Mark Gimein has a story on Bloomberg that deals with the gallery system’s desire for control over the markets of young artists. The story refers to the charts (above and below) that tally the cumulative auction sales of a number of young artists. The reason the 30 and under chart is dominated by Chinese is because artists sell directly through auction houses in China which rarely takes place in the West.
Gimein and I spoke for some time last week about the subject and he wrote an excellent piece that’s well worth reading.
There’s a disconnect between the larger financial markets and the “guided” art market. In financial market terms, this support can come off as manipulation. But is not in any way clear that a “free” market in art would be better for anyone involved:
On Wall Street, some of the stratagems dealers use to keep work from going to auction would probably amount to illegal market manipulation. In the art world, it’s the normal course of business. Undoubtedly this keeps out many potential buyers. Without a transparent market for the work of hot artists, there’s no way to know if you’re being ripped off. At the same time, it preserves the art market’s exclusivity as a club–in itself one of the main reasons (and perhaps the main reason) for collecting art. “If you want to get your money to talk,” says Maneker, “the easiest way is to go to an auction. If you want to be part of the art tribe, you have to go to a lot of dinners.”
The Financial Times provides a perfect example of what happens when auction houses circumvent the dealer-sponsored market with their review of Charles Saatchi’s £3m, no-reserve sale of young artist’s work last week in London. The sale was auction versus dealer in every sense:
Saatchi’s was a “strong-arm tactic”, says Simon Lee, whose gallery represents Toby Ziegler, one of the artists included in the sale: it seemed deliberately designed to force dealers into bidding to support their artists’ prices. […] But overall results were poor and several artists are said to be devastated by the disappointing performance of their sculptures. […] So what effect will the sale have on the market for artists whose work sold for far less than Saatchi paid for it? Dealers, advisers and market watchers are unanimous on this point: “not much”. Saatchi is no longer the tastemaker he once was and a single poor performance at auction can easily be written off by dealers.
If Wall St. Worked Like the Art Market, It Would Be a Crime (Financial Times)
Christie’s Saatchi Auction (Financial Times)