How quickly the emotional tide can turn. In the popular imagination, billionaires bestride the globe unbridled in their appetites and ambitions. But according to Agence France Presse, the poor dears are getting out bid for art. Quoting Artprice’s recent half-year report, AFP quotes Artprice’s foudner Thierry Ehrmann,
“around three quarters of purchases above one million dollars is now by museums”. That trend is being supported by the opening of new museums. “More new museums have been opened since 2000 than all of the 19th and 20th centuries,” said Ehrmann. “And 700 are being founded each year in China.”
Smart folks in the art world were quick to point out that many (most?) of these purchases were, in fact, made for museums by very wealth persons who either funded the acquisitions or were buying for their own museums.
Private art museums, too, are getting more and more attention these days. The Financial Times‘s John Gapper spent his August holiday in the South of France. He’s in Arles to be exact. There he wandered through Maja Hoffmann’s Luma Arles private museum on 15 acres of abandoned rail yards capped by a Frank Gehry architectural feature. Pharma heiress Hoffmann’s €100m+ investment in Arles, which Gapper found “expensively and immaculately bland” didn’t leave him with much of a sense of wonder or awe.
The art business has become so large and globalised through the expansion of museums, auction houses and private galleries that its aesthetic has been commoditised. If you aspire to be the new Henry Clay Frick (the 19th-century US industrialist and art patron) there is a global supply chain of architects and curators eager to make it happen. The question is, what is it all for? One answer is urban regeneration, along the lines of the Guggenheim effect in Bilbao. Art draws tourism of a useful kind — people with money who stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and so forth. No town would protest if a drugs company built a research campus there, so why not an art foundation instead? […] Anyone who creates jobs in old industrial towns is permitted some imperiousness. Sometimes, they are allowed to build their own monuments. In artistic terms, though, it feels like more of the same. Public museums have spread around the world according to a formula and wealthy patrons can now deploy it themselves. That is franchising, not individuality.