There are few with the art market knowledge and credibility of Pace Wildenstein founder, Arne Glimcher. So when he decides to write something for The Daily Beast explaining what’s happened with the art market, it’s worth reading:
So what happened to art and how did its commodification become so blatant? Eric Fischl told me that a woman once asked him the difference between the art world in the ‘80s and now. “I’ll tell you the difference”, he said “my generation was living in the art world. The current generation is living in the art market.” That is really the key to where we are now. [ . . . ]
Historically, art has always had a market. When one medieval fiefdom defeated another they would drag back its jewels, gold, tapestries and art objects as the spoils of war. Art equaled power, riches and culture. It still does.
Flash forward. Another gilded age came to its apex in the 2000s. If there were 100 collectors in 1960, there were 10,000-plus by 2000, acquiring the new art and even buying work that had not yet been made. The waiting list, the “last chance to find the new Jasper Johns” mentality was exploited by the dealers, and some artists abused their talents and power in the service of celebrity and money. It was a craps game. [ . . . ]
The difference between then and now is vast. The Japanese were collecting already famous artists. Whereas the new collectors of the last decade were making artists famous by their rapacious patronage. Is it within reason that an artist’s prices could go from $50,000 in the gallery to $1 million in the auction rooms within six months? They did with Marlene Dumas. And within a two-year spa,n a Nurse painting by Richard Prince went from $120,000 to $10 million. [ . . . ]
But in crisis there is also opportunity. Serious collectors who couldn’t get near an object now have access. Prices that were once insane are readjusting and the auction system itself is in jeopardy. We’ll know even more about that after the February London auctions. By offering enormous guarantees, the auction houses irresponsibly projected an expectation of ever increasing value. They helped to put themselves in jeopardy. Christie’s is rumored to be for sale, and both Sotheby’s and Christie’s are closing foreign and domestic offices.
The latest round in this game of art is nearly over, cooled by the economic crisis, but the passion for art, the recognition that it reflects society’s values, is not. More art was produced in the last decade than at any other time in history. And yet most of it will wind up as the landfill of the 20th century. The new, new thing mentality is old now, and somewhere a newer new thing is on its way. And perhaps the art market is ready to be replaced by the art world once more.
You’ll have to go to post to see if we’ve done violence to the meaning of the piece. In fairness, it isn’t immediately apparent whether Glimcher blames new money, the auction houses or the artists for the recent state of the market. Though it’s not hard to see that it is all three.
Pop Goes the Art Market (The Daily Beast)
**NB: It is worth noting that Glimcher gets a fact wrong about Pollock and the press. The breakthrough article he refers to was a 1949 piece in Life magazine entitled, “Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?” It was in 1956, the year he died, that Time called Pollock “Jack the Dripper.”