Market Monday: Onward and Upward
Springing into the new year off a series of insiders' projections about the future...
First up: The dependably sharp Georgina Adam made five 2016 forecasts I largely agree with, including more auction house layoffs, a scaling-back of overzealous consignor guarantees, the decline of second-tier European art fairs, and the continued intermingling of fine art and luxury. However, the one area where I believe she's too modest concerns the rise of fine art "experiences." Rather than just the tours, parties, and "art malls" Adam suggests will flourish, my sense is that we're moving toward bigger, more sustained, and more event-based projects. Doug Aitken's cross-country "nomadic happening," Station to Station––sponsored by Levi's to the tune of seven figures––is the template I have in mind. As corporations chase the cool left and right, there's a deep well of branding value to be found in pairing with legit fine artists, and it would be a huge missed opportunity if the artists themselves didn't find more ways to take advantage. [The Art Newspaper]
Among a broad range of conjectures from various industry figures, collector Alain Servais asked about an inevitability I've never seen the art press consider at length: a namesake founder's inevitable exit from the elite gallery he or she built. Personally, I tend to think that––just as an example––Gagosian will endure even after Larry rides into the sunset (or more likely, the afterlife, since I don't think he'll come off the sales floor until he's inside a pine box). Contrary to a product-based corporation, high-end galleries' brands matter more than the items they sell. If Apple under Tim Cook churns out a few years of objectively crappy devices, all but the staunchest brand acolytes will eventually switch to a better product. But since blue-chip gallery representation is itself one of the few signals of quality in the otherwise subjective field of fine art, even an unspectacular successor to a gallery empire should be able to safeguard its market share, because he or she controls both the narrative and most of the levers of power. [Artspace]
As part of another full-spectrum roundup of experts, Van Gogh Museum Director Axel Rüger cited the ever-escalating costs of physical exhibitions (even for major institutions like his own) as an industry reality overdue for change. He rightly singles out packing, shipping, and insurance expenses in particular––all of which can easily plunge an angelic show idea into the ninth circle of business hell. While these challenges confront everyone in the art world, I think it's crucial to note that they do so largely because so many shows still consist of traditional, high-value physical objects. The most seismic cost-cutting change would come if contemporary artists started following the lead of their peers in music, filmmaking, and publishing by going digital. The only difficulty, as I've written before, is that someone has to convince collectors that new media is just as worthy of their cash as paintings. [The Art Newspaper]
Finally, Laura Gilbert covered five legal cases poised to trigger major changes in the art market. While each one has its own interesting nuances, my big takeaway is that we've unquestionably entered an era in which the industry can no longer sustain on the handshake deal and the "trust me" economy. The prices are too swollen. The transactions are too complicated. And the stakes are too high. That doesn't mean that every sale, partnership, and consignment needs to be sealed with a 50-page contract and six figures in attorney fees. But the sooner all parties involved can find some verifiable, legally binding middle ground, the better off fine art will be. [Artsy]
That's all for this edition. Til next time, hope everyone's leap into 2016 ends with a soft landing.