The Art World and the Art Market
Adam Lindemann has penned a post over at Gallerist NY that has upset a few people. I'm not entirely sure why. He's not calling anyone names or mocking their personalities or physical appearances. He's simply disagreeing with them about whether or not there's an art market bubble and if so when it's going to do what all bubbles eventually do: burst. In the post he puts the art market into perspective with a comparison that I think should be mandatory reading for everyone who thinks money is ruining the art world:
Think about the value of Google, which boasts a $189 billion market cap, or Facebook, with a market cap of $58 billion, down from an IPO price of about $100 billion only a few weeks ago. The average trading volume of Google in a single day is $2.4 billion dollars. The approximate total sales in the entire global contemporary art market in a year is around $6 billion, or what would likely be only two or three days’ worth of trading in Google stock. If these companies’ young billionaire founders, Sergey Brin or Mark Zuckerberg, bought up all the contemporary art sold in an entire year, they wouldn’t even feel the pinch.
That kind of money (especially when owned by people young enough to be one's children) may be ruining our collective sense of self-worth, but the $6 billion annual art market is not ruining "the art world." The art world and the art market, as Lindemann points out, are not the same thing. But, and here's where I disagree with him, they are interconnected. Lindemann writes:
Two weeks ago, in an article in The New York Times Magazine that asked if we are in an art bubble, business writer Adam Davidson admitted to understanding nothing about the art market, but still managed to come to a sound conclusion: the art market “is a proxy for the fate of the superrich themselves.” His view is that as long as the rich get richer, art prices will hold steady or increase. My bet is that he’s right. But he ends his article by confusing art and the art market: “It makes me happy to think that this world of art-as-investment is a minuscule fraction of the art world overall.” But one has nothing to do with the other; why should the “art world overall” bear any relation whatsoever to the $120 million paid at Sotheby’s last month for Edvard Munch’s The Scream? [emphasis mine]
Later in his own post, though, Lindemann answers exactly why the art world overall bears a significant relation to the money paid for a work of art when he writes "the definition of what is or is not “historic” is a moving target and subject to constant change and review."
Indeed, the art world and the art market have quite a lot to do with each other. There's no verifiable formula (it's not like 1 MoMA retrospective + 2 love letter reviews = 30% increase in prices), but there is clearly a connection between what the taste makers in the art world think of an artist and his/her work and what someone will be willing to pay for it. No one is going to spend $120 million on a Thomas Kinkade any time soon.
Moreover, the $120 million spent on Munch's "The Scream" caused several contemporary artists I know to pause, if only momentarily, to question their role in the art world. You can say they should just ignore it, but that's unrealistic and raises questions about motive, if you ask me. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"
Otherwise, I think the rest of Lindemann's post is worth a read. It's certainly one well-considered opinion.