Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Out Of The Wreckage

With artists like Damien Hirst earning the sort of 'fuck you' money that would make a media or tech' mogul envious – his recent, self-promoted, stock clearance sale at Sotheby's in London, entitled Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, grossed him more than 95 million quid over just two days – it's inevitable that art itself is now covered with the sort of gelid, journalistic detachment applied to other speculative commodities, like gold or pork bellies.
This week's dour review of the global art market prepared by the online resource, Artprice, is no different in tone to an investment market round-up in, say, The Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal:
"2009 looks set to be a year of price contraction throughout the entire market. During the last art market contraction of 1990-1992, prices fell 44% in just 2 years. A correction of that magnitude is perfectly conceivable, especially considering the speculation to which the market has been subject over recent years: in the United States art prices rose 67% between January 2005 and January 2008. At an international level, art prices rose 48.9% over the same period, a stronger growth rate than the progressions recorded on the world's principal stock markets (CAC40:+46.9% - Dow Jones: +24.5%) over the same period. Stock markets tend to react immediately. Announcements by the Fed or the ECB can impact prices on international financial markets in seconds. The art market functions with a completely different rhythm. Like the real estate market, the art market has a natural 'interval' between cause and effect with transactions often taking several months to conclude."
In other words, the art world is being heavily buffeted by the current economic crisis. A few of my own, monied collectors have spoken of their deep unease and a reluctance to part with cash and there are rumours that some well-established Australian dealers will have to shutter their bricks-and-mortar operations if the outlook doesn't improve over the next 12 months. According to Artprice, things are bleak everywhere: "Prices have contracted in New York, Paris and London – i.e. at the heart of the market – and in the new art market growth zones around Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai."
I'm not sure this retrenchment is such a bad thing. Although I'm pessimistic about how my own work will fare at auctions in Sydney and London, next month, I'm looking forward to this recession enforcing a long-overdue re-evaluation of the emotional, social, political and inspirational function of art – a realisation that it has meaning and value beyond that of just another arena for investment. Maybe artists themselves will become less focussed on their media profiles and market performances and more engaged with the idea of their work reclaiming a place within the lives of people other than those who are merely looking to diversify the risk in their portfolios. If they don't, they might just... disappear.
It happened when the buoyant New York art scene of the '80s went bust. Back then, only the dead, like Warhol or Basquiat, made it out of the wreckage with their reputations intact (although the survival of Jeff Koons is an enigma). Shrewdly, Julian Schnabel sought redemption as a film director. But who remembers – let alone collects – Kostabi, Robert Longo, David Salle or Sandro Chia anymore?

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The change has started!!!

Anonymous said...

museums still collect Kostabi, Longo, Salle etc, I would think so at least. Do they still show them?

everything is ephemeral and permanence an elusive illusion

CC said...

actually, no they don't - especially kostabi, who was always something of a fake. and salles, longos and chias have long been losing value.

Rick said...

There is a real “emperor’s new clothes” analogy with the art market, especially with someone like Hirst, whose talent is questionable (see Matthew Collings’s brilliant – as usual – essay on Hirst “Damien Hirst's record breaking auction signals a victory for investment over art” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2008/09/17/bahirst117.xml John McDonald’s typically acerbic take: http://www.smh.com.au/cgi-bin/common/popupPrintArticle.pl?path=/articles/2008/09/26/1222217489972.html, as well as Robert Hughes’s choleric musings: http://www.artforum.com.au/vtopic8259.html&sid=8fb5eba3c4a10e75a79fa2af7f3315fe and Germaine Greer’s quirky solipsistic response: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/sep/22/1?gusrc=rss&feed=artanddesign) but art and money have always had an inextricable link in modern capitalist society. In fact, fine art depends on these investors, who value the artwork as much for its ability to increase in resale value as its intrinsic artistic value; and, seeing as we're a society completely caught up in money and its acquisition, it makes sense that the art we now value the most aesthetically is thus valued because it's worth a lot of money. When the Oz govt first committed $A1 million (which was actually almost $US1.5 million then! - how the mighty Oz dollar has fallen since the 70s)) to Blue Poles, the average Oz punter was shocked, outraged, horrified, even, in Kev Rudd's artistic critique terms, "revolted" by something that "my 3 yr old could do" would cost so much; now there's grudging respect that the painting has appreciated to around $100 million.
So Hirst will be ridiculously-highly-valued for a while because so many rich people have invested so much in this golden calf - surely he can't crash too (if he did, would the govt bail him out?).

ashley said...

uh does anyone else notice the naked man standing to the left of the artwork? WTF?

as for the post... no one should be making millions on any work. not even the renaissance masters - no profession art or otherwise should make millions on one piece of their career - one stock trade, one artwork, one surgery, one winning case, one drug deal (lol), one political nomination.. no one should be making that. that should happen over a lifetime.

i do wish you luck though at your auction - if i had money id buy a work of yours lol :)