Friday, April 04, 2008

Interest-Free Loans to Buy Art

I'm not entirely sure what to make of a proposal made in the French Parliament yet. In response to the news (after an Artprice survey) that France had fallen to 4th place (China replaced them at 3rd) in sales of art, the French government is proposing interest-free loans (up to $10,000) to less wealthy people toward the purchase of art. The idea is designed to entice private individuals who might otherwise think they're not rich enough to start buying art, as well as, obviously, to help younger artists with price points in that range.

From the BBC [via artinfo.com]:

Banks providing the loans will be compensated through tax breaks for corporate art patronage.

Small businesses, too, are to be given greater tax incentives to buy art works and auction houses will be modernised.

An independent study by art market experts Artprice showed France with 6.4% of art sales worldwide in 2007.

China has 7.3%, Britain 29.7% and the US 41.7%, according to the survey.

Figures suggest the French art market is growing at only 13%, compared with 36% globally.

Apparently similar programs have been introduced in Britain and The Netherlands. This description of how the UK's "Own Art" program (which Bill Gusky blogged about last month) is working in Scotland lays out the details, including who's eligible (on both the buying and selling end):
Own Art offers interest free loans (typical 0% APR) of £100 to £2,000, which are repaid in regular instalments, making it easier for people to buy high quality contemporary art and crafts. By encouraging sales in a wide range of visual art and craft including painting, sculpture, photography and ceramics, Own Art aims to encourage new buyers and patrons of contemporary art and develop the visual arts economy through increasing sales, which will benefit both galleries and artists.
The following is a bit eyebrow-raising though:
Galleries are selected by an independent panel which assesses each application based on certain criteria including the quality of work on sale, their professional relationship with artists, the quality of exhibition space and the knowledge and training of staff.
I mean, I can see where that might prevent con artists (if you'll excuse the obvious irony of that term in this context) from opening up a space and raking it in with bogus crap. But then again, who's to decide ultimately what's bogus or crap if not the purchasing public?

The list of galleries participating in this program in London includes some top notch spaces, I must say, but I also noted a good number of obvious omissions, making me wonder whether the program is pointless for some galleries (i.e., they don't have work for sale in that price range) or whether there might be some downside to the program that makes it less interesting for them. Londoners? Can you educate me here?

But back to my originally stated uncertainty about this. I'm not a raging free market nut by any means, and I appreciate that one goal of such programs is to help emerging artists, but there's a little voice in the back of my head saying there's a longer-term side effect of this that will possibly do more harm than good. Also, I'm also not so sure the nationalistic pride component that's driving France to this measure isn't antiquated in the global market.

If nationalism has to play a role (because that's what politicians do), then rather than put energies into making it easier to buy or sell the art France is producing (which, quite frankly, can be seen as somewhat insulting on one level...the notion that French artists needs a government program to help them compete), why not put the money into promoting it to a wider audience instead? To be blunt, I think the reason France slipped to #4 has more to do with China's relentless promoting of their art (and culture in general) than any discernible difference in quality among collectors.

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31 Comments:

Blogger Mark said...

I read about this earlier and thought it was an April Fools prank, but we need a few inspired ideas. In these joyous final months of the era of idiots, maybe at least we can restore funding to the NEA.

As an aside, with all the discussion of recession, there is precedent in the success and amazing accomplishments of the WPA. We desperately need rebuilding and retraining in this country. The anti-government fervor has a downside too.

4/04/2008 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

are we talking about the contemporary art market or art from the past? i think france needs more contemporary art to market- i get the feeling the scene is a little stale and sluggish for artists, galleries, museums, artist studios and collectors so if the government can stimulate the scene- and drive more artists into the art schools that choose the visual arts and art production as a career it would create the opportunities and competition necessary to change the current situation.

4/04/2008 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You're kind of hitting on my still somewhat fuzzy reservation here, though. I'm not sure that art generated via financial motivation is what France (or the world) needs more of.

4/04/2008 09:49:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

I think every major country should implement a mandatory draft for art schools! That way the general population will be forced to learn just how good art is for them.

4/04/2008 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

so the real question is why is it more stale and sluggish? you could argue china and russia and even indian contemporary art are hot becuase the countries have been repressed so need is driving the art production- which is the best motivation to make art but artists make art out of art history and in response to formal concerns as well which is where stimutation could help- i was thinking italy has the same problem of being overshadowed by its past but it created the venice biennale although i get the feeling the art market of contemporary art in italy is also sluggish compared to the u.s., u.k. and china- why is the german scene seem so hot? does it take social and cultural repression to drive artists into making great art? how does that intersect with economics? i get the feeling that france is very conservative and there is nt much room on the economic ladder for survival at the working class or middle class level which seems like this would eliminate the artist class that it needs to stimulate its market. and it also seems somewhat homogenous- why doesnt the world see a whole movement of arab/north african art coming out of paris? the way the harlem renaissance came out of nyc?

