Hay’s Daze: Flipping the orange balloon dog

Wouldn’t you like to have a nice orange balloon dog? Like, one of those dogs that clowns make at parties out of long, twisted balloons. Only, a sculpture, I mean. You could put it in your house and admire it. It would be a lively conversation piece too. Everybody likes balloon dogs, right? Well, I know where there is just such a sculpture. It’s called “Balloon Dog (Orange)” and it’s yours for just north of $58.4 million. That’s MILLION. DOLLARS.

A couple of years ago this orange dog set a record for “the most expensive work of art by a living artist sold at auction”. The artist is American Jeff Koons, who is known for creating brightly colored sculptures that resemble balloons. Only Jeff makes his balloons out of stainless steel and they are “mirror polished with a transparent color coating” and the resulting balloon dogs are ten feet tall and twelve feet long (several meters by several meters), so you have to have a pretty big living room. But if you can afford the Balloon Dog (Orange) I’m guessing you have a pretty big living room.

Is it the color holding you back? No problem, there are four more Koons balloon dogs: blue, yellow, magenta and red. Take your pick, and take out your wallet.

All cynicism aside (really?) I’ve seen photos of the balloon dog in question and the other colored balloon dog sculptures, and I must say they really are unexpectedly beautiful. The balloon colors just “pop” (sorry) and the shape and the gorgeous reflected surface really are quite stunning. I mean, I would pay $58.4 for one. As in fifty eight dollars and forty cents. Totally worth it. I’d put that baby in the back yard where Chicklet the cat could stare at it in wide-eyed confusion after continued attempts to burst it. Endless entertainment.

We all know the art world is a weird world, and doesn’t get any weirder than when money is involved. Some readers may remember an abstract painting called “Voice of Fire”. An American artist named Barnett Newman painted three humongous vertical stripes on a canvas. The center one was red, the two outside ones were blue. The National Gallery of Canada paid $1.8 million for the three stripes back in 1989, whereupon 1.8 million outraged Canadians collectively screamed: “Hey! I’ll paint FOUR stripes for half the price!” Quite the controversy.

These days the most expensive van Goghs and Picassos go for somewhere around a tidy $300 million or so. And the museum dwelling Mona Lisa is currently valued at about $790 million. Are art collectors residing on another planet? One made entirely of dollars??

According to a new book called The Orange Balloon Dog by York University professor of marketing Don Thompson, a lot of the stratospheric moola paid for “priceless” works of art by the super-rich are for the purposes of “flipping” – reselling for a tidy profit. Because they obviously don’t already have quite enough dough.

The Orange Balloon Dog sculpture was purchased by New York collector Jose Mugrabi, who owns over 1,000 Warhol paintings along with his father and brother. Did they proudly place the beautiful Dog in a prominent display where they could bask in its surreal aura and unprecedented value? Nope. It’s in a warehouse in New Jersey awaiting a resale.

But I’m keeping my eye on the Blue one. I’d go as high as 60 for that shiny puppy. 60 Canadian dollars. And I’d only flip it if the cat scratches the heck out of it.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author.

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