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Old 07-25-2007, 12:23 AM   #1
Marcus Lim Marcus Lim is offline
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The state of today's art collectors




This article came into my mailbox today. At first read, i felt my nerves unhinged at the part that "academics are working towards a new art canon." What will the art world be in the future - or in the next 10 years then? Will there be a place for us realists - or portrait artists for the matter?

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The problem with a collector-driven market
By Jane Kallir | Posted 12 July 2007

For the past century or so, the art world has been supported by four
principal pillars: artists, collectors, dealers and the art-historical establishment (critics, academics, and curators). From a wider historical perspective, the latter two entities are relative newcomers.

The development of art history as an academic discipline, and of public museums, dates back only to the 19th century. Only in the 20th century did dealers evolve from passive shopkeepers to pro-active impresarios, promoting the often difficult efforts of the pioneering modernists with missionary zeal. Public resistance to modernism, coupled with the pressures of international capitalism, gave new importance to dealers and museums, both of which played key roles by superintending the distribution of new art and ratifying its seriousness.

At varying points in the course of the past 100 years, the weight of the art world has shifted from one of the four pillars to another. Artists made the modernist revolution; dealers recognised and supported it before academia did; in the post-war period, critics became so dominant that Tom Wolfe lampooned their influence in his 1975 book The Painted Word. And now, it seems, collectors have taken charge.

Over the long term, art-historical value is determined by consensus among all four art-world pillars. When any one of the four entities assume disproportionate power, there is a danger that this entity's personal preferences will cloud everyone's short-term judgement. Put bluntly, the danger of a collector-driven art world is that money will trump knowledge.

Great collectors should ideally become nearly as knowledgeable as the curators and dealers who help them build their collections. But not all of today's collectors have the passion or the time necessary to develop this depth of knowledge. Collecting, once the pursuit of a relatively small number of driven individuals, has become far more common among far more people.

This expansion of the art market, made possible by the broader dissemination of concentrated pockets of wealth and by the globalisation of art and related information, has drawn in players who do not have the focused commitment of the traditional collector. The exponential growth of the market, and the genuine gains realised by those who got in early, inevitably fuel the tendency, justifiable or not, to view art as an asset class comparable to stocks or real estate.

Art has also become the greatest common denominator in the new global social order. Today's rich are an international elite whose members can measure their cachet by the level of VIP services given them at Art Basel and Art Basel/Miami Beach. Anointed by the glamour that today attends the public display of great wealth, the art world has acquired the patina of trendiness that was formerly exclusive to the entertainment and fashion industries.

The contemporary focus on trendiness and investment potential, each of which operates on a relatively short timeline, obscures the fact that lasting value in art accrues in the course of generations.

The corollary to a collector-driven art world is that the canon of ostensibly great artists is being largely determined by market forces. The huge prices that have been achieved lately at the top of the market are the result not only of new concentrations of wealth, but of the fact that many people are pursuing the same handful of artists and works of art. Therefore the drop-off from the peak can be steep, becalming the middle market and consigning lesser works and lesser artists to also-ran status.

This is a market with a voracious appetite for alleged masterpieces, and little patience for historical or developmental nuances. It encourages superficiality: rather than collecting a single artist or group of artists in depth, collectors now often prefer to amass scattered masterworks: here a Matisse, there a Picasso, and then perhaps a Schiele. In an overheated environment, the art-historical establishment often finds itself chasing rather than guiding the market.

The press must keep up with the latest trends, and coverage of social events and record prices often takes precedence over quiet critical reflection. Museums need the support of trustees, but the most powerful collectors no longer need the imprimatur of an existing museum; they can simply open their own.

If it sometimes seems that the art-historical establishment is missing in action, this is in part because, while the market has been aggressively constructing a new canon, academia has been busy deconstructing the old one. For several decades now, scholars have generally agreed that the white, male, Eurocentric canon that traditionally dominated Western art evolved from historical biases that are no longer morally or intellectually justifiable.

Although this change in orientation has literally opened up a whole new world of aesthetic possibilities, it has discouraged academics from making qualitative judgements. Scholarship in areas that are useful to the marketplace, such as provenance and authenticity, has flourished, but overall connoisseurship has declined.

