Wednesday, June 13, 2012

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And yet Thomas Kinkade made more than you (and all of your represented artists combined) will ever make. If the value of art is about taste... it seems clear that most people find the artwork in NY galleries hard to swallow.

6/14/2012 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Hmmmm...a rather personal defense of Thomas Kinkade. Now why do I think you're not really supporting Kinkade here, nor are you seriously anti-NY galleries? Call it a hunch.

6/14/2012 10:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please. Kinkade had zero relevance to the contemporary art world, or market. "Kinkades" are images, on rectangles. That's about the only thing they have in common with art. Leave him out of it.

The problem, as I see it, is the concentration of economic value in the work of a handful of artists. Most - all but maybe 1% of 1% - of dedicated, accomplished artists with impressive CVs (meaning positive reviews in major publications, major foundation grants etc.) and even gallery representation cannot possibly hope to make a living from their work.

6/14/2012 12:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Most - all but maybe 1% of 1% - of dedicated, accomplished artists with impressive CVs (meaning positive reviews in major publications, major foundation grants etc.) and even gallery representation cannot possibly hope to make a living from their work.

It turns out that CV weight and gallery representation run more or less parallel to making a living from work. Someone who wrote a book on the subject is Jackie Battenfield. Jackie is no darling of the museums, is not a grant magnet, and doesn't have a NYC gallery. She sells art by other means. Analogous to Lindeman's point, the various art markets have nothing to do with each other.

6/14/2012 07:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Franklin -
True...but it's all concentrated at the top of the top.
I know tons of people who have resumes full of pollock-krasners, guggenheims, artforum reviews, greater new york, etc. etc....and almost all make next to nothing from their work when studio and production costs are factored in. while a tiny handful make outsized money from their work. the scale is just so out of whack. I know jackie and I understand that there are other ways to sell work but if you want to have a career with any visibility and go through those instituions which gain you a real audience, you can have real "success" and make no money at all. And there's something wrong with that.

6/14/2012 11:16:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

the various art markets have nothing to do with each other.

I'd disagree with that as well, but let me first clarify (I seem to be having trouble being clear lately...must be the Allegra): the art market and "the art world overall" are inter-related. Thomas Kinkade (or at least now his work) is part of the art market. He's not well respected within the taste-makers of the art world overall, but he is used as the quintessential example of someone who defies, up to a point, the influence of the tastemakers. My point in contrast to Lindemann's position, though, is that eventually the tastemakers do influence both historical importance and ultimately market value. Suggesting the two are not related at all is to look at them un- holistically. There are overlapping interactions all up and down an artist's life and legacy.

Jackie Battenfield is a perfect example of this (and of how even the art markets overlap and indeed have quite a bit to do with each other). Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, most collectors buy work from a variety of sources. Eventually they may focus on a particular niche, but even the ones I know who have trophy collections of blue chip artists, also have in-depth collections of what would be considered "craft" or "outsider art." Collecting is a passion for them and it usually expresses itself in multiple markets.

But more than that, consider this overlapping interconnectedness from the artist's point of view. Below is passage from Jackie's own book:

When you are just beginning your career, it is difficult to visualize the intricate relationships that will develop between the people you know and the ones you will meet in the future. As you move on with your professional life, it is even harder to imagine how to use these connections to your benefit. You must begin to envision the artist in the studio next to yours, the art history friend from grad school, or the young man perched behind the gallery desk [Ed W: that is, everyone in "the overall art world] as a potential ally. Just like you, art professionals--artists, gallery directors, curators, critics--get their start somewhere small, gain experience, and use their contacts to promote themselves and move up to more powerful positions. Each has the potential to take you with them....

6/15/2012 08:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

You're right, "nothing to do with each other" is overstated and I should have stuck with "more or less parallel." That said, a small work getting sold out of our local beloved print gallery and 4-ton sculpture getting sold out of Mary Boone might as well have nothing to do with each other, when it comes to individual, short- and medium-term career considerations. That's a good thing, because options exist. And absolutely, collectors often collect different streams of work, and what they hang in their house(s) is different that what they show to the public. Those are somewhat parallel markets too.

I'm not sure what Anon 11:16 is criticizing here. There's no inherent reason why the quote-unquote "success" he's describing should be remunerative. And with all due respect (well, none, really), I've seen what passes for taste among certain high-profile tastemongers and I wouldn't consider their high regard to be any kind of triumph. You have to know yourself well and think through things carefully in order to keep this line of work from driving you batty.

6/15/2012 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

As someone who has been painting since the age of ten, it pains me to say that most people - even the very rich - don't give a hoot about art. They think painting in oil is fine art and painting with light is the extra fine art. They all think they ought to know more about art and now every tenth person is an artist of some ilk. The very rich in the days of JPMorgan and Andrew Carnegie get 'experts' to advise them on purchases because there is this deep sense that art is essential and they don't want to miss out. Selection, however, can be delegated. A vast empire of surrogates has become entrenched. So of course there is a relationship between art and market makers. The recent sale of Munch's Scream caused me to think about my own painting The Scream Unheard. (NFS) It was meant to express my huge grief over leaving my father behind the locked doors of a mental wing. A commenter on the website noted, oh,
we've all had those times in school! I considered deeply...perhaps Munch's work is different just as the rich are different. Maybe we need those market makers to inform us of what is significant, enduring and valuable. The chicken and the egg. Who knows.

