Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Art Seeks Its Own Market Level | Open Thread

Go to the artists' page on Marian Goodman Gallery's website and scroll down to the section for Tino Sehgal. There is no image, of course. There wasn't one on the gallery's page for Mr. Sehgal's work presented on their "booth" at the VIP Art Fair, either. That's because it's integral to Mr. Seghal's practice that no photographs of his work be taken. Indeed, as The New York Times has noted
[H]is pieces cannot involve the transformation of any material, in any way. No written instructions, no bill of sale (purchases are conducted orally, in the presence of a notary), no catalogs and (to the dismay of photo editors in the art press) no pictures.
I use this extreme example in a lecture I give about "Galleries and the Art Market," in a section about selling non-object based work. If Marian Goodman can sell a Tino Sehgal (and she has), I note, then clearly any dealer can sell anything any artist can create.

Of course the logistics of such sales have been being worked out for quite some time. In his book Art of the Deal (and, no, I'm not going to stop talking about it...so go buy it already), Noah Horowitz cites the sale of Yves Klien's Transfer of a Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility (1959-62) as one of the clearest precedents for such transactions. Noah also builds a pretty solid case for the notion that the harder artists have worked to create unsellable work (for a host of reasons that only a few ever seem to remain wedded to), the more sophisticated the art market becomes across the board.

In other words, artists attempting to circumvent the art market only seems to make it stronger.

But before those neo-Marxist artists out there get their undies in a bunch, stop and consider that, arguably, it's artists themselves who are the root of this. We all know that you can purchase a drawing of a Land Art work by even Robert Smithson, for example. Documents of less commercial enterprises have long been viewed as marketable "art" objects in and of themselves, and always with the artist or their estate's approval.

And it's not just the market that's become more sophisticated about/complicit in all this. Again, consider Mr. Sehgal:
But Mr. Sehgal, unlike many performance artists, is not protesting the art market itself. His work is specifically conceived to function within the art world’s conventions: it is lent and exhibited, bought and sold. It is sold, in fact — now that Mr. Sehgal is becoming a star in Europe — for five-figure sums.[...]

Mr. Sehgal studied dance and economics, but economics came first. He says his touchstone belief is that his generation must “come up with alternatives of producing in different ways”: a political rather than an artistic issue.”
I can't quite put my finger on how, but more and more I suspect that economics always comes first. Indeed, lately, I've begun to wonder, believing as I do that human expression is progressive, whether it's not somehow the art itself that seeks out the market....needing to sustain itself, ensuring its perpetuation.

I know...that's silly. And, of course, I'm sure the notion that the market will find a way to commodify and then sell anything chafes the neck of the artist with tons of unsold work bursting out of his/her studio.

Still, consider this an open thread on the idea that you cannot make art that someone cannot sell.

Labels: art making, art market, art marketing


Anonymous Luuk Christiaens said...

(and, no, I'm not going to stop talking about it [...])

I do hope so :-)
This book is a treasure vault packed to the brim with business ideas and future sales models for any gallery owner who dares to think outside the conventions/classic disciplines of the art world.
Only finished chapter 1 so far to discover the 'repackaging approach' explained and translated to the art world in such great detail.
Transpose the 'repackaging' idea to other disciplines or combine it with the opportunities of the web, second market, etc... what a thrill ahead! Wonderful years to come for any creative gallery owner who's serious about 'growth'.

(Just looked up the index - surprised Christo's sales model in not mentioned)

4/26/2011 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger atomicelroy said...

this is the road to user fee, instead of object ownership.

4/26/2011 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

The following is my comment to your post:

4/26/2011 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

While I think the premise is true, the reality is that the majority of artworks sold are objects. The highest prices achieved at auction are for art objects.

There will always be exceptions but they can't change the way the general art marketplace works.

4/26/2011 01:42:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

the majority of artworks sold are objects

That majority gets smaller every year though.

this is the road to user fee,

The ground has already been cleared for that road...give it a few years and it will be paved with asphalt and lined with elm trees.

4/26/2011 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Big No said...