Similarly, market pressures push dealers to become generalists, showcasing a hodge-podge of high-ticket items instead of specialising as they formerly did. Auctioneers, operating within a timeframe that seldom extends much beyond the next sale date, focus most of their energies on the highest priced lots. Novice collectors, justifiably wary and insecure, engage consultants who often know far less than the dealers and auctioneers.

At every level of the art world, deeper knowledge and principled guidance seem to be in short supply.

The writer is co-director of Galerie St Etienne in New York
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Old 07-25-2007, 11:14 AM   #2
Thomasin Dewhurst Thomasin Dewhurst is offline
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Thanks for posting this interesting article, Marcus. The Galerie St. Etienne is a great gallery, focussing mainly on German Expressionism and has a wonderful collection of Kathe Kollwitz .

I would just like to make two points: firstly, if, and it seems very much so, the art collecting world appreciates the value of money more than the value of the art then it is a good thing that artwork is so expensive. If, for example, a Kathe Kollwitz sold for $50, it is probably likely that it will get coffee spilled on it, but if it sold for $50,000 then it would be kept as safe as it's monetary equivalent, wouldn't you agree? One sound reason for artists not to under price themselves.

Secondly, it is not the academics that are making a new canon so much as deconstructing the old "white, male, Eurocentric" one. It is true, as Jane Kallir points out, this academic trend has been around for a decade or two and has some validity in the democratic and philanthropic western world.

But she says:

Quote:
Although this change in orientation has literally opened up a whole new world of aesthetic possibilities, it has discouraged academics from making qualitative judgements. Scholarship in areas that are useful to the marketplace, such as provenance and authenticity, has flourished, but overall connoisseurship has declined.
So it seems that this postmodernist ideal is showing its flaws, or more people are becoming aware of how this trend is leading to a dead end as much as Modernism seemed to be with it's Minimalist conclusions. One perhaps should be aware of the major objections to a "white, male, Eurocentric" artistic art - for example, presenting the female nude as object rather than subject, but it does not mean that an artist has to avoid the nude altogether. One should be aware because, perhaps, there may be some validity here. But it is not a question of either painting according to a set of rules or in opposition to those rules. There are more that two choices.

This article is hopeful, intelligent, and we should be pleased that such an important gallery has such a fair, aesthetically-championing outlook.
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Old 07-26-2007, 06:09 PM   #3
Sharon Knettell Sharon Knettell is offline
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Although we think of French portraiture and painting of the Baroque period as something quite beautiful, not all the elite were connoisseurs. Louis the 14th's choice as court painter was Pierre Mignard. He was a sloppy excutant, becoming the most fashionable portraitist of his time. He also did saccharine Madonnas and mediocre decorative work. He was so popular among the elite he became one of the richest artists in history.

He has not been restored to his former Glory.

I have posted two of his works, followed by two of Philippe de Champaigne's pieces, who labored under his shadow.
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Old 07-26-2007, 09:03 PM   #4
Thomasin Dewhurst Thomasin Dewhurst is offline
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It really is such a pleasure to look at that last one!
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Old 07-28-2007, 09:06 AM   #5
Sharon Knettell Sharon Knettell is offline
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It seems to me that the great movements of life and art go on with or without us. There is really nothing to be done.

Manet simply got bored with classicism and decamped from Couture's studio to do his own thing. Degas classically trained, was interested in color as color and portraying life as he saw it. Tubed paint came along in 1841 and freed the artist from the studio.

Each era has it's own reasoning to do art in it's own peculiar way, good bad or indifferent.

"If you can do something about it, don't worry, If you can't do something about it, don't worry." Shantideva, 8th century Indian Buddhist sage.
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Old 07-28-2007, 11:02 AM   #6
Sharon Knettell Sharon Knettell is offline
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This discussion reminds me of a book I just read, Susan Cheever's "American Bloomsbury". It details the lives of an astonishing group of American thinkers and writers that lived in Concord, Massachusetts in the mid 1800's; Thoreau, Emerson, Louisa May Alcott and Hawthorne to name a few. This group had a profound effect on American literature and is considered to be it's genesis. Cheever goes on to speculate that somehow, groups of geniusses seem to coalesce in a particular area in a particular time; Paris in the 18-19th Century, London in the 18th century and homely Concord in the mid-eighteenth century.
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