Money, Markets, and Artists

Often artists discuss their dreams of being big auction house players to me.  They fantasize about their art being sold at outrageous high prices and being the hottest ticket in town.  This dream is verbalized to me so much during this downturn market, I can’t help wonder why?  If artists are only doing art for money, you’ve picked the wrong profession.

Few “alive” artists make a big money splash in the art world.  However, that seems to be changing with the new reality in the economic market.  If you’re a dead artist like Andy Warhol, your art will sell above market value.  If you’re a mid-career or established artist in the final act, the market has a new reality for you.

In a fascinating New York Times article titled: Does Money Grow on Art Market Trees?  Not for Everyone, Robin Pogrebin and Kevin Flynn shed light on this topic.  Pogrebin: “Prices for the work of a variety of artists, including some top names like Larry Rivers, Eric Fischl and Francesco Clemente, have declined or stayed flat at auction in recent years, according to data compiled by Artnet, a company that tracks such sales.”  Francesco Clemente’s painting titled Parabola was valued over $90,000 but sold for one third of its value.  While other Clemente paintings sell over value, there is no consistency in the market.

Pogrebin: “Perhaps nothing in the art world is as mystifying to the layman as the often abrupt changes in works’ values.  The market’s overall ups and downs make sense.  And it seems logical that works by old masters act like stable blue-chip stocks, while contemporary art functions like growth stocks: volatile but with a sudden capacity to crown genius and create fortune.”  Some artists claim that collectors keep their prices down while alive to get art at bargain prices so after they die collectors can dictate higher prices at auction.

It doesn’t matter that dead artists like Andy Warhol mass-produced almost ten thousand artworks and the pieces aren’t as rare as collector’s think.  Perception is reality and investment with a good return is all that matters.   As a result, being a “hot” artist now might not have lasting power in the art market.

Where does this leave working living artists today?  I can’t look in a crystal ball and tell artists how the art market will react and grow.  Artists need to do art because that is who they are.  Gambling with your art is with or without risk…

The Links:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/arts/design/not-all-art-market-prices-are-soaring.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&ref=arts

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