Ed - great insight that the creation of "unsellable" non-objects is rarely in fact consistent with anti-market rhetoric.

I cant help but feel there is a parallel between art de-objectification, and the increasingly abstract derivatives market that contributed to the financial meltdown. Both stem from the desires (of traders or artists) to rise above the competition by finding a niche of abstraction.

Next step: someone obviously needs to re-contextualizing a Sehgal piece as their own 'unsellable' work.

4/26/2011 02:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Ruth Rifka said...

I'm glad that I emerged from my benighted artist's cave to read this.

Maybe "invisible art" will be the next big thing.

In the meantime; Thanks for a great read. I can't quite figure it out but somehow your writing inspires me to paint something great.

4/26/2011 04:33:00 PM  
OpenID scotstyle said...

I recently posted about similar concerns here.


Creating virtual art which is not for sale and can’t even be clearly traded removes the goal from the process. It leaves me able to enjoy creating without having to ward off thoughts of sale-ability. it improves and frees the art. I recently advised a colleague to create a lifelong piece of work which is never to be seen by the public eye. A private field of exploration. Like dancing naked in a hidden pasture without the censors and restrictions of marketplace.

This idea of an idealistically free art while not immediately conceivable is an important compass point for me and serves as a guiding factor in the art of Aequitas.

4/26/2011 11:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one wants "unsellable" objectless art unless it comes with a name. The real issue is the Artist as Brand...this is teh new standard. If you want to be a part of the dialogue in any serious manner artists have to be something of a recognizable brand, or a known commodity be it crtically, instiutuinally or eithin the market. "Making a name for yourself" is just another way of establishing a brand.

Rigth now I suppose the Tino Sehgal brand is big which draws more attention to the possibility that more artists may venture into similar territory and have success, but if they do it will be becasue they know how to establish their "brand identity". You might not agree with all of this... I don't really want to, but there is a lot of truth to this conception of art world dynamics

4/26/2011 11:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:13 anon is spot on.

an artist's market is indeed all about branding. It's why artforum ads often have no images. It's why an art object by a known artist can be worth 1000x what a similar object of similar quality by an unknown artist is.

in this sense, the art world is not much different from the advertising business, just for a niche market.

4/27/2011 12:46:00 PM  
Anonymous John Kim said...

Who buys are they can't see. dummy

4/27/2011 02:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article, this is an issue I've thought about a lot because I make site specific installations that aren't necessarily meant to last forever. In my experience many collectors (and museums, etc) are still very attached to the idea of permanence, durability, heirlooms, etc. I certainly didn't start making this type of work out of some political strategy, it just happened organically in the studio. Now I'm confronted with not only how to make money but how it affects one's long term career. It's hard to make it in the big leagues of the NY art world, which has become so collector-driven, if you don't make salable commodities.

People always say, "Make drawings" to us sculptors, but you know what? If we wanted to make drawings, we would. I'd rather find a way to make money from work I really believe in, not some schlock I make just to sell. I love the idea of what someone called a "user fee," a la Sol LeWitt and other artists who made work with an expiration date.

Re: branding, I am not convinced this is a recent phenomena, just that we now have a name for it. Look at Picasso or Pollock---way before we had the term branding we had people who bought into the mystique of an artist and artists who cultivated a mystique.

4/27/2011 05:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose I have 'branded' myself. And I am being offered a lot of exhibition opportunities. Still bloody broke. Sigh.

4/28/2011 01:55:00 AM  
Blogger P said...

Very thoughtful and well written post. Tino Sehgal prances about and guerrilla markets himself becoming all the more desirable to collectors and curators alike who are disgusted with their excesses because in the end he too can be had i.e. shown (promoted/advertised) or bought - willing.

The market is something that must be engaged with if you want to be an artist in the art world unless you are rich and/or don't care about becoming part of 'the conversation'. The market is simply part of the system,

4/28/2011 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger P said...


Some comic relief with a point.

4/28/2011 08:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Frank Zweegers said...

Interesting read. Thanks for sharing!

5/02/2011 10:22:00 AM  

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