4/04/2008 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Given the decline in the value of the dollar, buying work from US artists would be quite a deal. Any chance you'll open up a sanctioned gallery in Paris????

4/04/2008 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Any chance you'll open up a sanctioned gallery in Paris????

hmmm...Galerie Winkleman Est?

probably not.

4/04/2008 10:31:00 AM  
OpenID ymroddi said...

I can see why you would favor promotion being a gallery owner. Promotion is your job and this would make your job easier. I think the aim is to simply try to bolster the lower end of the art market. More art in more homes is good. I think the program aims to help the artist who will never become a superstar. His price point is going to stay $2000-$3000. Hopefully the program will generate enough sales that he can have a career. Hopefully, it helps the 'average' joe buy some art because they enjoy it, not because they hope they bough a piece from a future superstar at $2000 that will be worth $200,000 in five years. Personally, I don't see the harm you speak. Are you afraid it stigmatize a nation's artist as hot house flowers and they lose lose cache on the international market? Will they be the minority at Harvard who 'got in just because of affirmative action.' Promotion won't help the lower end of the market. National promotion will probably just help the established get richer.

4/04/2008 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Mrs Albanel added that art was being "relentlessly drained" from the country. "For every work that is imported, two works are exported," she said.

This doesn’t sound like a stale scene but more like a situation where there are fewer buyers. This is economics, and the main reason China moved up into the number three slot. The economy in France is less than robust and not particularly favorable towards entrepreneurial enterprises.

China’s economy has been growing at double digit rates for the last few years, there are a lot of new millionaires and they are buying the work of Chinese artists by the handful.

I can’t see how this will affect the French art market to any substantial degree.

4/04/2008 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I can see why you would favor promotion being a gallery owner. Promotion is your job and this would make your job easier.

and

Promotion won't help the lower end of the market. National promotion will probably just help the established get richer.

I was specifically arguing against this plan as a means to correct France's slippage to #4, which is why it's being suggested. You're taking my statement about that and using it to suggest I'm against the is plan because I won't profit enough from it. You're talking out your hat, I'm afraid.

For clarification, the kind of promotion I mean would not make my job or any gallerist's job any easier, per se, because it's too broad to promote any given artist (I mean opening new contemporary French museums, taking more contemporary French art on the road via embassies or exchange programs, getting the art out of the big cities and into the regions of France far from Paris, etc, etc) with an eye to building the "French" brand.

And, for the record, being an emerging art gallerist, the kind of promotion I do very much helps the lower end of the market.

I think the program aims to help the artist who will never become a superstar. His price point is going to stay $2000-$3000. Hopefully the program will generate enough sales that he can have a career.

I acknowledged your last point about helping artists have a career (although I can't support a system that rewards a lack of ambition, which you're not saying per se this would do, but similar programs have done in other places), but as to whether that makes sense for France's big picture goal (reclaiming their position in the market): do the math. A dozen or two dozen or 60 dozen more artists selling work at those price points is not going to help France reclaim the #3 spot when if only five Chinese artists are selling single paintings at $1,000,000 a pop.

4/04/2008 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I don't read this as being a program to help artists as much as a program to help people get good art into their homes. I know for me, personally, owning original art of any level of quality -- hell, even of Thomas Kinkade quality -- is completely and utterly beyond my means. And in fact I can't even imagine its ever being within my means. (The only original art I own -- besides my own and my daughter's -- is art I've been given.)

People here in America certainly have had the extra money to spend on TVs, cars, computers, and game systems. I imagine France is similar (maybe they spend their money on wine and dancing girls, I dunno). It seems to me a program like this is designed to encourage spending some money on original art, to give people a taste for the art world.

My only problem with the program is, as usual, the bureaucracy. Qualified galleries, government panels, and so forth -- a perfect system for continuing the status quo. It'd never work in America, because you couldn't even get most people to take home, say, crap from the Whitney Biennial for free, let alone on a payment plan.

4/04/2008 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

(speaking of the paris branch, a fantasy after my own heart...I guess that would be pronounced "galerie vinkleman est"!)

4/04/2008 12:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"as well as, obviously, to help younger artists with price points in that range"

aargh that is annoying. hey man, guess what, there are plenty of older artists with price points in that range as well.

