As we commence a week that is universally expected to provide breath-taking confirmation of the demand for art, particularly Contemporary Art, it is worth listening to some of the experts on why that appetite seems to continually grow. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with sociologist Olav Velthuis:
In recent years the cost of art works at auction has remained high: record prices continue to be set, and both auction houses and art fair producers maintain that a top tier of collectors – after the most expensive works – is still very much in existence. Why is this? Is it sustainable?
Again, it’s not surprising if you look at the number of billionaires, which, at around 1,426, is more than four times what it was in 2000. Record prices will be sustainable for as long as this number of billionaires and multi-millionaires keeps rising, and for as long as these people continue to have an interest in art, for whatever reason.
And art is not just about investment – it’s more driven by status. People who buy art at this level are ordinarily newly rich; what is typical about people with new wealth is that they crave status symbols and art, historically, has been one of the best status symbols that you can imagine.
What is also important to understand is that the art world offers them a sort of social scene: art fairs are the perfect places for them to meet and hang out, and to develop status hierarchies – to see who’s getting into the hottest parties, openings, and pre-openings. In that case, I do think it’s sustainable.
Does this divide the market?
Again, it’s complicated. The middle end of the market especially has had quite a hard time over the past few years: their running costs remain high, but they have not been able to profit as much from the boom which the top segment has witnessed. These billionaires don’t get to their galleries, or to their artists.
Having said that, I do think their influence has trickled down to mid and lower markets. For instance, there is a lot more being written about modern and contemporary art in the media. This, however, has a very indirect effect. It’s hard to quantify.
Constructing an art market: Interview with Olav Velthuis (Art Media Agency)