Thursday, March 30, 2006

Hmmm...Be Careful What You Ask For, eh?

Like so many other people in the art world who are torn by the impact of the historically hot art market on what gets attention and what doesn't, I've called for, on more than one occassion, a continual focus on means that ensure collectors get to take their time when purchasing work...that they don't get caught up in the speculative aspect of the market and spend tons of cash on works they'll later regret having. And I'm serious about that. I want my friends who are collectors and those who collect from us to build excellent collections and not fashionable ones.

Still, this article in The Art Newspaper today did give me pause. Is the emerging art market cooling off?
The penny has finally dropped. For the last few years, several US museums have competed for the very latest work by the hottest contemporary artists, purchasing at the top end of an intensely speculative market. For example, according to our annual acquisitions survey, in 2002 five museums bought work by German photographer Thomas Struth, who was then enjoying his greatest popularity and highest prices, buoyed by museum exhibitions in Dallas and Cleveland, and at commercial galleries in New York and Germany.

In 2005, the overwhelming majority of museums chose to focus on established, mid-career and post-war artists, such as Ed Ruscha and Jasper Johns, whose artistic reputations are already secured. This trend was very much in evidence at ArtBasel/Miami Beach last December, where a number of dealers noted the shift, as reported in the daily newspaper we published at the fair.
Now this may simply be a reflection of maturing tastes. The conventional wisdom on the street (10th Avenue, if you must know) is that the current market is bustling because an ever-larger group of wealthy Baby Boomers are retiring, folks who now have much more free time and are looking for ways to enrich their lives. Collecting art is a very good way to spend that hard earned cash, in my opinion, but there's a sense that many neophites were buying before they had a good grounding in what's a smart purchase. Perhaps, now, a few years into the feeding frenzy, they're slowing down a bit and going for the artists whose "reputations are already secured."

Which may show itself to be an overcompensation, actually. In my opinion, the trick isn't buying work only by artists who are already in the history books. The trick is to learn 1) what your personal collection is going to be (what it will reflect...what will distinguish it, other than your own superior tastes...that is, its Point of View); 2) what among the works that are available by established artists strengthen that POV; and 3) who among younger emerging artists are doing work that will also strengthen that point of view. In other words, it's about really understanding what it is you're collecting. Having work that's in the history books (current or future) is flattering, I'm sure, but if your collection is a mess, I don't see how it can give you much joy beyond that. One day it's bound to dawn on you that it could have been richer.

OK, so I see I'm rambling to get coffee...anyone else have an opinion about what the shift toward established artists means?

PS: You really owe it to yourself to read this brilliant review by Tyler Green in yesterday's Observer. I'm still digesting what the implications are for what MoMA apparently decided here.


Anonymous said...

Ed Ruscha or Jasper Johns as mid-career artists? I wonder which Art News was referring to as such. In my mind the two are both established artists...

The art market may be hot (or recently was) but in general collectors seem to be very boring (formulaic) in their buying of art. The art market would be much more interesting if collectors were more creative in their buying - or at least bought with their 'stomachs' more.

3/30/2006 09:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how many collectors really have a strong point of view as far as their "vision"? How many just "but to buy" or buy as investment? (I'm asking, I don't know.) If you never have a point of view in the first place (besides what's a tried and true good investment) then they can't really make good decisions or be adventurous in seeking out lesser-known artists, right?

3/30/2006 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

how many collectors really have a strong point of view as far as their "vision"?

Only the good ones. I've talked with or heard a few of them speak, and they're focused like a laser beam. Moreover, younger collectors I know become much happier and get more out of collecting when they begin to go "deep" instead of "wide," as they say. It's the same for artists, I imagine. If you're, for sake of argument, painting an abstraction one day, a photo-realistic still life the next, taking photos the day after, etc., etc., you might be having fun (or simply be Gerard Ricther), but you're not very likely getting the satisfaction (or achieving the depth) that comes from "owning" the vocabulary or themes you're exploring that comes from focussing on something.


3/30/2006 10:22:00 AM  
Anonymous pc said...

I also wonder whether collectors think about 1) directly supporting artists they believe in and 2) participating in (and helping shape) the culture of the moment in general. I don't know how many collectors feel this way, but the socialist in me makes me think about No. 1 and the artist in me makes me think about No. 2. What I have little feeling for is acquisitiveness. For me, if I could buy art, the fun would be to feel like a participant, in the mix and having a ball.

