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Shopping on a budget

Post #1058 • September 20, 2007, 7:21 AM

Another strategy for an optimal museum visit, from Discover Your Inner Economist by Tyler Cowen.

2. Pretend we are shopping for pictures on a budget.

We are probably better trained at shopping than looking at pictures. So we might do some basic research on prices (e.g., surf the Internet or visit an auction house). How might $20 million be spent at the Met?

Or how about $500,000? The smaller budget forces us out of the market for major paintings and into niche areas. This exercise will again focus our attention, force us to clarify our intuitions, and improve the quality of our viewing. The shopping question puts the Me Factor, albeit unobtrusively, back at the center of the experience.

Viewing art at an auction house is useful for learning about prices. In New York City, November and May are usually the best times for advance viewings of auction material. But local auction houses hold viewings throughout the year. Typically the quality of the selection is worse than at a pre-culled art museum. Nonetheless it often makes for a superior viewing experience, if only because of the prices and the shopping and browsing mentality that the setting induces.

The strategy would probably work better at the auction house than the museum, although it would have likely improved Holland Cotter's experience down at the Met when he saw The Age of Rembrandt.




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