Before the art world’s annual August slowdown, I want to share some thoughts on the current state of the contemporary art market.
The high end of the art market has picked up from last year, and 2017 has been quite active thus far. Art market players are the most optimistic they’ve been in recent years, thanks in part to solid results from major auctions around the world and record-setting sales by a number of artists. In addition, Art Basel in Switzerland, the most upscale and important contemporary art fair of the year, took place last month, and by all accounts – dealers, collectors and the media alike – sales were brisk and the mood was extremely positive. In fact, competition was fierce for the top works, high price tags notwithstanding.
Looking further down the market, a trend I mentioned in my January 2017 newsletter continues: looking back to rediscover overlooked and undervalued artists. This is helping the middle market, which is also stronger because many collectors are bypassing the perceived risk of purchasing emerging artists and focusing more on mid-career artists with proven track records. These are artists who also have more support from institutions and influential collectors.
Unfortunately, this shift, coupled with the exit of emerging artist speculators (see my April 2016 newsletter) means that the lower end is suffering. And a number of galleries are closing, which is causing many to rethink how artists will be discovered and how art will be sold. Currently, the smaller galleries identify new artists, bring them to market and groom them until they move on to bigger galleries. If the smaller galleries disappear, it’s unclear how this process will work. And if fewer artists enter the gallery fray, competition at all levels will increase.
I firmly believe that art can be a good investment when it is acquired wisely. However, I think some collectors are losing sight of what buying art is all about. It’s not purely a transaction; it’s about looking and learning and enjoying the ride. And at the end of the day, it’s about having something you love hanging on your walls. So please do the art world and yourself a favor and go to galleries, especially the smaller ones, and support the art ecosystem.
I look forward to seeing you this fall – or at the beach in August!