Olav Velthuis has an interesting history of art buying during financial crises in his piece in The Art Newspaper exploring “the art market conundrum” of buying in a time of economic uncertainty.
Velthuis also points out that a substantial portion of the Contemporary art sales that startled so many in New York last month seemed to be purchased by commodity-rich collectors. This was especially true of the very strong sales for Gerhard Richter whose work has been pegged as appealing to BRIC buyers over the past few years.
What explains the art market conundrum? Let’s first of all note that, historically, financial or economic turmoil has never prevented the art market from reaching its highs. Van Gogh’s Irises set a record price of $54m in November 1987, a couple of weeks after Black Monday, when almost a quarter of the Dow Jones’ value was erased. The famous sale of the New York taxi tycoon Robert Scull’s collection, which set a record for many contemporary artists in 1973, came in the middle of a long, steady decline of the stock market, and only a day after the Opec countries frightened the West by agreeing to their oil embargo. In 1931, banking panics in the US and the decline of the gold standard did not prevent Andrew Mellon, who was at the time the US Secretary of the Treasury, buying Raphael’s Alba Madonna, around 1510 (now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC), from the Hermitage in St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) for a then record of almost $1.2m.
What Crisis? The Super Rich Are Still Buying (The Art Newspaper)