Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Art World

I would very much like to put to rest the idea that there is such a thing as The Art World.  It is a bit like saying the Wine World if all wines could be thrown into one category.

Yet, over and over again we read headlines about how the art world is doing.  After 9/11 everyone believed the art market would tank and for the most part it did except for one area, American Paintings.  For whatever psychological reason people felt not only comfortable but also patriotic by buying American paintings so that market experienced a boom while other areas were not so lucky.  I remember my reaction,, I bought some stock in Southwest Airlines just because I wanted to show support!

Even though you can find many surveys and analyses showing one area of art or the other being up over the last decade it is no indication that any one work of art is going to increase in value.  I made the mistake years ago of assuming because we sold a great deal of Louis XV furniture that I should stock up only to see tastes change and people no longer wanting the curvy lines of the Louis XV style but preferring the straight lines of Louis XVI.  Not so surprisingly, it happened in other areas too.  At about the same time Art Nouveau again with many curves, went out of fashion, and Art Deco with its straight lines took its place.

Art can better be compared to the fashion industry.  Chanel or Dior may be popular this year but there is no guarantee that it will be next season.  Listening to the critics regarding what the stars wear to awards ceremonies it is clear that there are wide differences of opinion in dress as there are with art.  When a look goes out of fashion, it does not disappear altogether, but it will fade for a time and have very few patrons which naturally reduces demand and therefor the market depreciates.

After many a headline on how well the art market was doing or not I would inevitably have someone come up to me and commiserate or congratulate me as if there were a direct correlation to my area of the art world.  More often than not the opposite was true.  I have done very well at times when other art worlds were foundering and vice versa.

Speaking of one art world, why have artists regularly asked if they could exhibit in my gallery?  Wouldn’t you think that an artist who wanted an exhibition would want to find a gallery with a compatible direction?  If you look up Stiebel, ltd. or now Pahaana, LLC on line and find my site you won’t find any contemporary art there.  One time I answered an enquiring artist, I thought nicely, that we only deal in Old Masters i.e. ones no longer living and I hoped that it would be a very long time before this person qualified.  I received a vitriolic email in return saying he had never been so insulted and treated so badly.  The result is I no longer try to be helpful and respond.

Art is not easy.  You can enjoy it but it requires time and effort to learn and understand a given area.  People, however, often don’t take the time to learn and want it all spelled out for them.  A very sad result of all this is that we set up certain people, sometimes critics, curators, or collectors, and believe that what they say is right and we have to follow their lead.  I ask, why?   Of course, we all want to know the secret, whatever that may be, and if we can have our choice blessed by a known scholar or collector, we feel secure.

Unfortunately, these people are not infallible and I know more than one story of the expert being discredited or even have the ill fortune of dying and a new expert comes in denying what his or her predecessor said. This, of course, affects the market value of a work. Even more frequently taste simply changes and the demand for one field gives way to another.

 If you are buying for investment the odds are very strong that you will lose a lot of money.  If you buy because you love a work of art you can only come out ahead, buffered against the vagaries of “the art world”.

1 comment:

  1. I love the part where you have an interaction with a contemporary artist and you make your Old Master comment! (By the way, did I catch a glimpse of you at the Frick Collection yesterday (Sunday)?