What’s Driving the Move Toward the Middle Market? The Wall Street Journal has suddenly woken up to a trend within the art market toward works priced in the seven-figure range which it believes, “started last month in New York as collectors steered clear of the priciest options but fought over pieces under $10 million—a surprising turnabout from earlier seasons when newly wealthy buyers were focused on items at the top of the market.” This turn is neither new nor a surprise. The so-called “masterpiece market” peaked in 2015. Since then, art buyers have not left the market. Instead, they shifted their focus toward discovering historical masters whose work they perceived to be undervalued. Indeed, we’re almost at the end of that cycle.
Nonetheless, the WSJ believes this is a sudden phenomenon and looks for a metaphor to explain it:
- “There is a fatigue that sets in after Basel where too much art kills the art,” said Christie’s expert Edmond Francey. “If you were to eat at a three-star restaurant every night, you’d wind up craving a simple salad.”
That’s true but somewhat too small for what may be going on here. We’ve long believed that art is where food culture was 30 years ago. It’s not that we opened many more Michelin three-star restaurants since that time but that the quality of restaurants below that level has gotten much better, those chefs receive more attention, and a larger public engages with food on more levels. In art market terms, that means sophisticated buyers would rather pay for an A+ example of a B artist than overpay for a secondary work by a leading light.
Taiwanese Collectors Flex Their Market Clout: Slightly overlooked in the initial promotion for Magnus Renfrew‘s new art fair scheduled for January 2019 in Taiwan is the growing importance of Taiwanese collectors on the market for Modern art who have been putting a bid underneath that market, at least when the works are considered to be of the first quality. That’s all background to Enid Tsui‘s interview with Renfrew in the South China Morning Post where he subtly pitches the appeal of his new fair as a place for Western galleries to gain a foothold into the Taiwanese market:
- “Collectors from Taiwan have long been widely recognised as among the most active on the international art market, but there is still considerable scope for developing that audience further by bringing an exceptional offering to them on their doorstep. For the auction houses, Taiwan is one of the most important consignment gathering constituencies for the auctions of Asian art. Major auction houses showcase their top lots from their New York and London Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary sales in Taiwan.” …
One Solution to Colonial Restitution, Loans: The Telegraph reports on some interesting posturing taking place in the press as representatives of Nigeria’s government make overtures to British and European museums who might loan the Benin Bronzes looted during colonial rule in 1897. According to the Telegraph, “Godwin Obaseki, the governor of the southern Nigerian state of Edo where Benin City is now located, said that museum officials in Europe have floated the idea of returning the objects on loan:”
- “In some cases it could be a permanent loan and in some cases it (could) just be for temporary display. In other cases it could be a return of works,” he said. Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments said its officials had held talks with representatives of European museums and it was “not adverse” to the loan of artefacts. As part of any deal, a legal framework would have to be drawn up to guarantee the artefacts immunity from seizure once flown to Nigeria. Other countries, including Ethiopia and Greece, have rejected the idea of loans, instead demanding permanent returns on the basis that they should not have to borrow their own pilfered property. …
Georg Baselitz Doesn’t Impress Sebastian Smee:The Washington Post’s art critic went to the Hirshhorn’s Georg Baselitz retrospective which comes from the Fondation Beyeler. Smee is not impressed with the German painter whom he believes is more supported by the market than by simple observation. “Quite simply,” Smee writes, “too many people have paid too much for Baselitz’s blowzy work over too many years for his reputation to undergo the correction it warrants.”
- “He is like the bore at a party who, determined to create a stir by smashing decorum, tries one gambit after another. Rudeness! Charm! Political controversy! Unwanted intimacy! Standing on your head! It’s an impressive performance, in a way. But everyone goes home asking, What was that?”