Wise to Art

Sizing up the Modern Art Market

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New York school or everyone possibly connected

April 22nd, 2009 · No Comments

For those of us that cherish post-war abstract expressionism, Artnet is at present putting up an interesting online sale called Abstract paintings New York school 1940-1970, featuring 60 original works by some 50 artists, more or less associated with the school, some pre-eminent. This is the online art market at its best: highlighting a niche of the market for the benefit and enjoyment of the collector. Beyond the sheer pleasure of seeing these works together, the presentations are clear-cut, photographs good and reports on provenance and condition impeccable. Even when considering it as a commercially coloured non-event, it’s a virtual ‘group’ exhibition not to miss.

Some glimpses:

Norman Bluhm, although present in the offering of numerous galleries at the moment, possessing a Bluhm is always a thrill and why not this one. Detail (24×19.75 in):

Alexander Liberman, An interesting work by someone most known for his sculptures. A bargain for this quality. Detail from Red Tangents (11×11 in):

Robert Motherwell, Collage monotype. Detail (26×19.75 in):

Click on the image to be transferred to Artnet

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Art’s value

March 31st, 2009 · No Comments

Because the commercial value of a work became the primary way of evaluating its value, work became good because it was expensive rather than expensive because it was deemed to be good.

Such astonishing naïve comments are thus given in this late month of March 2009 by an exercising art fair director and former auction-house specialist, and this in the solid framework of a Newsweek article on the current art market situation.

Not only is this ‘revelation’ a pure banality; it’s fundamentally false in its assumption that in ‘normal’ circumstances good work is paid more than bad work – as in these sober times when the artificially created buying frenzy has exhausted itself. The commercial value of art has always been and will always be manipulated. If not artificially pushed, art does not sell well, whatever its qualities. The exceptional Hirst and Yves Saint-Laurent sales were both brought to the limit in this respect and the results were comparable, regardless of all quality criteria and notwithstanding the absence or presence of a recession.

Any plain screenprint by Warhol will sell at a higher price than a Velasquez oil painting if the controlling market forces want it to. You can collect monetary value or you can collect art. If you are in fact collecting money, the amount of art that you’ll get with your purchases is always relative. In this respect it’s extremely instructive to browse through the catalogue of any major artist’s life’s work. Without exception, only a fraction of the whole is worth our appreciation. The rest should be looked upon as exercises, failures, studies, and preparations. The overwhelming majority of the pieces on the market by Van Gogh, Manet, Monet etc. any average mediocre artist could have executed, in fact so badly accomplished are they. It’s the comparatively small output of masterpieces that make great artists stand out. And these pieces museum curators have long acquired. Commercially, however, the story is quite another. Commercial success is a question of marketing, and marketing is make-believe. And collectors of monetary value, in great difference to collectors of art, are abundantly present and for the most part conveniently stupid or, why not, clever, all depends on how you look at it.

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Reviewing art market dedicated sites on the web – focus on fine-art-auctions.com

February 16th, 2009 · No Comments

This German high quality site has understood all about the medium’s potential. Whilst still only offering works with prices firmly within what nowadays is acceptable for bidding without actually seeing, Fine Art Auctions’ site manager keeps hammering on the absolute safety of using its platform. Among the arguments is the extraordinary five year guarantee of authenticity given on all works sold through the site. This sounds at first particularly generous but inevitably brings up the question as to why a work would eventually cease to be authentic in the sixth year…

Fine Art Auctions puts it this way:

The value of a work of art is determined by various factors. In rare cases, new testing methods or publications can lead to scientific insights that could not even have been anticipated at the time of purchase – in the worst case, the work is worth less than was thought. One of the most famous cases of a fall in value is probably Rembrandt’s ‘Man in a Gold Helmet’, which in 1986 was attributed to one of his students.

Fine-art-auctions.com is exemplary when it comes to reassuring the potential customer. Of course, if you don’t have the accumulated weight of Christie’s, you need to be reassuring and fine-art-auctions goes more than just out of its way to alleviate any unease:

Only reputable auctioneers and art galleries may qualify as partners of Fine Art Auctions. The basic requirement is for them to have been working on the fine art market for at least 10 years. If this preliminary condition is met, Art Directory Service GmbH meticulously checks the applicant’s references, its qualifications and other issues, for instance whether it is a member of an auctioneers’ association. Specific criteria have to be met for acceptance.

So what’s the result of all this effort? Well, a particularly agreeable site with much dynamic and perhaps the best platform available today for finding quality art at normal market prices. Don’t yet hope to find major works but expect drawings, prints, photography and the odd oil by some minor name. The present sobriety will undoubtedly change in the future as we get more and more used to the virtual platform.

Fine Art Auctions sample

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