The Spectacle of the Art Market Part 3 – artmarketblog.com
I am sure that many of you would agree that it has become the norm for people to approach fine art as consumers instead of as scholars or connoisseurs. If you were to ask me whether there is anything wrong with this I would say that there definitely is. Don’t get me wrong, I am obviously a strong supporter of the art market, but also recognise the need for a balance between the commercial and the cultural. Without that balance the art market becomes unstable and the art world becomes too closely connected to the art market. Whether you realise it or not, the art market requires a certain level of “infiltration” by scholars and connoisseurs. It is the scholars and connoisseurs who add value to works of art by generating information and knowledge that make works of art historically and culturally more significant. It is this information that is generated by scholars and connoisseurs that we should be using to justify the dollar value of a work of art because this information is usually based on intrinsic characteristics of the work of art that cannot be disassociated from the work of art or become obsolete, and therefore encourage more stable long term values. The contemporary art market, on the other hand, often relies on factors that have very little to do with the work of art its self such as social status, economic status, popular trends and financial gain. These factors can become obsolete very quickly which usually means that the dollar value that these factors generated also disappears causing the sort of correction that we have just experienced.
In February of 2008 Nicholas Penny, the curator of the British National Gallery, made a statement that he was going to put an end to the gallery’s blockbuster exhibition days. According to an article in the Guardian Newspaper, Penny said “The responsibility of a major gallery is to show people something they haven’t seen before. A major national institution should be one that proves a constant attraction to the public. What is important is encouraging historical and visual curiosity in the general public.” Ralph T. Coe, the former director of the Nelson Gallery-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Mo., a former president of the American Association of Art Museum Directors and a former chairman of the Museum Committee of the National Endowment for the Arts, put the problem in even simpler terms when he said: “One of the saddest things museum connoisseurs like me have had to observe is the substitution of entertainment values for the intrinsic values incarnate in great works of art that alone can confer aesthetic authenticity.” This problem of the substitution of entertainment values (the spectacle) for intrinsic values that the cultural sector is experiencing is also a big problem for the art market as I have shown above. We need to stop the spectacularisation of the contemporary art market if we want to have a more culturally and historically significant period of art production. I believe that we need to be asking the following question on a far more regular basis: in one hundred years time will this work be able to be exhibited in a museum, and will people consider the work to be culturally significant and be historically important?
**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