Does This Painting Make Me Look Rich? || Open Thread
Still buying original art is a priority in those middle-class Europeans' lives. Unlike in the US where buying original art is generally seen as a rich person's game.
Of course, there are the occasional efforts to democratize art here, efforts to focus on volume rather than value, but they're usually marginalized or seen as mostly insignificant by the power brokers in the art world. The main focus of the art industry here is on raising value, thereby raising prices with an eye on raising profits (which is fair enough, the art business being a business like any other). But in the short-run that is accomplished via more investment (more catalogs, more lavish parties, larger art fair booths, more cash incentives for the hotter artists to defect to your stable, more travel to keep up with the NetJet set, etc. etc.), all with an eye on generating demand among the very wealthy. Art for the middle-class is simply not a priority. It really can't be in this system.
Of course in the example our Berlin friend provided, art for the middle-class is a priority in Europe because the demand was already there. Generations of families saw acquiring at least one work of original art as simply what you do with your money. The middle-class here overwhelmingly prioritizes a sports car instead.
I had a conversation with an artist the other day, someone I've known a long time and seen his career ebb and flow, and after a while he asked me point blank: "Why do they do it? Why do collectors buy art? I still can't figure it out." He asked as if he hoped my answer would, I don't know, either provide solace that he's not selling much (i.e., the whole thing is illogical, so don't worry about it, it's not you or your art) or provide direction on whether to cater to the market or finally decide he never would. We eventually agreed to agree that loving what you do in your studio is the only reason to ever be an artist, but we got there via a wide ranging discussion on why collectors do buy.
You need look no further than at what the galleries are selling to understand why collectors are buying. Of course there is no one-size-fits-all answer to that. But there are several categories of answers.
I once had a conversation with a young man who had, for about three months I think, been the director at a very hot emerging gallery with locations on two continents. He said it took him about three days to realize that the gallery was not really selling art (although a lot of product was being moved), but rather they were selling a life-style. I immediately recognized the truth of what he had said. Whether it's hipness or intellectualism or warm-and-fuzziness or a quiet reassurance that there are transcendent pockets in this rocky road we call life or, rather, a blinding rock-n-roll-ish exuberance, nearly every gallery I know is selling a particular life-style to their clients. Via the art they show, sure, but still.
You can zoom out from life-styles, though, to see the broader categories of what galleries are selling. Some galleries are selling prestige. Some exclusivity. Some are selling history. Some are selling opportunities (for cashing in or simply being first). Some are selling simple, sublime distractions from the pressures and anxieties of their clients' hectic lives.
Art is fabulous, because it can be a vehicle for all that. And yet, we expect it to be so much more than that.
I read an article recently about a collector who admitted that he hadn't actually seen a good portion of his collection. Most of it was in storage. I know many collectors who have more work than they have wall space to hang it on at any given time. Many such collectors end up opening their own museums or exhibition spaces, which I love and greatly admire them for. Such collectors tend to evolve into philanthropic figures within the art world. They're not so much merely "buying" as "supporting," ensuring that there's enough money in the system to provide real opportunities for the artists still struggling to reach their full potential. Clearly not everyone has the resources or even interest to be an art world philanthropist, but there's no higher reason for buying art, in my humble opinion.
Consider this an open thread on why people buy art.
Labels: art collecting