6/15/2012 12:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my point, in a nutshell is that all the income for those in this line of work - even highly accomplished people, not just everyone who ever went to art school -goes to a handful of individuals. that's all. and that in effect most people in the art world (almsot all of them) are working for free, while a tiny, tiny, tiny minority get rich.

6/15/2012 02:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

...most people in the art world (almost all of them) are working for free, while a tiny, tiny, tiny minority get rich.

Well, most of them are creating things that no one asked them to produce, and the tiny, rich minority is made that way through public sector-private sector collusions generally akin to those that distort markets in finance, real estate, and military hardware. So there you go.

6/15/2012 03:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe we should consider the fact that as most of the culturally and art historically relevant paintings have not been recently sold on the open market. Therefore we do not have a true bench mark to judge whether $120 million is a lot for an important painting.

Imagine the auction room buzz if the Louvre decided to sell the Mona Lisa.......
You have to at times think about whether you are comparing like with like.
As an artist if you think you need to worry about this figure maybe you need to be really questioning the integrity of the work you are making and whether you are breaking new ground. It's great to be recognised and to be able to support yourself as an artist through your work; but the actual work has to come first and this is what will in the long run make a good career.

6/16/2012 07:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

What do you think of this study?

Essentially "confirming" that it is all in the "Packaging" - at least for fine wines

6/16/2012 09:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Artist are born to lose::: Sculptors are doubly fucked.

If the ultra high end drops to 10 cents on the dollar that would mean a collapse of civilization. You best have a years supply of freeze dried food a and a means to defend yourself against the hoardes of savages.

6/16/2012 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

most of them are creating things that no one asked them to produce

This is a crucial distinction in thinking about how much artists should expect to earn compared with other professions. Because they're performing "tasks no one assigned" (to use a phrase Peter Schjeldahl once used to define art), it has to be expected that their payback will be totally based on their ability to strike a chord with the current buying public. In other words it's an incredible long shot.

6/16/2012 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger John said...

Whoa this got off topic quite quickly but I want in anyway!

The purchase of art is to an extent a reflection of desirability (commodity demand it is limited, van gogh won't paint ever again), value to society (sistine chapel), cultural value (rauschenberg), and then ego.

If you put 100 guys in a room and they all like the work, a bidding war will occur. Ego can drive prices beyond the actual cultural or societal value of the artwork. This can set a new precedent for value provided the buyer has decent taste. If 100 guys will buy your art at 100 bucks, you know it's worth at least 100 bucks. If 50 will buy it at 1000 bucks, it's worth 1000. If two billionaires are willing to fight enough to drive the price up to 120 million, intrinsically it is worth 120 million. Perhaps some billionaire to be will deem it worth more some day and buy it for 200 million. Forecasting makes fools of us all. As a % of net worth 120 million isn't very much to someone worth 10 billion with a blank wall.

Discerning what art will be worth that type of money is random. Is Damien Hirsts work overpriced? Probably. But as long as sufficient demand exists between millionaires to keep buying it, it won't fall too far. Will it hold an important place in history and hold its value 100 years from now? I hope not, but who really knows? Munch's work isn't overvalued at 120m, because it has history on it's side, it will continue to have that (among other aesthetic qualities).

As for making a living off of art, this is an entirely different endevour. Van Gogh (mentioned earlier) led a miserable life, but today his work is prized; Da Vinci was well compensated and his work is also prized. Making a living is about personal representation as well as your ability to wheel-and-deal your own work.

There's something to be said for treating art like any other business if you're an artist. Marketing is something that takes savvy, sales takes even more savvy. It's less a lottery ticket and more about understanding market forces, and the fragile psychology behind selling something like art.

Asking 5000 dollars for your artwork when you've only sold 1 or 2 pieces in your entire life at that price isn't going to work well. If you chop off a zero and your sales skyrocket, then you know where your market is and you have to let the marketplace you build drive prices in their own direction (whether they go up or dry up).

As an artist who has/is sustaining a living off my work and as someone who has worked in marketing, sales, galleries etc. The most important thing you can do is be honest with yourself about your work, your audience and continue to produce. There is no finish line, there are no trophies, if you really believe in what you make someone else will recognize the value at some point. Hopefully this occurs in your lifetime, but it's just as likely it won't as all the art produced has outlived it's creators.

6/16/2012 12:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Just to clarify a couple of things that John said, price doesn't reflect anything except competing demand. It can't go "beyond the actual cultural or societal value of the artwork" because those values aren't quantifiable. And if billionaires drive the price of a work up to $120M, it's not intrinsically worth that much, it's provisionally worth that much at the moment of transaction. Its only intrinsic worth is formal and material. Aside from those quibbles he has said much of worth.

6/16/2012 06:28:00 PM  
Anonymous The New York Arts Exchange said...

Interesting article. How do you think this will affect the other crucial demographics? Those who aren't artists or art collectors, but rather students or art lovers in general, who have much more limited financial means.

Talking about ridiculous prices provokes articles like this one:

6/18/2012 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Zipthwung said...

Creating a demand is called educating the market. One way to educate the market is with a loss leader - like selling art for a discount (like to Charlie finch's horbells.)

What makes art good? For me smart art is a shell game - why worry about context when you can depend on populist hedonism to delive, rain or shine? Shouln't art be 24-7 and not limited to a stage, a magic circle or an elect few? Why must art be such a ghetto ?

6/18/2012 11:25:00 PM  

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