On Saturday morning at 10:00 am, March 28, I was in the Titus One auditorium at the Museum of Modern Art to attend the Art Dealers Association of America’s panel, Is the Killer Art Market Killing Art? The large auditorium was just about full, indicating that this was a crowd with some stake in the answer.
The full house at the ADAA panel, Is The Killer Art Market Killing Art?
Panelists, below, from left: moderator Allan Schwartzman, art adviser and writer; Connie Butler, curator of drawings at MoMA; Gordon VeneKlasen, Michael Werner Gallery; Amanda Sharp, co-director of the Frieze Fair; Gavin Brown, gallerist; Roberta Smith, art critic, The New York Times; Paul Schimmel, chief curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Roland Augustine, president of the ADAA introduced the topic saying, "Our train is moving far too fast. The train wreck is bound to affect us sooner or later." Somewhat more philosophically he added, "Never before have gallerists and artists seen such success. We should make every effort to savor it."
[Here let me say that I’m reporting to the best of my scribbled-notes-in-the-dark ability. Quotes define verbatim comments. Brackets fill in the blanks. The rest I’m paraphrasing. Italics are my own editorial comments—hey, it’s my blog.]
The Moderator on The Market
Moderator Allan Schwartzman set the stage for the discussion: "Financial value seems to have become the determining factor of artistic value," he began. Some points:
. The Sixties and Seventies was a small world; "it was artist driven."
. "In the Eighties, the market started to change direction, from non-profits to profits, and from artist- and critic-driven to collector-driven."
. "In the last four or five years there has been an extraordinary explosion of the art market, the coming of age of a generation who grew up with art."
. "The market has risen so dramatically that artists are seeing tenfold increases in one year."
. At the same time, he says, the people who entered "the business" for the love of it—working with art and artists—are finding themselves working more and more with the collectors. "It’s not what I signed up for. I’m not enjoying it anymore," one gallerist reportedly told him.
The Panelists Responding
. Schimmel:"I can’t believe how much the secondary market is driving the primary. I’m anxiously awaiting the scales to tip in the other direction." And when they do, he said, "I think it will happen in one day. I hope it happens tomorrow. I don’t think it will be as devastating to artists as everyone says."
. Klasen took the more circumspect view: "There are all kinds of artists and a number of different markets."
. Butler: "Outside the ‘killer market’ of New York City, there are very different markets—Los Angeles, London, other parts of the world not thinking in quite the same market-driven way. "
I’m compressing the chronology of the conversation here, but Schwartzman asked if a show such as WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, which Butler curated while at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, could have happened had she then been a curator at MoMA. "Institutionally, it couldn’t have,"she acknowledged. "There's more freedom on the West Coast to look at art history [and at what is included as art history]." .". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Out of chronological context, but related to this question was the comment that China offers the largest potential art market in the world. This point did not get pursued, probably because it’s theoretical right now; more Chinese art is coming into the West, but Western art is not yet going the other way. But I wonder if that’s why so much mediocre Chinese art is being shown here—so that once the gates are open, Western art can flow in the other direction? Probably the topic of another panel in a year or two.
Moderator: "Has the number of artists being pursued at the highest level increased? "
. Schimmel: "Art is accelerating with a smaller and smaller of number of artists selling at higher and higher prices."
. Smith: "Auctions are a small drop in the bucket of artists making art." Also: "Collecting is a personal experience. I don’t know why all museums have to have the same things." (The curators got their backs up over that one, but the audience applauded.) She went on to say that [contemporary collecting] "is built on desire, on wanting something, much of it unexamined." This is very different from how people collected in the past, she noted. "Generation after generation of people wanted to have things around. Museums came out of those collections."
. Butler: "One of the things we need to talk about is ‘How do we slow down?'"
Moderator: "Museums tend to do more monographic shows that reinforce the market… "
. Schimmel: "It’s hard to find funding for ‘non-brand’ shows."
. Butler: "Women’s work is very difficult to get funded. The support usually comes from individual gifts from women. " In response, someone on the panel or in the audience acknowledged the support of Elizabeth Sackler’s funding of The Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum. Butler added that the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where the show originated, even approached Tampax and SaraLee (!!!) for funding of the WACK show.
. This is out of chronological context, but Gavin Brown made the point that as a dealer he’s now doing the work of the curators. "I’m sticking my neck out [by finding and showing new artists]. "
Moderator: "Has the pressure of the market compromised artists?
. Brown: "You have to be bigger than it." Here, he's speaking not only of artists but of dealers: "I have to live off the market, too."
. Smith: "That’s how artists do it. It’s what happens—a constant process of distortion and correction. In the Fifties, artists has no money and no collectors. Was that better? "
Moderator on The Issue of Age
. Schimmel: "It’s not just in art. It’s in science, too, where breakthroughs are made by a younger generation of creative minds. The Abstract Expressionists resented the emergence of the Pop Artists. "
The Discussion Turns to Art Fairs
. Brown: "The art world is separating itself into continents. Auctions houses are a separate continent. I like art fairs; they’re more balanced—though they’re stuck in a trade fair model."
. Schimmel: "Dealers are forcing themselves to do them. "
. Sharp, on how she went from being an editor of Frieze magazine to the founder of the Frieze Fair: "It didn’t make sense that there was no art fair in London. We waited for five or six years. No one was doing one, so we did."
. Schwartzman: "The Armory Show last year suggests that there is a vast audience for art. There was a long line of people waiting to get in; they were out the door. Collectors couldn’t get in because a much broader public was in line ahead of them."
Moderator: "What effect does the super collector, such as Eli Broad, have on the market?"
. Schimmel: "Frick and Morgan created their own museums. The Rockefellers’ collections formed the base of MoMA, the Havermeyers of the Met."
So is the Killer Art Market Killing Art?
The short answer from Brown: "You can’t kill art."
The longer and somewhat Zen answer from Smith: "This is a mirage in motion. Things will fall away. Things will result. The fact is that the art world is unregulated. I express my opinions with my writing. Collectors, with what they acquire. If you’re an artist, you sign on to be tested. Art is always a commodity. Anything can be sold. Everybody has to establish their integrity."