and I employed three basic modes of filming: standard sit-down interviews, hand-held verite and a hybrid verite interview style that he and I have honed to his particular style of filmmaking…”

Bob Richman, Cinematographer

“The interplay between history, archival material and our contemporary characters is crucial to the success and credibility of this film.”

Judith Aley, Archival Producer

“Whether a meteorically successful young artist, a billionaire collector and philanthropist, or a hotshot dealer in a major auction house—all offer quirks, surprises, and ambiguities that make them not only fascinating subjects, but eminently relatable.” 

Sabine Krayenbuhl, Editor

“[In the scene] featuring Jean-Michel Basquiat walking down the street outside the Guggenheim…. I used a contemporary foley recording synchronized footsteps….to evoke a certain lonely feeling accentuating Basquiat’s isolation…and mixed in new sound such as the taxi that drives by….to give the scene more sonic depth and richness of character.”

Matthew Iadarola, Re-Recording Mixer

“…The raw footage proved sufficiently strong and contrasting that an internal dialogue could be created without narration. The film’s point of view was reinforced through transitions and cross-cuts (in addition to) the music choices…  that additionally convey mood and drama.”

Sabine Krayenbuhl, Editor

“…Near  the end of the film Larry Poons is…playing guitar and singing Hank Williams’ “A Picture from Life’s Other Side” …and then the film cuts to Poons at a later date walking with his wife…Mixing in an orchestral accompaniment made the discontinuous time change transparent.”

Matthew Iadarola, Re-Recording Mixer

Suggested Discussion Topics

  • Describe a scene you found particularly interesting, and the ways you think the cinematographic style(s) contributed to it?

  • This film is in part about the process of artists making art. Were there scenes that particularly illuminated this process for you—and if so, what filmic aspects enabled such a subtle and non-verbal process to succeed as audience experience?

  • Many major characters, such as Amy Cappellazzo, Simon dePury, and Stefan Edlis, have lives at an extreme remove from those of most of us—for numerous reasons. Did you find them relatable—and if so, why?

  • What were some moments illustrative of editor Krayenbuhl’s description of the techniques for moving the story forward without narration— through the transitions, cross-cuts, specific changes in music, etc.?

  • Can you describe a scene that reflects archival producer Judith Aley’s statement about the crucial role history, archival material and the contemporary characters play in the film succeeding?

  • Re-recording mixer Matthew Iadarola has described using music as a kind of “connective tissue” to handle non-linear time transitions. What, in addition to the scene Larry Poons describes, might be an example of this technique?

  • Did these filmmaking techniques succeed for you in creating a documentary that succeeded both as audience experience and instigator of ideas and questions about today’s art market, the role of artists in our communities, and related issues?

POV: Lawyers on the Art Market

[This section was prepared by the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts of Massachusetts, a program of the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston, with the help of its 2019 summer legal interns, Jennifer Farrell and Sarah Krosnick.]

The Price of Everything provides a glimpse into the art market’s intricate ecosystem—and through this lens, into the areas of law and specific laws that govern different aspects of that system. Awareness of these is very relevant to discussions of the film, as it provides one of the important bridges between this specific story and larger societal issues it reflects.

The primary areas of law relevant to this film are Trusts and Estates; Contracts; Copyright & Moral Rights; and Tax. These are important in varying degrees to art collectors, art advisors, museums and other arts nonprofits in navigating the art market —and most especially, to artists themselves in navigating the business aspects of their creative practice and professional lives. Definitions of these areas are provided below, followed by film quotes that relate to one or more of them. A number of topics for discussion follow these quotes. 


A contract is a representation of an agreement between parties. A contract can exist in various shapes and forms and, with some exceptions, does not require a formal piece of writing or specific language. Even oral agreements may be legally enforceable. Pre-existing relationships often inform the nature, content, and interpretation of a contractual agreement. Licensing agreements, contracts with a gallery, dealers working on behalf of an artists, or contracting the commission of a piece of art are all examples of contracts that artists handle on a regular basis.

