Couture Art Market?
It isn’t just the march of global luxury conglomerates who are upsetting the art ecosystem. It’s no secret that the auction houses have been after a larger slice of the pie for quite some time. Christie’s and Sotheby’s have been locked in a battle to sell more art than the other. It is almost an open secret that the big-ticket pieces that generate all the headlines in the evening auctions, don’t generate much (or in some cases any) revenue for them. Indeed, auction houses seem to have taken their cue for this from the luxury conglomerates treating the evening sales as flagpole events necessary for defining their market share and winning newspaper real estate In the same way, fashion companies spend a fortune on couture shows to position themselves in the right way to the right customers.
The auction rooms have managed to achieve greater prices for the pieces of art but (as the Panama papers show ever since the Ganz sale in 1997) the people who tend to benefit are the financiers behind the deals. To win the great consignments the auction houses have to give away more and more with each big ticket sale, so they can continue to offer their clients the biggest works of the season, with the result that works are priced out of reach of all but the most wealthy of collectors. Often, they are then shipped off to museums in the Middle East or free ports in Switzerland. This can sound fairly depressing but there is room for excitement. All of this focus causes a homogenisation of the market at the top end, which means that you can find wonderful pieces that might have been over-looked by this super class of collector, and with the right advice you can pick up a work of genuine value at a price worth paying.
Tate Sweetens the Auctions?
The relationship between museums and the art market has always been the cause for some speculation. The imprimatur of an internationally important museum can dramatically change the fortunes of a painting in the auction room. Sometimes, however, it seems that a museum can do more than this.
Tate Modern is renowned as one of the world’s leading museums of modern and contemporary art. Its collection might not be as comprehensive as MoMA’s but its exhibitions draw crowds that allow it to punch above its weight on the museum circuit. They seem, however, to do more than just that. Tate Modern and Tate Britain seem to be the strongest index of a rise in an artist’s fortunes.
When Tate Modern opened, Louise Bourgeois was chosen to be the first artist to fill the vast Turbine Hall. Bourgeois was projected to a position of international attention with a commensurate interest in the market. This reached an apex in November with Louise Bourgeois achieving a record result for the artist at $28.2 million and making her the highest selling post-war female artist. Peter Doig was a mid-career artist whose works were thrust into the glare of market interest at the same time as Tate Britain’s dedicated exhibition. Richter had always been popular with the cognoscenti yet Tate Modern’s exhibition to him thrust him on to a stage which he had not normally performed in, the stellar reaches of the Evening auction. At the end of last year, Tate Modern pulled together a wonderful exhibition of Alexander Calder’s works. In November, Christie’s, New York saw the greatest interest in a series of works by Calder that it has ever experienced with many of them going for three times over their estimates.
Tate Modern has a new director, Frances Morris. Her interest is in serious, frequently female, artists who are dedicated to their own voice, their own vision and produce intense work that isn’t necessarily part of the mainstream. The attention paid to Agnes Martin, Yayoi Kusama and Louise Bourgeois was down to Morris. Now she is turning her attention to Phyllida Barlow. It might be worth giving some of these lesser-known artists a little more focus.
Make it an Art World?
With the Tate Modern influencing what happens in the international auction rooms it is worth having a look at the smaller art centres around the world. There can be a sense that art-followers all talk about the same thing. As the world seems to follow the same art fairs and the same auctions around the globe, the agenda is set by a small cadre of collectors and curators and everyone else follows. Yet the art market is an international one and it can be rewarding to look at, say Mexico, Toronto or Milan.
There are nods to the importance of internationalism even on the conventional calendar. This is exemplified by the Venice Biennale whose past two curators have brought in non-traditional viewpoints. Massimiliano Gioni (curator in 2013) had worked in Korea and the Middle East while Okwui Enwezor (curator in 2015) is a Nigerian curator. Clearly it pays to look beyond the traditional New York-London-Paris axis.
Right now Canada’s National Gallery in Toronto offers an exhibition and revaluation of the minimalist sculptor Tony Smith’s work. Museo Jumex in Mexico is showing a group exhibition called The Natural Order of Things with artists such as Jeff Koons, Alexander Calder and Mario García Torres – it’s a new perspective on well known names and a place to discover new artists. Is Dan Flavin worth another look? Visit the Chiesa Rossa in Milan and evaluate his work for yourself. The art world is a much richer place when you take in the whole world.
Looking for true quality.
True quality in contemporary art is notoriously difficult to find. Even five years ago, the Guardian’s chief art critic was declaring contemporary art to be a barren field. There is, however, an area where skill and quality intersect. Figurative contemporary artists are working at the moment to create works of unassuming splendour. Artists such as Tony Bevan, Chantal Joffe, Stuart Pearson Wright and Edmund Chamberlain, are working in paint and pencil confidently, and often humorously, delivering a vision of what art can be that seems at odds with the movements of more fashionable contemporary names. They are working in the traditional medium, handling line and colour to create figurative images of striking power that demand you look. So, next time you’re in an art fair, or looking for a new artist, go against the grain and go back to figuration and you might find something quietly radical.
We have moved
We are pleased to announce that Seymours has a new office. We have moved to Victoria and our new address is: University House, 11-13, Lower Grosvenor Pl, London, SW1W 0EX. We are in the process of finding a viewing room in Mayfair and as soon as it is ready we will be delighted to show you.