Art & Culture

Calculating 'The Price of Everything' with Director Nathaniel Kahn

The academy award nominee chats with L’Officiel USA about his latest documentary that explores the convoluted world of high art and its relationship with commerce.
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Let’s face it: contemporary art is certainly not for everyone. So true is this notion that prior to the filming of his newest documentary, The Price of Everything—a deep dive into the secretive and often money-driven world of contemporary art—the style wasn’t even necessarily director Nathaniel Kahn’s favorite either. 

“I entered this world not knowing much about contemporary art, this is art I’m not immediately drawn to,” he said. “But I grew up in a family of artists, so I've always been interested in art and art's relationship to money. It’s a complicated relationship, it's a fraught relationship, it's a complex relationship—but it's the kind of thing that makes for a really good film exploration.

Documenting both the creative processes of contemporary artists along with the cold-hard commercial side of the market, the filmmaker has produced a 360-degree look at the world of contemporary art highlighting perspectives from both industry insiders and also those who were unfairly pushed out. Featuring legendary artists like Larry Poons, Jeff Koons, Marilyn Minter, and Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Price of Everything is a firsthand account of how contemporary art has simultaneously evolved and devolved at the hands of a lone culprit who still remains at large: commerce.

In order to show the complexities of the financial anchoring which keeps the art world from spinning off its axes, Kahn and his team of producers immersed themselves through hours of detailed interviews with influential voices within the artistic realm. 

“In documentaries, it's not just the story, it's also really being able to have access to something which requires a good degree of trust,” said Kahn. “What was great about the producers was they not only knew a lot about the contemporary art world, but also had connections within that world which allowed me to get in and meet people, and to get behind the scenes in areas where traditionally it's really difficult to do.” 

Subjects of the documentary include artist Larry Poons, an 81-year-old creative who saw his professional career grow and diminish as dictated by trends set forth by critics and buyers. Over the course of the film, Kahn explores how Poons’s relationship with the art market has changed since his commercial heyday and how ideas of value can both be informed by the personal and dictated by society. 

“The film is called The Price of Everything, and that's not just the financial price,” Kahn continued. “It's also the human price, and what an artist pays for is their life. It will take everything you have. It took [Larry] as a young man, it continues to consume him as an older man, and he will do it until the day he drops. That's who he is, he's an artist. I felt so lucky to have found Larry and to have had him be willing to go along on the journey with me. That created an arc in the film that goes through the journey of a soul through all of the trials and tribulations of being an artist when you're not being an 'art star.'” 

Through his immersive inquiry of the hotshot art world where one’s star can fall just as fast as it rises, Kahn’s feeling on the contemporary artistic style has been changed by the perspectives and insight he’s heard. 

“The reality is that I went in being much more partial to the old masters, modern art. Not really knowing that much about contemporary art—and being skeptical of some of it—not even responding to a lot of it,” Kahn explained. “After we finished the film, I went upstairs into the gallery at a screening, and I was surrounded by the artists' that were in the film, surrounded by contemporary art, and I was like, ‘Now I'm fascinated by this stuff.’  What that taught me is that my preconceptions about what was good, what was important—the film very much rattled those things and changed those things.” 

Bringing light to this shrouded, niche ecosystem, Kahn believes that the threads of the fine art web extend far beyond that of luxury. While fine art might be the forms hanging in museums at the moment, The Price of Everything reminds us all that at the source, good art is not about money. 

When asked what he hopes his filmy accomplishes, Kahn's answer is simple: to get people to appreciate art, at all levels. “I hope that the film encourages others to go on that journey too because there is a lot to see out there,” he started. “There is great art being made by people on your street, in your neighborhood, in your city, and in countries all over the world, very responsive work that is engaging with our collective moment in ways." 

The Price of Everything arrives in theaters on October 19. 

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