Lindsay Pollack runs a great art world panel. Last week she moderated “After the Deluge?” a panel of dealers and not-for-profit curators addressing the ramifications of the economic crisis. In the interest of readability and the opportunity to emphasize some of the many interesting points made during the panel, we will be running sections, instead of the entire interview, throughout the week. Here are Jeffrey Deitch’s comments on the difference between now and just a year ago:
Pollock: When you would walk to galleries and fairs, there was a sense that we were having a return to the old school art world and that it was maybe a good thing, and speculators would vanish and real collectors would remain.
Deitch: I think most of us an agree that the art market, the art world, became quite distorted during this period, and it was confusion between the market value works of art and their aesthetic importance. A lot of us were…there’s now a famous quote from Tobias Meyer, the chief auctioneer that Sotheby’s, that we don’t know that the most expensive art is the best art, and so a lot of the constituency the art world brought into this with the rankings of the most expensive art, and the price rankings becoming the equivalent of the artistic importance ratings. Of course, there is some convergence between the two, but the situation got very distorted, and from the point of view of a gallery owner, there is so much focus on auctions and art fairs that, in fact, collectors stopped coming to galleries as often as they used to, and museum curators, instead of doing their usual October tour with their trustees to the New York galleries, switched it to Miami Beach, because it was more fun. So many of the major American curators didn’t go to galleries anymore.
Pollock: Are they getting the best examples for their collections there? Doesn’t this have big ramifications?
Deitch: I, for one, found it astounding that major museums, famous museums, would come and make an acquisition off the stand.
Pollock: How was it done in the past?
Deitch: The traditional way, of course, is a curator slowly looks at work in the gallery over time, visits the artist’s studio, says, “I think we’re interested in this artist, le me know when there are some good pieces,” and the museum would be directed toward the best work that the artist has made, not the medium-sized, very commercial, easily transportable piece that you bring to an art fair. So that’s an example of the distortion. I hope that some of that distortion is going to be corrected, that collectors will find it more pleasant to go to galleries again, and will find it less intimidating. They won’t come to a gallery like mine and find that everything has been sold in advance to these six billionaires who, the past two years, the art market basically became the market.
Pollock: Are those billionaires taking a break?
Deitch: I don’t know. The most shocking thing that woke us all up that this is a new situation is that with the number one guy on the art power list, the most prestigious person on the market, Francois Pinault, the second or third week of September, cancelled all his purchases for the previous six months, including purchase from the Basel art fair, pieces he had on reserve in galleries like mine since April. For me, it was very significant. I’m not sure of what the story with Victor Pinchuk in the Ukraine right now…that country has as many problems as anywhere on earth right now. It is an exaggeration to say the whole market is oriented towards these six billionaires whose private curators came in first and swept the gallery. It’s not a total exaggeration.