Fixing the Contemporary Art Auction Crisis Pt. 1 – artmarketblog.com

Fixing the Contemporary Art Auction Crisis Pt. 1 – artmarketblog.com

So, my last post on the issues surrounding the definition of contemporary art and the classification of works of art by auction houses created quite a storm – and rightly so. If you are still wondering why I have such an issue with the way some auctions houses categorise the works they are selling, then perhaps what I am about to show you will provide some enlightenment. The definition of contemporary art, in the context of the art market, has seemingly become redundant due to years of misuse and abuse. Although I acknowledge that the definition of contemporary art has remained open to interpretation to some extent, some auction houses appear to be taking liberties when it comes to categorising works for auction. Since the art market appears to function according to a corrupted definition of contemporary art, I decided to turn to cultural sector to see what the museum world had to say on the subject.

When it comes to making decisions regarding the classification and categorisation of works of art it is the cultural sector that generally has the final word, so I was hoping the cultural sector would provide something insightful. What I found was insightful indeed. To begin my search I went to the website of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is located in my home town of Sydney, Australia, and is a favourite haunt of mine. The Sydney MCA website says: “Contemporary art can be defined in several ways: art which is of this time; art which is recent, new or existing now; or art which follows modern ideas or fashions in style and design. It can also refer to museum collections from 1970s onwards”. So, the Sydney MCA defines Contemporary art as both recent and as an era that began in the 1970’s. The next museum definition I found was provided by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art whose website said: “Contemporary art had its beginnings in the early 1970s, resulting in part from a general challenge to the authority of state and cultural institutions dominated by men and exclusivist policies. Contemporary art, also identified with the term postmodernist art, has been in many ways a continuation of the ideals of modern art—its themes, styles, and, most importantly, the concept of the work of art as private expression”. Again, the MMOCA defines contemporary art as a sort of era that began in the 1970’s.

Now, before I continue on I want to make it clear that I am not agreeing with the above definitions of Contemporary art provided by the museums. I do, however, acknowledge that a museum devoted to contemporary art requires a relatively broad definition of contemporary art due to the fact that a museum’s collection needs to have a relatively long shelf life. If a contemporary art museum were to focus purely on current art, they would have to constantly update the collection, which would be an extremely expensive and time consuming task. At the present time I can understand the reasoning behind the decision by Contemporary art museums to begin what could be termed the “Contemporary era” in the 1970’s, as both Conceptual art and Digital art – both of which continue to have a strong influence on current artistic practice – came to prominence in the early 1970’s.

To be continued………….

image: ‘4 the Love of Go(l)d’ sculpture by Eugenio Merino

**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

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