Sunday, May 2, 2010

Art and Statistics

As you will remember I was in Maastricht a few weeks ago attending TEFAF, The European Fine Art Fair, organized by The European Fine Art Foundation. The Foundation has other projects aside from the fair. One is research to assist the art trade.

They commissioned a study of the art trade from a cultural economist, Dr. Clare McAndrew. Her initial publication “The International Art Market: A Survey of Europe in a Global Context, which analyzes the global art trade from a macroeconomic perspective, has been updated with the recently published “The Global Art Market in 2010”.

What can you possibly learn that you don’t already know from figures and analysis? Why do these surveys? What can we get out of them? There is, of course, the fun of finding out how the other guy is doing. There is always some field that does better or worse than yours. Why do we want to know the value of our art or our house, for that matter, if we have no intention of selling (well, who knows, someday we might!)

These facts and figures can have more concrete uses as well. Thirty years ago when the New York art world wanted to be sure not to lose City or State funding, they commissioned a survey showing how much revenue was brought into New York by the arts. Looking at art museums, art galleries, theaters, operas and the artists themselves all contributing to the economy by enticing visitors and potential participants to New York. They had to show that New York City was not only run by Wall Street but by Broadway, Museum Mile and Soho (today Chelsea) as well.

Another reason for these surveys is to influence governments and educate legislators of the consequences of the laws they may wish to pass. A very real issue in the U.S., which comes up regularly, are tax deductions for art donations to museums and other institutions.

When I was in Maastricht I listened to a talk given by Clare McAndrew based on her most recent art market survey and I learned about a new phenomenon in the art cosmos. She found that in 2009 while the U.S. and the U.K. were still the leaders in art sales with 30% and 29% respectively, third place no longer belonged to France but to China, with 14%. A few years ago China was hardly on the charts! That would certainly be a factor in my consideration of whether to open a branch in Beijing. Looking beyond the figures I found that contemporary art and older works made in China are selling well there, but not European Old Masters…. so maybe I better stay in New York!

Never fear, there has never been a volatile market for Old Masters with extreme highs and lows, and I learned from Dr. McAndrew’s talk that they continue to creep up in value.

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