Copyright & Moral Rights:

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), intellectual property (IP) refers to “creations of the mind.” Copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets are all different mechanisms to protect different aspects of one’s creation. Examples of a “creation” vary from a musical composition to a sketch on a piece of paper to a finished literary work sent to a publisher.

Copyright law is a category of IP law and is extremely important to artists. A copyright is a bundle of rights that the artist owns once they produce an original work of art that is “fixed in any tangible medium of expression,” or in other words, committed to some perceivable, reproducible form. While a copyright is established upon creation of the work, artists may register their copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Traditionally, copyright lasts for the duration of the artist’s lifetime plus an additional seventy years after their death

An extension of copyright law includes “moral rights,” which are nationally governed by The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), and locally by state law. Moral rights are the rights of the artist to protect the physical integrity of their work from “distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation.”

Trusts, Estates, and Legacy Planning:

Trust and estate law governs what happens to property interests upon the death or mental incapacity of the owner. Property interests can include real property (a parcel of land or a house), personal property (a car), and intangible property (copyright).

When a person dies “intestate,” or without a will, state probate law governs how the decedent’s property will distributed. From the perspective of the artist, estate planning allows the artist and those appointed by the artist to account for the artist’s assets and plan for what will happen to those assets upon the artist’s death or incapacity. An artist may also consider who will inherit the copyrights to their work—recall that copyright typically lasts for nearly two lifetimes, the life of the author plus seventy years.

Similar to artists, buyers and collectors may have an interest in who would receive their art collection in the event of their death or incapacity. Sometimes collectors will donate or bequeath their collections to an institution such as a museum.

“…..No grandkids….”

- Stefan Edlis

 “For Christ’s sake, you didn’t even send me flowers!”

- Robert Rauschenberg (after the Scull auction)

“The first time I saw candle figures, I said,‘ This is stupid, you know, why would you destroy your own art?’“

- Stefan Edlis

“ Only Rembrandt could make this…”

- Alexander Nemerov


- Stefan Edlis

“I have 40 [George] Condos”

- Stefan Edlis

“Auctions make me sick, only because what I’m doing in those showrooms is saying good-bye for the rest of my life.”

- Jerry Saltz

“I traded…You know, some people think that Uncle Sam is not getting his cut…As long as the laws are there to do it, it’s a good way to build a collection,”

- Stefan Edlis

“Museums. Oh I mean, museums are great. We love them. But they’re also…a cemetery.”

- Amy Cappellazzo

“I’m all washed up in this town.”

- Jean-Michel Basquiat

“You might be old or dead. If you’re a female, you’re bound to be old. Or dead.”

- Marilyn Minter

Suggested Discussion Topics

  • Do you think artists receive reasonable legal protection and socioeconomic support in their practice?  If not, why?

  • Should there be laws to ensure that artists get royalties for future sales of their work?

  • How do think an artist’s right to protect and preserve her work should be balanced against that of an individual who has purchased the work to significantly alter— or even destroy it?

  • Many factors can be  involved in a museum’s decision to exhibit the work of a particular artist—including curatorial judgment about an artist’s aesthetic significance; adherence to its obligations as a public institution to engage all sectors of the museumgoing constituency in its programming; and donor-stipulated conditions for giving a particular work to a museum. Which factors do you think are more and less valid in making these decisions?

  • Can an artist claim she is being discriminated against by a gallery if the gallery will not show her work? What about a museum or public institution that exhibits art to the public? 

  • Should there be some sort of regulation or anti-monopoly policy regarding the proportion of an artist’s work that can be purchased by a single buyer—whether at auction, through galleries, or through private art advisors?

  • What considerations should affect an artist’s estate planning as regards her body of work? As a corollary, what considerations should affect a collector’s estate planning?

  • What, if any, do you think are reasonable stipulations a collector should be able to make in a legal agreement to donate work to a public institution?

  • What legal considerations may be specifically relevant for video artists and collectors of video art?

3. A Closer Look

In The Price of Everything director Nathaniel Kahn asks many compelling and provocative questions, and receives equally compelling and provocative responses. Using the sampling of conversations included in this section, pose the same questions he asked during his interviews to your viewing audience, and ask them to respond.

