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article imageNY Artist Successfully Thwarts Market Forces

By Tom Johansmeyer     Jul 10, 2008 in Entertainment
Artist Nelson Diaz is making art affordable. For the past three weeks, he has been auctioning his work on eBay with starting bids of $1. Nearly half-way through his “grand experiment,” Diaz is happy with the results.
By the art market’s standards, Diaz is giving away his livelihood. An accomplished painter, with a studio in New York’s SoHo district, Diaz has spent more than 20 years translating two-dimensional images into four-dimensional paintings with the help of advanced calculus and non-Euclidean geometry. Diaz has built a substantial reputation; his work is held in The New York Academy of Art and The Eileen Guggenheim Collection. He has been awarded the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation prize and The Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation grant for painting. And if that’s not enough, the waiting list for new work stretches years into the future.
So what drives an artist to sell for hundreds pieces that normally would go for thousands?
Diaz wants something. Unlike most accomplished artists, he seeks to propagate the aesthetic rather than simply to feed the market. Thus, he is in the process of auctioning a series of smaller paintings on eBay and with starting bids of only $1. If his grand experiment is successful, he said at the beginning, none would move for more than $300.
"Look, I want to put art in the hands of people who will enjoy it,” he explains. “I’m tired of seeing art treated as a commodity. I want to resurrect the aesthetic.”
Diaz came up with the idea for the $1 auctions back in May, when a triptych by Francis Bacon, a British master who has had a substantial influence on Diaz, sold at auction for $86 million. Diaz, who had met Bacon in London in 1985, knew that he would have been displeased.
Nelson Diaz  Self-Portrait with Pipe #5
Nelson Diaz, Self-Portrait with Pipe #5
Nelson Diaz
“When I met Bacon,” Diaz recalls, “he said, ‘It is amazing that people buy my work. It is stupid. They only buy it because the market tells them it's worth something. But, in reality, to me, they're totally worthless.’” That was about prices in the mid-1980s. “I can’t imagine what he’d say now,” Diaz continues, “especially about pieces that he didn’t even like.”
On June 15, 2008, Diaz put the first of a 10-painting series, Self-Portrait with Pipe, 2008, on eBay. A last-minute bidding war drove the price up to $745. Since then, three more paintings have been auctioned via eBay, selling at $202.50, $203.50 and $112.50. Bidding on the fifth has been aggressive, reaching $102.50 within the first 24 hours and now sitting at more than $350. The auction has reached a worldwide audience, with winners coming from New York, Michigan and Switzerland.
“It’s working,” Diaz says, “it’s definitely working.” In a world of rapidly climbing art prices, he wants to bring the art market back to where it belongs. “Art should be in the hands of people who will love it,” he insists, “more than it does in the hands of people who will trade it like soybeans.”
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