Scott Reyburn raises an interesting point in his recent New York Times column. Quoting Marta Gnyp, the art advisor, Reyburn muses on “how conservative the tastes of collectors have become in these uncertain times.” It’s worth unpacking this a little because what Reyburn is circling here is very much at the heart of why art history is history.
First, here’s the smart case Gnyp makes:
“Collectors are looking for the new, but it doesn’t necessarily mean young,” said Ms. Gnyp [….]
Ms. Gnyp pointed to a “long and growing” list of artists from once-marginalized groups who are now making an impact in the market. Last month, for example, Sotheby’s achieved an auction high for the American artist Pat Steir (born in 1940), with the sale for £680,750 of the 1993 painting “Four Yellow/Red Negative Waterfall.” Influenced by minimalism and Buddhism, Ms. Steir’s “Waterfall” paintings were the subject of a solo show in November at Dominique Lévy in London.
“Galleries can present them as a discovery, but at the same time, a safe buy with the potential to grow financially,” added Ms. Gnyp, who also cited the artists Mira Schendel (Hauser & Wirth), Carmen Herrera (Lisson Gallery) and Dora Maurer (White Cube). “People think young art is risky.”
But those quotes don’t really go far enough. The point here is that art history is history. And as time unspools different aspects of history become more or less visible and consequential. The market plays a role in locating and redistributing those works that may have been neglected or under-appreciated when they were first created or sold.
Tastes among collectors may oscillate between two extremes—the hunt for the new and the re-discovery of the old—but one is not necessarily more conservative than the other. Nearly three years ago, there was a rush of interest in emerging talent. There remain a number of young artists who attract a great deal of attention from institutions and the market. Just as there were several dealers like Dominique Lévy who were working on reclaiming the reputations of under-appreciated artists during the height of the interest in abstraction.
Secondary market dealers tell stories about an artist’s career and provide a context for understanding the artist’s work that cannot be done in the primary market. As many dealers who came of age in the 70s and later tell us, the primary market was previously supported by dealing in secondary (read historical) works.
Part of the reshaping the art market over the last 15 years has been the establishment of a greater number of secondary market dealers who really only work with historical material. Though it is hard to tell whether that is a cause or an effect.
‘What Next?’ an Uncertain Art World Asks, Sticking to Proven Brands (The New York Times)