Late last week, the New York Times made a strange leap in logic when it declared that the Contemporary art market was still recovering from the supposed collapse of the market for “Zombie Formalism,” or the artists who seemed to dominate day sales for an 18-month period. The inference is that these day sale artists were a major market force in dollar volume terms:
But away from those widely reported “blue chip” sales, mainstream auction houses and dealers are still trying to recover from the bursting in 2015 of the speculative bubble in young abstract art. A silver monochrome by Jacob Kassay or a “Rain” painting by Lucien Smith might look a lot funkier than English brown furniture, but cooling values for emerging artists have also prompted new sales strategies.
“A new type of collector entered the market who bought to sell. They were treating art like a stock, tracking it by the quarter,” said Joel Mesler, a seasoned midtier New York artist and gallerist, who in May relocated his dealership, Rental Gallery, to East Hampton on Long Island. “Because they got in so quick, they got out as quickly as they got in. It changed the landscape instantly,” Mr. Mesler added. “The smart ones moved up a tier and looked at artists who had careers. The new collector is looking at undervalued names.”
There’s no doubt that particular market evaporated. But the implication that those sales were determinative in the drop in market volume seems to mistake the press obsession with those artists and their six-figure sales for the reality of the multi-million-dollar sales that were shifting from seven figures to six figures.
Nonetheless, there has been an important shift in the art market that can be seen in the sales figures and the polling of market participants that collectors are focused on finding over-looked historical “masters” who might increase in value. In plainer terms, its the difference between collectors buying abstract Asian artists from the 60s and 70s instead of abstract painters from the US in the 2010s.
Live Auctions End at Christie’s South Ken. Will Online Sales Fill the Void? (The New York Times)