Watching the Art Market

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The Artist’s Studio. 1870. Jean-Frederic Bazille. Musee d’Orsay, Paris

The distance between the art student, the practicing artist, the gallerist and the collector/investor often seems so vast that it’s hard to believe they are all part of the same ecosystem. But of course they are, the product of a complex interlocking network of ideas, preferences, cultural values, economies and desires. Once was a time when artists stacked up their finished canvases in a corner of their studio. If they were lucky enough to be shown in a gallery, then the gallery got a cut, but often enough collectors or art-lovers visited the studio, had a glass or two of absinthe, paid some cash to the artist and walked out with the painting. Perhaps, as in Bazille’s amazing painting (above) a gentleman played piano while the negotiations were in progress.

OK, it’s an oversimplification. But the idea of a “quality” artist selling from their studio is now almost unthinkable. The link between artist and seller is so distant that many artists have no idea who currently “owns” their work. If they do meet up, over a glass of Cristal at a glamorous dinner party perhaps, it’s because the artist too has become a celebrity. Many successful artists never see their works again because they are consigned to storage as part of an investment strategy. Did you know that if you buy art as part of your superannuation you are not allowed to look at it? It must be locked away somewhere, otherwise you are getting a benefit from it before you are allowed to. You have to be sixty and retire first. Crazy!  Strict rules govern investment in SMSH’s

A good artist has to have a gallery. Galleries compete for artists, but only if they sell, and especially if they have a rising reputation. Once with a gallery, the artist is no longer free to sell from their studio. They can give paintings away as gifts, of course, but even that is frowned upon. For decades this was the accepted system: an artist, a gallery, a buyer. In the secondary market, where art is on-sold from its first purchaser, auctions were the norm, but there were also private sales.

This was a fairly stable process until round about the 1990s. Then, in a strange contortion of late global capitalism, the rise of the super-elites, including traditional oligarchs, real-estate tycoons, movie stars and glamorous celebrities with infinite wealth saw the system change.

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Neo Rauch’s 1998 painting Etappe. Bought by Brad Pitt at Art Basel for one million US in 2009.  David Zwirner and Galerie Eigen Art, Berlin/Leipzig.

There were new players awash with funds from the “developing” economies: China, Brazil, India. And with the end of so-called communism funds were flooding around the globe and into the hands of gangsters and various versions of Mafia with their new-style goon squads: armies of suited accountants and investment managers. Gazillions of dollars went into superannuation funds which had to give a decent yield.

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Three stock market indices: US$

Periodic panics emerged, as they always do in a capitalist system. Stock markets rose and fell, raw materials markets collapsed, industrial work moved off-shore to low cost countries and then their bloated and unbalanced economies went off the rails. Democratic systems stalled. Military rule came back. Nothing was stable.

Where then could the super-rich, or their financial managers, deposit their gotten (ill or otherwise) gains?

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Pablo Picasso’s ” Dora Maar au chat” is auctioned by Tobias Meyer at Sotheby’s New York during the Impressionist and Modern Art Sale 03 May 2006. The painting sold for USD 85 million. AFP PHOTO/Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Aha! The art market! What a great idea. Original works of art are just that: original. Walter Benjamin put his finger right on the pulse when he wrote about the aura of the art work in the age of mechanical reproduction. [It is worth reading and re-reading this work – so prescient, yet he had no idea in the 1930s how it would unfold].

Walter Benjamin 2
http://www.slideshare.net.  John Eckman #wcnyc2014

The magic is that you cannot duplicate an original work of art. You can make prints of it, of course. Or someone can try forging it. But in the end there can one authentic example of each work, and only a limited number from each artist especially when the artist is dead.

Artists become superstars. A dizzying variety of choices emerge, some of them hard to “collect”, as in the best-known works of Tracey Emin. Tracey recently married a rock in a formal ceremony and they are reported to be very happy.

Dinner In Honor Of Tracey Emin Hosted By Phillips In The Cecconi's Garden At Soho Beach House
Tracey Emin dinner hosted by Phillips and Vanity Fair at Cecconi’s at Soho Beach House on December 3, 2013 in Miami Beach, Florida, to celebrate her wedding.

A dense supporting cast in the art world decide which works are important, which styles are great, which fashions are in. The art market itself slides in its preferences from time to time. How to invest in the right pieces? Let the market decide, it is capitalism after all.

