A Tale of Two Art Markets – artmarketblog.com

A Tale of Two Art Markets – artmarketblog.com

art-detective1A changed art market doesn’t necessarily mean an art market that is any worse off but because of the particular changes that the art market has undergone over the past 6-9 months things appear worse than they really are. Much worse. Yes, I am of the opinion that the art market has not gone to the dogs and continues to progress with strength and vigour albeit on a different trajectory to that of twelve months ago. I am, however, also a realist and am well aware that there are sectors of the art market that have experienced a reduction in demand and value. The two hardest hit areas of the art market are the market for contemporary art and the auction industry which also happen to be the two most visible, publicised and hyped areas of the market.

With so much emphasis and importance being placed on the contemporary art market and the auction industry if either appears to go even slightly pear shaped there will be an inevitably and disproportionately high level of concern and distress. The portion of the entire art market most people use to make judgments regarding the health of the entire art market tells only part of the story. A part of the story that is not necessarily representative of the whole story. It is therefore important to realise that the portion of the art market that most people don’t see and aren’t exposed to is huge but because it is not visible it tends to be forgotten or ignored.

When the art market reached the ridiculous highs of 2007/2008 many people’s perception of what a healthy art market is were somewhat skewed. For so long the art market was blessed with good fortune, so long in fact that many of those involved in the art market appear to have forgotten what the art market is all about. Know what I mean? I sure hope so. The art market that we experienced at the height of the boom was not the real art market. It was an artificial, dishonest and deceitful market that was progressing like an out of control train running at 200% which had to eventually return to it’s normal pace. For so long that train had a straight piece of track that allowed it to continue out of control but thankfully it eventually came to a junction and had to slow down to a normal pace.

It is interesting to note that one of the characteristics of the current art market is an increase in the number of private sales being conducted and a decrease in the popularity of selling/buying at auction. What many people are interpreting as a decline in the number of works being bought and sold may in fact just be a change in the preferred method of sale/purchase.  It is factors like this that one must take into consideration when making an assessment of the health of the art market if an accurate assessment is going to be made.  The auction industry and the contemporary art market can no longer be relied upon as being a true representation of the health of the entire art market.

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.

6 Responses

  1. Nicholas,
    I appreciate your directness and eloquence in explaining to so many that not only do we still have an art market but that many more venues are appearing for artists to make a revenue stream for their work.

    Many artists I know here in the states have been selling on their own. I think this is one thing that is under reported and many artists are telling me that they have actually enjoyed being so close to the public.

    Does this mean artists will leave galleries? I don’t think so. What I do think is that artists are willing to step up, take the responsibility, and do what they must in this current art climate and that, in my opinion, is not a bad thing.

    Thank you again for doing such a great job.

  2. Hi Nicholas, Unfortunately I can’t help thinking that there is some wishful thinking going on there. I have been selling directly to committed collectors of my work as well as through galleries and dealers at art fairs. After 22 years in painting I can say from my own experience and from talking to the dealers that the market has never been flatter and that it is flat from top to bottom.
    My view is that if you are one of the artists who came straight out of college straight into the boom years then unfortunately this is the reality check that was sadly inevitable.

  3. Hi P.Kirk,

    Thanks for the comment. The problem with appearances is that they can be deceiving. What may appear as a flat market is in fact a market that has returned to normal and is no longer over-inflated. People are making comparisons with a boom period that unlike anything the market has ever experienced (even bigger than the late 80’s early 90’s boom). What we experienced during the boom was abnormal and artificial. What we are experiencing now is a transition back to normality.

    Nicholas Forrest

  4. Nicholas,

    I totally agree with your observations on the current art market. I have a small gallery that is benefiting greatly from the art market returning to some kind of normalcy and have had a significant increase in sales recently. This is great news for the emerging artists that I work with b/c they were fearing the worst towards the end of 2008 when things were not doing as well.
    Fingers crossed and looking towards positive results for 2009!

  5. Nicholas – Any thoughts on how much of the direct private sales are via the internet? I have just entered this market and wonder what experience others have had. – John

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