For Sale or Not For Sale: Commercialism and the Art Market

For Sale or Not For Sale: Commercialism and the Art Market

for_sale_sign.gifAn exhibition was recently held at the P.S.1 MOMA gallery in New York titled ‘Not For Sale’ which consisted of works that artists have kept for themselves and not sold for various reasons. The exhibition, which is seriously flawed, was meant to be a stand against the influence of the art market on the art world, but the fact that an exhibition such as this is required actually highlights how important the art market is to the art world. It is also important to note that a majority of the artists in the exhibition are either millionaires, very famous, or both, which means the artists themselves and the work that they produce are products of the art market without which the ability to choose to be a career artist would be almost non existent.


Rather than expressing the curators “allergy” to the marketplace, this exhibition proved how crucial the art market is to the art world. The exhibition also contradicted it’s original purpose by increasing the profile of the artists involved and increasing the desirability of, and demand for their work in the marketplace. The fact that a large number of the works in the show are so new (less than ten years old) raises further questions as to whether the works are really permanently not for sale or whether we will actually see them in an auction catalogue a few years down the track.

Apart from all the flaws, the exhibition did raise an important issue which is critical to the profitability of an investment artwork. Artists who churn out work and have a purely commercial outlook and purpose to their work are likely to damage their reputation as an artist, making their work a less desirable investment. It is well worth looking out for artists who produce work primarily for reasons other than financial gain and participate in exhibitions and shows where the works are not for sale.

By being involved in exhibitions where the works are not for sale an artist can gain credibility and respect within the art world which is important to further their career. The art market has shown to react positively to artists who produce intellectual work that requires thought and encourages comment and discussion because it is these artworks that tend to stick in people’s minds.

Nick**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.

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