Art Journalism's Future Is Sports Journalism's Present
This is a thought I’ve had on my mind for a while. Art people who hate professional sports: Bear with me for a moment. I promise this won’t get bro-y.
There’s a debate going on right now amid the more thoughtful orbits of the sports journalism cosmos, and the axis it revolves around is the unprecedented fan interest in transactions: trades, free agency signings, the draft, and coaching/front office hirings and firings.
It borders on undeniable that the average consumer of sports journalism today cares more about the transaction game than the actual athletic one.
For instance, the NBA–the only realm of sports I truly care about anymore–just completed the most frenzied and most breathlessly covered six weeks of offseason player movement the league has ever seen.
How frenzied and how breathless, you ask? Consider that segments of the Internet basketball community teamed up to unearth the tail number and flight records of a team owner’s private plane in an attempt to find out if, despite the owner’s denials, said plane was flying to south Florida to try to woo the sport’s biggest star.
Sports journalism has both reacted to this phenomenon and helped encourage it. But regardless of whether the shift in pundits’ focus is more cause or effect, sports news now lasers in on trade rumors, contract speculation, and behind the scenes maneuvering with an intensity that could melt steel.
The drama and details of the transaction, once a sideshow, are now squarely at the top of the marquee.
And I believe arts journalism is on the same trajectory.
Why? Because in a way, the focus on transactions and financial details within fine art already outstrips what’s happening in sports.
Beat writers live-tweet the play by play of bidding from inside auction houses, whether the sales being reported are the sex bomb spring and fall New York flagships or their more homely relatives in the months between.
Lengthy interviews are run to memorialize the perspectives of COINs (Collectors Only in Name) whose primary contribution to the industry is to crank up the number of sales and shrink the amount of time separating them.
Respected art world news arms assemble detailed sales reports to recap the movements of assets and big name collectors at major art fairs (and increasingly, minor ones too).
Sotheby’s rekindled partnership with eBay even features the “opportunity” for anyone who visits their joint site to stream live video of select auctions–a spectacle that is literally nothing more than watching raw commerce unfold in real time.
Given all that, how many moon cycles are we away from a future where beat writers report that “anonymous sources” in Eli Broad’s camp are leaking that he intends to move a key early Jeff Koons sculpture this fall because the returns are too high to ignore?
Or that Sotheby’s and Christie’s aren’t just going head to head to try to consign the piece, but by the way, here’s where and when each will allegedly meet with Broad to discuss, along with the rumored terms each house is offering–with different reporters citing different details via different sources?
Or that, once Broad chooses his seller, the three major bidders are likely to be Dakis Joannou, the Mugrabi family, and Carlos Slim–but don’t rule out an irresponsibly high offer from a maverick private Chinese client who’s been making noise in the primary market and is looking to make a big splash in the secondary market to expand his portfolio?
Nor would this type of coverage be limited to the auction market. I picture minute-by-minute journalistic intrigue over the job status of blue chip gallerists’ top lieutenants, wild speculation about which MFA stars will sign with which gallerists, and sordid details about the legal battles between divorce-bound collectors over who maintains control of what pieces.
Again, we’re already seeing some of this. The coverage of Dan Loeb's war with Sotheby’s springs to mind. But it hasn’t quite reached the same stage as it has in sports. Blouin Art Info, for instance, doesn’t yet have an ESPN-style Rumors feed running 24/7.
But my guess is that a future where it does is a lot closer than most realize. Because it’s just the logical endpoint of a planetary revolution that’s been in progress for longer than most care to admit.
And barring a permanent systemic financial collapse–one that leaves us all murdering each other over bottled water and gallons of gasoline–I don’t see what else in the universe could exert the gravitational force needed to reverse the medium’s current course.