3/30/2006 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger crionna said...

I'm asking, I don't know.

We certainly don't "buy to buy" nor buy as an investment, although I do think that some of our pieces will be salable in the future and, at the very least, should return their costs + inflation.

Basically, though the art market is following the stock market. Hot new artists are the growth stocks of the art world and now it seems that the market is shifting more towards value stocks, er pieces...

3/30/2006 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger crionna said...

I also wonder whether collectors think about 1) directly supporting artists they believe in

I've cobbled together a little post on a similar topic. The money quote that may apply here is: By "directly supporting" I assume that you mean attending (and buying at) open studio events, attending art school shows etc. We haven't done this yet, attended official events that is, but probably will in the future since by now I think we can trust our eyes. 10 years ago, not so much. I think actually purchasing the art is the support we can offer. Perhaps there are others out there that can afford to be a patron and simply pay rent or something in exchange for discounted art or first looks? I don't know.

As far as 2) participating in (and helping shape) the culture of the moment in general. goes, I'm not sure what you mean. Perhaps I am helping shape the cultrue of the moment in general by refusing to pay huge prices for works. In some cases I'd love to, but I can't afford to. Perhaps I am helping shape the moment by buying what I like from an aritst I admire, rather than something just to have a work by that artist. I don't know, I don't think about that aspect of it that much....yet.

3/30/2006 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Good post, Edward, and I find your "maturing tastes" hypothesis agreeable.

Regarding your assertion, in the comments section, that deep excavations are more rewarding than wide ones, I would respectfully disagree. In some respects you're correct - specialization can lead inquisitive minds down rabbit holes unavailable to the generalist - but the more shallow, but wide-ranging excavators are flourishing these days and, given the world's contemporary cultural trends, are bound to multiply. I believe we will see an increasing number of artists bouncing from one medium to the next; conceptual continuity will separate the strong from the weak. Kai Althoff is a recent example that comes to mind (even though I'm not fond of most of his work!).

3/30/2006 02:50:00 PM  
Anonymous w.w. said...

Edward, please tell me what YMMV means. I asked everyone here at the mid-career artist mill but we're stumped.

3/30/2006 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Your Mileage May Vary

used on political blogs to suggest "this is how I've seen it work, but that may just be my own myoptic take on a much more complicated scenario."

Nice post on Crionna's blog, btw.

3/30/2006 03:09:00 PM  
Blogger crionna said...

painting an abstraction one day, a photo-realistic still life the next, taking photos the day after, etc., etc.,

These seem to me to be two different types of changes though. I mean, in the hierarchy of art, oil rules right? So, as long as the painter is still in oils, then moving from abstracts to PR, to landscapes isn't that big of a jump. One of our favorite artists, Terry Miura, did that when he moved from NYC to Sacramento, CA. As HH says though (and so did I on my post on the matter) conceptual continuity will separate the strong from the weak. Terry's concept carries over and so we bought one of his newer works when they came out. Would we have purchased a photograph made by him? Maybe, but A) it'd be a harder sell and B) I wouldn't pay as much for it because, and here's the tiniest bit of collector coming out of me, photographs* are in a different category.

PS. Thanks Ed.

*And maybe photography is a bad choice simply because as an amateur photog I have my own ideas about what it should be and what is good, where I'm much more open to the other arts. So, if Terry went off for pastels? I don't know. I'd probably be OK because it links to painting, and so too charcoals, watercolors, heck, even straight drawings.

3/30/2006 03:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Crionna said, "the market is shifting more towards value stocks, er pieces."

I agree more or less. Not to be pedantic, but the more apt term would be "blue chip" instead of "value". It's what the market calls a "flight to quality." It happens every so often. It's a healthy phenomenon. If we didn't have standards, we wouldn't know how to judge the new art. On occasion we need to remind our senses of the skills of the masters. With time our refreshed eyes will again seek novelty.

3/30/2006 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

I'm skeptical about the "maturing tastes" idea - I'd like to think it's true, but it's probably more a result of the worry that most emerging art won't hold its value.