Consider saving the responses from the film until the end of the discussion to elicit more open answers from your group.

Question: “What makes a Gerhard Richter so valuable and, say, a Larry Poons not so valuable? Who decides?”

Response: “The simple answer would be supply and demand. The real answer is, I think - I don't know how to put this elegantly - financial interests of certain parties.”

– Serge Trioche, Chairman, Art Runners

Question: “How has it [the art market] changed?

Response: “They are like Siamese twins, money and art right now, you cannot separate them. And so the purpose of art has morphed, become perverted or mutated, and I think art itself is having a hard time finding its way out of this situation. Listen, I'm in the middle of it, and I'm busy making money myself, so I'm not criticizing. I'm just observing my own environment. I think we are…. without doubt, everybody knows it….we’re careening toward some edge or some end.”

– Gavin Brown, Art Dealer

Question: “So, does it matter that you don't physically touch the canvas with a brush?” (asking Jeff Koons about his process of creation using assistants).

Response: “Well, I am, in a way, physically doing it but it's physically through all these systems… In the end of the day, that mark is as if I would sit here and do it myself. Now, if I would do this, the only thing that I'd be able to accomplish next year would be just creating this (one) painting. I wouldn't be able to do anything else.”

 – Jeff Koons, Artist

On “The Price of Everything”

Nathaniel Khan chose to open the film with an opening statement from auctioneer Simon de Pury:

“Art and money have always gone hand-in-hand. It's very important for good art to be expensive. You only protect things that are valuable. If something has no financial value, people don't care. They will not give it the necessary protection. The only way to make sure that cultural artifacts survive is for them to have a commercial value.”

Later in the film we listen to a conversation between director Nathaniel Kahn and art collector Stefan Edlis.

Stefan Edlis: “There it is, $125,000. The surface is to die for because it has everything. It has spritzing. It has all the collage stuff, very rich. I bought it for $10 million.

Nathaniel Kahn: For $10 million in '97?

Edlis: Yeah.

Kahn: What would this piece be worth now?

Edlis: $100 million.

Kahn: Seems crazy amount of money.

Edlis: Seems like a crazy amount of money.

Kahn: Do you think it's worth it?

Edlis: Well, let's see. The stretcher is probably worth $80, and we have some high-quality canvas. I don't know about the cost of the paints. There's a lot of people that know the price of everything and the value of nothing. So, apply that.

Discussion Questions:

  • After seeing the film and re-reading de Pury’s opening statement, what would you say this statement foreshadows?

  • Do you agree with de Pury’s assessment that the only way to ensure that cultural artifacts have value is for them to be assigned a commercial value?

  • Respond to the difference Stefan Edlis refers to between “value” and “price.” 

  • Why do you think Nathaniel Kahn chose to coin a portion of Edlis’ statement, “…some people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing…”  as the title of his documentary?

4. Resources for Artists to Survive and Thrive

The Price of Everything follows the stories of a small number of well-known artists. Even allowing for their different experiences with the market, these characters are not intended to be representative of most working artists. Their views about the impact of market forces on creative process intersect, however, with increasingly widespread concerns that as a culture, we may be making it too difficult for most working artists to sustain themselves through their creative work. These concerns have inspired a range of interconnected initiatives and materials— including online professional development resources, workshops, literature, and programs sponsored by arts and business councils in many cities. The overriding goal of this burgeoning area of activity is to help artists navigate today’s complex and challenging market and work towards self-defined artistic and personal goals. The larger goal of these initiatives is to raise the value and potential impact of artists in every community.

Additional Resources:

Artists Thrive is a national nonprofit working to nurture communities in which artists can thrive, offering resources online and in person at their annual summer.

Creative Capital is a New York-based nonprofit offering funding opportunities, counsel and career development services, including financial literacy.

Americans for the Arts provides tools, research and resources to support advocacy for arts organizations and artists throughout the United States.


Creation of this viewer guide was made possible through a grant from the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation. 
Guide produced by Blueshift Education, LLC.