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Art Market Trends: Art Affairs

It’s simple: artworks needs to engender in the receptive viewer an aesthetic experience. The art market revolves based on this simple notion – a million dollar industry that not only involves artists but also other professionals. A market where businesses work together towards refining the culture of a society, or maybe fine tuning the ‘art-business culture’? This aspect will be discussed later but first we need to understand what the aesthetic experience in the arts can be. Is it the decorative (size, weight, medium, subject) or is it the intellectual appeal (art-historical significance, quality of work, artist reputation, and so on)? The division of two types of works stretches the divide into viewership, categorizing the collectors respectively.
Collectors are the prime focus in the art market, buying art for factors that can be intrinsically intangible. There are collectors who don’t intend to do anything with the art they buy; it just sits there enriching their lives. Then there are the oblivious buyers; collectors who might not know what works are in the market or the quality of works they might be interested in, but exposure through art criticism, reviews and discussions is bringing these neophyte buyers to a higher level.
Let’s talk about the serious collectors who buy with a clear purpose. They purchase with the intention of investing not on the current value and demand of an artwork, but rather based on predictions of what they might be at some point in the future. There’s always a conscious effort based on the appreciation of the work, locating a work that perfectly matches their taste, product quality, resale value, and the price and availability of substitutes. These collectors look at the bigger picture and are often willing to pay the extra transaction costs and for professional opinions regarding acquisition of the right work.
Some collectors are willing to take the risk of purchasing the works of upcoming artists. This could be for decorative appeal, genuine faith in the artists’ potential or even as an easy way of liquidating assets. Others may just rely on the ‘superstar phenomenon’ in the art world which entails collecting works by the most recognized creators, whether living or dead. These works often command extraordinary sums, while new talent encounters (high probability) higher hurdles.
Interestingly, even though buying young artists’ works can be risky, the last decade has seen increasing sales of contemporary works. Some of the 80s-born babies have made it into big names in the art world. Artists are now witnessing the peaks of their careers within their lifetimes, a stark contrast from the time when virtuosos like Van Gogh sold but a single painting during their lives. Yet in 1987, almost a hundred years after his demise, Van Gogh’s Irises sold at auction for nearly $54 million and garnered headlines around the world.
The question that comes to mind is what makes someone into a collector. It simply boils down to wealth. Purchases of most types of art increase as household wealth increases, but lack of knowledge and professional advice can sometimes cause inferior decisions.
The art world is overly prone to taste and fashion; there are waves of trends in type of work that sells; some genres rise while others fall. It is all based on demand and supply and shifting of the art markets from one part of the world to another. When a new class of people is buying art the main reason is often this economic shift, much like the post-war period when America stole the art world from Paris.
Due to economic and political reasons, power keeps bouncing from one country to another, which affects the art markets. Japan’s wealth grew in the early 90’s that saw an increase in luxury goods and acquisition of assets. This is when there was a substantial Japanese entry into the art market. Big names like Takashi Murakami were seen in the international market during this time, pulling in more Japanese artists for the times to come.
In the last decade there has been an obvious shift from the West to East. There’s a wave of new big collectors emerging in China, Russia, Middle East and India. There have been significant changes in the art scene, its being globalized. One big event is supported by sub-events in neighboring countries. Just this year Art Dubai was accompanied by talks in Doha, Qatar where renowned art critics like Roberta Smith of the New York Times, were invited along with other professionals from the Western art world. These conferences lead to more opportunities of collaboration making the art world a smaller place.
Each economic shift gives opportunities to diverse artists. I’m always in awe when I see works from artists of exotic/remote/emerging countries. The unfamiliar, raw images are always pleasing to the eye and are aesthetically exciting. New art markets are explored in this manner and more artists are given an opportunity to exhibit their works.
Art has turned from a chaotic and esoteric market to an organized and highly sophisticated market. Research has shown that buying artworks is a solid investment, just like that of buying real estate. Art business is taking a new shape with galleries popping up, concentrating on careers of a few exclusive artists that match their objectives. Artists’ careers are steered and connections are made to take them to higher levels. Exclusiveness prevails, glamour entails.
Events like Art Fairs, Art Biennales, Art Events, Art Talks, Art Summits, Art Seminars have begun to exist on the peripheries of art market. Everyday my inbox fills up with numerous art event e-vites for different parts of the art world. I realize that there’s not one particular hub that can be called the center of the Arts anymore, just as I’m writing this, in the month of April this year, 19 major art events specked in different parts of the world, are running parallel and over lapping with each other. Interestingly these happenings are not limited to just their respective regions, but International collaboration and support, participation of art professionals and collectors from different parts of the world are making them more globalized.
Art has also become so easily accessible through online transactions, that I question whether is art still dependent on the economic shift? Here’s a fact:
‘The art world is bigger than ever; that’s unquestionable. Depending on which metric you use, the global market is up to twenty times as large as it was in 1990.
On the flip side, the larger the market, the more misinformed it becomes. People are buying art based more on what they hear and less than what they see, they run around from one booth to the other, struggling to get private previews and base their buying power on market trends rather than historical significance. What is this adding to the collections and how does it effect art production? One thing is for sure; there is an increase in the number of buyers who are willing to pay a high price and create misaligned values.
References:
The Economics of Art and Culture: An American Perspective by James Heilburn and Charles M.Gray
New York Magazine: Five Theories on Why The Art Market Can’t Crash by Marc Spielger
Art Vista.

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