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The Mei Moses index – reproduced under the terms of fair dealing for purposes of study and research.

And so the glamour auction houses emerged in the main cities of global capitalism: London, New York, Hong Kong. Lesser markets emerged in outliers: Melbourne, Sydney, Vancouver, wherever there were funds to be invested and profits to be made. Some great books have been written about the world of the auction house. I mentioned some time ago the wonderful film of Isaac Julien, with its glimpses of the art market and interview with one of the main players in the British art market. Isaac Julien: PLAYTIME.

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Isaac Julien: portrait with still from Playtime 2013

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I will add shortly the titles of some books and articles I have really enjoyed, including some fiction.

So here we are today. The profound impulse to make and enjoy art has been ripped away from its base in local cultures and economies. The new Global Art Market is a dizzying beast. In the next few posts I will be looking at some recent trends and think about what it all means for the ordinary artist in backwaters like Australia.

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Roy Lichtenstein. “Oh, All Right”. Sold at auction for $42.6 million in 2010.

 

Developing a WordPress site for Artists

This post was originally meant to go onto my work-in-progress art site (see link below).  It turns out to have been a mistake to use my name for both of these URLs of these sites, because WordPress when it gets tired and emotional doesn’t know which one to put the post in. Still, I thought it might be worthwhile to say a few words about my experience of site development in WordPress as an artist and writer.

The first blog site I ever set up was  about life in Sydney, with a focus on food and the inner west. That site is still live and you can go there easily by putting Elinor Entity into Google. It was set up on Blogger which was then one of the only options. Blogger has developed a lot since then and offers great simplicity and functionality but it doesn’t have the Website quality which you get with a WordPress blog.

So I decided to set up a WordPress site when I started studying art at TAFE. I thought I could use it to put my written work up on. But my teacher never looked at the site and wanted me to hand in written papers which I did, but I put various expanded versions and research comments on things that had interested me on the site anyway.  I am talking about this site which you are on now, annettehamilton.wordpress.com. It was a very steep learning curve and I went through hours and days of struggle to learn how to use it, but once it was set up it was a breeze.

I now have three sites live and two others I am using as practice although both will go live eventually. One is this site, obviously, which has been a delight to develop and use. I used the same template for my Writing Zone site, which I set up to manage my fiction and memoir publications. These WordPress templates are free and don’t require third party hosting or any knowledge of coding although you can of course make some modifications through the templates. Not all the free templates offer the same range of options so check them out carefully. There are hundreds of them, both sites developed by WordPress and by third parties – most of the latter are not free though.

But using free WordPress templates with a WordPress URL is kind of low rent. The real deal is to obtain your own domain name, either through the WordPress set-up process or separately through a domain name provider, and set yourself up with a paid theme and a hosting service. The domain name, the specialist theme, and the hosting service all cost money.

You can do something inbetween by setting up your own domain name through WordPress, and using WordPress themes and WordPress as your host. Or you can buy a dedicated theme. I wanted a Portfolio site so I thought I would be very clever and do that.  I thought I could put all my images up on the site, on grids, and the viewer would be able to click on each one and bring up information about the picture, such as size, medium etc. as well as any other background.

Well that just didn’t happen. I have spent hours and hours trying to make the paid theme I purchased, Qua, work properly. Only now have I realised that the kind of clickable functionality I wanted isn’t available with that theme. It just doesn’t work like that but I couldn’t see this out from the demo. Now I’m stuck with a fairly expensive paid theme which won’t do what I want. Quite often you will be told that you can make things happen by going into CSS or doing some kind of html coding. Well sorry but that’s not in the repertoire of this artist/writer and I’m not going to start paying a specialist to do it.

So I’m stuck with a kind of portfolio site, which sort of/half works but isn’t what I had in mind at all. One of these days, when I don’t want to spend more time painting and writing, I might go back to the drawing board and see if I can set up a better one.

my portfolio site

Another idea is to sign up for an Art Archiving service. Again, it involves expense, in this case an annual fee. But you can put all your paintings on it, and track where they are, whether any have been sold, prices and such.  Plus I think there is a facility for commenting on the paintings. More on this soon.wordpress-art-portfolio-themes1