4/04/2008 01:22:00 PM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

Brilliant! A way to fund emerging artists without making them jump through hoops, and please a bunch of political committees, in order to get a limited number of condescending and wholly inadequate grants! Go France!

On a related note, the corrupt Mexican government generously funds the arts, as a shameless effort to boost its cultural profile in the eyes of the world. As a result, there are a lot of expatriate classical musicians (mainly Americans, Poles and Russians) playing in the symphony orchestras there, because you can actually live on your salary without having to work six freelance jobs on the side.

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of hack musicians in the orchestras, who saw gracelessly away at their instruments with the minimum of practice required to get a paycheck. Thus, 'Made in Mexico' is still a bit of a joke, when it comes to orchestral performances and recordings.

I don't know why I'm bringing this up, except that a judicious combination of government and market forces seems appropriate, not just to encourage the production of art, but to encourage the production of art that people actually want to have around.

4/04/2008 01:37:00 PM  
OpenID ymroddi said...

Here is the Le Monde article on the program:

http://www.lemonde.fr/archives/article/2008/04/02/christine-albanel-votre-banquier-peut-vous-encourager-a-soutenir-les-jeunes-artistes_1029908_0.html

It does not really mention France's falling position in art sales as a motivation, though it does want to increase the competitiveness of the French art market. . I think the BBC article did a bit of editorializing in reporting this art program.

4/04/2008 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Similar schemes aimed at less wealthy buyers have already been introduced in Britain and the Netherlands.

Similar schemes, using collateralized variable rate loans, were aimed at less wealthy home buyers and introduced right as the real estate market was peaking.

France best, but slim, chance of recouping the number 3 slot might be through promotion by instituting something like the Turner prize. The French love to argue points of philosophy, this would put art on the map. What they are currently proposing is another variation of the dole, French welfare for artists.

4/04/2008 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

ymroddi, thanks for the link.

So, maybe I'm wrong about the dole, I'm still wading through the French.

4/04/2008 02:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At this point I'll happily take French welfare over the free market system. After all, individuals are supposed to be buying the art - it isn't being warehoused. And it might well allow for a wider range of "mainstream" to develop. That is to say, for more women and minority artists to sell. The wealthy collectors generally already have their "ism" to purchase.

4/04/2008 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks for that link ymroddi. That account does seem to indicate perhaps the BBC connected two dots that the French didn't (at least in print).

The government still noted that the measure was designed to "redresser rapidement le marché de l'art français" which doesn't indicate as low-price-point-artist--centric a motivation as you seem to suggest it might in your critique of why I feel the money might be better spent in national promotion, though. Rectifying the state of French art sales and providing a welfare mechanism are still far apart, no?

4/04/2008 02:16:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Another important part of the suggestions had to do with how the taxes are handled on art when its donated to a museum.

4/04/2008 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

Is it the norm to take out a loan to buy art? I guess I always thought it was a disposable income sort of thing. What I could have bought with my student loans...

4/04/2008 02:36:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I could've -- and should've -- bought a house with my student loans.

4/04/2008 04:19:00 PM  
Blogger the reader said...

Pretty Lady,
having married a Mexican and lived there as an expat for a number of years I think your assessment of arts funding by the Mexican government is a little off key. Describing their approach as as a "a shameless effort to boost its cultural profile in the eyes of the world" is to miss the important point that Mexico has an incredibly rich and diverse cultural life and history. For this reason successive corrupt governments have recognised this and made a priority out of providing some form of funding for the arts (i.e. funding for the arts is part of their culture not some shameless attempt to boost a profile).

Wherever there is significant government funding for the arts there is (and should be) a debate about how best to use those resources. This is definitely an active debate in Mexico and you'll hear many and varied opinions on this if you speak to people living there. What you won't hear from those engaged in the arts is the idea that they should reject arts funding because it is just provided to make the government look good.

4/04/2008 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

I guess someone needs to make a French joke here but all I can come up with is... nothing.

quick name 5 French artists under the age of 50!

4/05/2008 11:35:00 PM  
Blogger Katherine Tyrrell said...

I also highlighted the 'Own art' schemes which run in England and Scotland on my blog last summer The Own Art Scheme: making art affordable

The schemes were set up by the Arts Council and, as my post makes clear, the intention behind it was threefold ie that they should:
* enable people from all walks of life society to access and own original works of art - by having an affordable means of buying art
* help artists to live by means of their own creative endeavour and output - by helping more people to buy their art
* support galleries which sell high quality contemporary art - and stimulate local and regional economies through promoting the small-scale gallery network in the regions – with a particular focus on supporting the tourist economy.


