With contemporary art having become an important investment vehicle for the superwealthy—a profitable and fun place for the rich to park their money—collectors are no longer necessarily connoisseurs. Gouzer is disdainful of the novice client who shows no interest in an artist’s catalogue raisonné, and who wants to know only if the piece he is buying is considered to be in the top ten of the artist’s works. “It’s very much an Instagram way of buying,” he grumbled to me this spring. “You see an image, and you make a decision.” Yet his approach could not be better calculated to appeal to such consumers. Last November, a colleague at Christie’s brought to auction a Modigliani painting of a voluptuous woman, “Reclining Nude,” which had a presale estimate of a hundred million dollars. Gouzer posted an image of the painting on Instagram and offered this unscholarly observation: “Difficult to say which you would want more, the painting for a lifetime or the model for a night?”
That evening, we went to George’s, Iowa City’s Qasabji: a dim, narrow bar of perpetual darkness. We met friends who still lived in town and drank and talked late into the night. “I think now, in Syria, we have a very new idea,” Khaled told me. “Now I’m writing my new novel. I have been writing for four years. But now, I will rewrite it, because I feel it is old writing. We have a new time, and new ideas, not just for writing but for the people too. Now we can understand our people. We are talking about this with young writers. What will be the future, I ask. You must be better. Because after the revolution you have new ideas about writing and about all art. We will have new ideas.”
There is a caveat to all of my modelling work, a small detail that I haven’t yet revealed. It is this. What I haven’t mentioned is that I had a fifth model. It was called “ask my wife”. Lovisa Sumpter is a very talented individual. She is an associate professor of mathematics education in Sweden, where we live, and a qualified yoga instructor. She also has a much better record than her husband in football betting. When she was still a student, Lovisa correctly predicted the outcome of every one of the 13 matches in the Swedish Stryktipset. The chance of getting these right by picking randomly is 1 in 3 to the power of 13 (or 1/1,594,323). Although the pay-out for her winning week was relatively small, she remains proud of being one of the few people in Sweden to “get 13 right”.
The art world knows about prices floating ever higher on abstraction and hope. The resonances aren’t completely coincidental. Both venture capitalists and art buyers are in the business of valuing the invaluable. Both stake their reputations on exquisite selection. Both nurture talent before it can support itself. Both have a soft spot for youth, for unbowed ego, for the myth of solitary genius, for the next new thing. Both operate in a world of frustratingly limited information and maddeningly unpredictable success. Both depend on consumer culture while holding themselves superior to it. And both the art market and venture investing have become increasingly winner-take-all games, with more clout to the companies and artists backed by the most powerful dealers or venture capitalists.
I wish I’d known her as a puppy. I picture her small enough to hold in your hand, and she’s with her brothers and sisters; they’re all normal little dogs and then there’s this tiny hunchback. Working at the shelter, I could adopt all the beautiful purebreds if I wanted to; but Quasi shows that you don’t need to be the most perfect-looking animal to be a loving pet. She gets on with all our other animals and cuddles up to one of our cats who likes sleeping with her.
I don’t feel sorry for her. She teaches people tolerance, especially those who initially stare, because they think she’s ugly or they’re afraid; she always wins them over. She’s taught me not to dwell on what’s wrong in life. She’s not self-conscious. She doesn’t look in the mirror and go, “Oh, poor me.” She’s the epitome of happiness.