The continuing ascent of the art market
At the end of last year, Georgina Adam, art market editor-at-large of the Art Newspaper, asked whether 2013 would be remembered as being the peak of the art boom or the “beginning of a new world order for art sales”?
Writing in the Financial Times, she reflected on what was another exceptional period of activity, with investors and collectors from all over the world committed to spending spectacular sums of money to secure iconic works of art by some of the greatest artists of all time (with a focus of post-war and contemporary art).
In short, she concluded that there are no indicators that it is about to collapse and, indeed, is likely to enter a new era of prosperity. The New York art dealer Edward Tyler Nahem told Ms Adam that one of the main reasons for this is the growing interest in this market, at the consequence of more traditional ones.
“In sheer defiance of other global economic trends, or perhaps because of such trends, there is an unprecedented flow of money into the art market,” he was quoted as saying at the time. “For some, this could represent a flight of capital from other conceivably more unstable harbours to comfortably park one’s wealth.”
Fast forward to today and, well, Ms Adam’s shrewd assessment has proved correct. The past 12 months have been another outstanding year, with more money being spent on works of art. Moreover, more is being spent on single items, pushing up the value of certain artists and certain works of art.
However, the same concerns are still being aired, with cynics unsure how this level of spending can be sustained. Last November, for example, in New York, art collectors and investors spent $1.66 billion on contemporary art … over a four-day period. Trying to understand what this means is quite the headache.
The chief concern for many is the moral and creative consequences of this, especially for emerging artists who are faced with the challenges of working in an environment that may be full of endless possibilities, but is nevertheless blighted by the heavy shadow of the art market.
“The rapid over-valuation of young artists upsets the way in which new art is absorbed and interpreted,” explained the art adviser Allan Schwartzman, co-founder of Art Agency, Partners, in an interview with the Art Newspaper recently.
“When the market starts making stars out of artists who have never had a solo show, but whose work sells for $600,000 in an evening auction, it becomes very confusing … There is [also] a separation between what the market is saying is interesting and what may well be interesting.”
He argues, for example, that there doesn’t seem to be anything new in the world of art, nothing of revolutionary zeal, no-one with a vision to shift the paradigm of art and how we experience it since Matthew Barney”, the American artist who emerged to huge acclaim in the 1990s for, in particular, his series The Cremaster Cycle.
That fact is doing little to upset the burgeoning art market, with Artprice commenting that it is in “insolently good health”, an apt description if ever there was one and one that can be taken as a positive or a negative.
“The art market is hungry… we have grown from 500,000 collectors after world war two to nearly 70 million today, a figure that includes professional and amateur collectors and enthusiasts at all levels,” said Thierry Ehrmann, founder and chief executive officer of Artprice.com.
2015 is going to be an interesting year.
Cadogan Tate specialises in art transportation, fine art logistics, helping galleries, museums and collectors manage their collections.