Art Basel Miami: Day Two, Part Two
Following up on what I was discussing yesterday (since the draft of this post I saved last night disappeared into the ether): Tech tends not to benefit the collector at a fair because of a fundamental reality of the art market - the asymmetry of information.
Connectivity is not the same thing as accessibility. Having a tiny computer in one’s pocket doesn’t do much good when the data the collector needs simply isn’t available in a public forum.
In the heat of the moment at a fair, it’s impossible to know if the price a collector is being quoted or the demand for the work she’s feeling pressured by actually align with reality. Why? Because there’s no objective, verifiable source of market information to consult. The best she can hope for is to get a word with a trusted consultant or dealer to try to see if she’s being hustled - and at that point an iPad has no more value than a rotary phone.
The closest resource the average collector can access via tech is the handful of online auction price databases - Artprice, Artnet, a few others. However, there’s a chasm between auction results and what’s actually happening in the private/commercial market. Yes, there’s interplay between the two, but that relationship is intricate enough to warrant its own longer discussion. The most salient point here is that on the whole, auctions tend to inflate prices (far) beyond the private market reality. So even when a collector can find data points when considering whether to acquire, those data points will be misleading, to their detriment (and thus the dealer’s advantage).
There’s a small caveat here about people content to walk away from a booth with a photo of a work they snapped on their phone rather than the work itself. But those people usually wouldn’t be buyers anyway, so their experience doesn’t impact the real discussion. So far, no one has managed to find a way to use tech to disrupt the information flow that favors gallerists so heavily. Finding a way to do it could cause a seismic shift in the power balance within the art market. Until that day arrives, though, the asymmetry of information leaves every art fair client in a position of relative ignorance, even as tech empowers gallerists to an unprecedented (if still simple) extent.