I've also included a link to an evaluation of the scheme and to some other documents and sites which are suggesting how people should go about buying art.

The point about the galleries is that they closed applications to the scheme so the listing really only represents those which were quick off the mark.

I'd say that, on the whole, only the well-informed know about the scheme - and those visiting galleries which are participating.

4/06/2008 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks so much for those helpful clarifications, Katherine!

There is perhaps a paradox in the third intention, though, no? The more "high quality" the contemporary art (equating demand which drives up prices with quality is dodgy I know but for the sake of argument), the less likely it is the price point of the loans will enable anyone to purchase it (or are the loans also available as partial payments...that is, could you get one for a $15000 painting if the cough up the balance themselves?

Interesting that they closed the applications. The report on the program in Scotland noted that they opened it to a small number of galleries and then expanded it to include more. Any signs it will continue to expand?

4/06/2008 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

There's an economic incentive for the French scheme. Paris isn't "Paris" without the appearance of a vibrant artistic community. It's related to the argument that Richard Florida made in his books -- that highly educated "brain" workers want to be in cities that have a thriving cultural life. It's actually good for a city's tax base -- and for businesses competing for top employees -- to have artists and musicians.

Paris took a big hit in WW2 when so many artists emigrated to New York. They don't want their young up-and-comers moving en masse to Berlin. With the European Union, businesses and workers don't automatically go to the French capital anymore -- they can go anywhere.

Paris is a long way from being a has-been, but it's smart to stay on the ball.

4/06/2008 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger Katherine Tyrrell said...

Edward - It's certainly the case that the loan need not be for the full price of the work of art. It can be partial or full - up to the limit of the loan within the scheme.

I don't think there's a paradox with the third intention. I think the scheme is about making art more affordable and within the reach of more people. If artists are able to achieve much higher prices then there are obviously enough people in the marketplace who want to pay them - and maybe as artists they then don't need the help of a scheme like this to sell their art. Similarly one also has to ask whether people who can afford these prices also really need help from this sort of scheme?

As an artist's work moves out of one price range and into another higher price range, there will always be other artists who emerge to fill the gap they leave behind them - and who will provide artwork at more affordable prices for those who might need this scheme to be able to buy any original art at all.

I don't know if you'd agree but it's my view that a healthy art economy is one which functions effectively at all price points and in all areas of a country - especially when you've got a slowdown in economic growth as we have right now. I find the figures for the number of loans (in the 2006 evaluation report of the English scheme) to be particularly interesting. They're highest in those regions which are more in need of economic regeneration. The income levels of buyers is also interesting - 70% of buyers had an annual income of less than £45,000. That suggests to me that the scheme is probably enlarging the overall pool of people buying original art.

The economic regeneration imperative will always vary hugely by country/region within the UK - as do the people who run the Arts bodies for England, Scotland and Wales. My guess is that it's their choices about how they allocate their funding which ultimately determines how many galleries can be involved.

The current Scottish Arts Council website for the scheme indicates that the scheme is closed again to new galleries but hopes to be able to open to new applications later in the year.

4/06/2008 08:01:00 PM  
Blogger Katherine Tyrrell said...

Update - the Liverpool Art Blog has a post Own Art Scheme - Gallery Membership Reopens which indicates there are two rounds of submissions in England in 2008. It also provides a lot more detail about the current status and scope of the scheme.

There will be two opportunities for galleries to apply to Own Art during 2008/9, with application rounds as follows:
- application round 1 is open from 1 April with a deadline for submission of noon on Friday 30 May
- application round 2 is open from 3 November with a deadline for submission of noon on Friday 9 January 2009


My take on this, based on experience in a related field, is that if galleries want to do themselves justice they probably need to have done their homework and got their paperwork in place and application drafted prior to any announcement about the scheme reopening.

(For your readers who may not be aware - Liverpool is the European Capital of Culture in 2008 - hence why the city currently has a very active art blog.)

4/06/2008 09:10:00 PM  
Blogger Troy Camplin said...

Perhaps if the French art market were a free market like in Britain and the U.S., rather than a government-funded market, the French artists would produce enough quality work for someone to want to buy it. It probably wouldn't hurt if they got beyond postmodernism and produced works that people would want to hang on their walls. The problem with government funding is that it universally produces mediocrity. Only private patronage produces the patterns of art that challenge the viewer and create growth in the field of art.

4/17/2008 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger berto xxx said...

I just want to add that if the government of France wants to invest in art loans then it is good. To promote the country about arts. And the place of France was getting lower. So I must say that is better to invest in that thing.

7/11/2008 05:17:00 AM  

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