Seems like after that Ribas article, everyone's asking whether artists are changing what they make because they have no space - i think it's a combination of that and collectors coveting images rather than fleshing out ideas. To me, the issue of possession pollutes everything. I agree with HH that deeper excavations are not necessarily better - though I'm sure that by deeper you didn't necessarily mean myopic - but severly focussed collections of emerging art (art that has not yet gathered real meaning) is yet another way that the power of a few rich collectors will change the course of art history. They might as well pay the publisher to put their stuff directly into the books - it's essentially the same process.

3/30/2006 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Edna, which Ribas article?

Re: possession pollutes everything. Yes. So does desire. But art isn't about enlightenment, it's about getting through the day/night. Possession, wealth, desire, emotional peaks and valleys like ecstasy and melancholy... JMHO, but it's distracting to talk about specific pollutions within the system. Art itself is a playground built on a landfill.

3/31/2006 07:49:00 AM  
Anonymous oriane said...

edna, I also have a problem with possession. Even though I make things (images/objects), I don't have much of a desire to own things myself. Even if I had a lot of money, I don't think I would be a big collector and I find the acquisitiveness gene to be very strange and I have almost a distrust of it. That is certainly a paradox because I make things that I like to sell, and I like it when people buy them...

fisher, interesting conclusion that art is built on a landfill. the art market sure is, but I don't think I would say that about art itself.

3/31/2006 08:01:00 AM  
Blogger Edna said...

I was referring more to the desire to possess - the need to buy art in order to create and support the market is an inevitable factor.

Fisher6000, here's a link to the Ribas article

3/31/2006 11:11:00 AM  
Anonymous ML said...

A couple of related stories:

Working at White Columns and in walks a man to view the Benefit with a list of artists in hand: art purchasing as a form of birdwatching.

Looking at artwork in Chinatown in LA and in walks a man who speaks with the gallery owner, bragging that he buys one piece of every grad student at a prominent local school. When asked what the collector does with his collection as far as storage, the man tells the gallerist that he keeps the work 5 years and if the artist hasn't made it by then, he tosses the work.

3/31/2006 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Edna said...

At least birdwatchers don't capture their prey and make them shit into paper cups that are later sold at auction.

Sorry Edward. You were so positive in your initial post. Did we ruin it for you? How was Nancy's opening?

3/31/2006 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Nancy's opening was very nice. She was looking out for you...sorry if you didn't make it.

I don't think the thread has turned too negative,'s a love-hate relationship, artists and the market...and I think all the opinions expressed here are valid. There are, IMO, some invalid responses to the art market in point

We had someone vandalize the Bill Powhida wall drawing last night, though: next to a point under Plus Ultra's "manifesto" that reads Art is not fashion, someone scrawled "Prove it. Stop Trying to Sell it."

In case that person's reading, I'll note that if you'll cough up the money for the rent here, utilties bills, insurance, alarm system, office and gallery supplies, and cover my own living expenses, as well as those of each of our artists, including their studio rents, and supply costs, then I'll consider your challenge. Otherwise, shut the f*ck up you clueless jerk...and I mean that in the nicest way...

3/31/2006 01:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But, edw, in a way, isn't Powhida's graffiti-style wall drawing almost an invitation to others to add to it, like real grafiti artists do to each other's tags?

3/31/2006 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I thought about that Anonymous...and if the comment had been clever or insightful I'd be more inclined to put out a pen on a string and say "go for it" (with Bill's permission of course), but...

3/31/2006 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Barbaccia said...

Article in this week's (April 3) New York Magazine about the "Art Market Crash".

3/31/2006 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Edna, thanks for the link.

Oriane, I have similar feelings about posession, I understand where you're coming from. To clarify the obtuse playground statement...

Art is doing something positive/redeeming/shocking/thoughtprovoking, etc. with the often lame work of being human. All this dreck--ego, struggle, suffering, mundane existence, the filth and boredom and flotsam that we create--art is a vehicle for making that stuff meaningful.

So yeah, it elevates our existence, provides space for exploration, sometimes it turns bad into good... it's a playground built on a landfill.

The market is a playground built on a landfill for other reasons ; )

3/31/2006 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Joseph, coincidentally I finally posted my observations of the state of the art market.

4/01/2006 12:25:00 AM  
Anonymous oriane said...


interesting landfill metaphor. thanks for clarifying.

total non-sequitur ps: the brooklyn version of the st. patrick's parade is going by my window; brooklyn rocks!

4/01/2006 10:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

are you the oriane who just posted a review on artnet?

4/01/2006 11:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...


4/01/2006 12:22:00 PM  

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