Being strapped into a tiny seat thirty-thousand feet above the earth gives one ample time and opportunity to read a multitude of articles and to contemplate a variety of ideas. One article that I read recently considered the status of the arts in America in light of the continuing economic downturn. To a large extent, the common thread in what I read seemed to be the notion that art at the highest echelon of the Art Market (pieces selling for millions of dollars) would continue to flourish while much of the rest of the art world would struggle and atrophy. Not super encouraging.
In the articles the notion of “flourishing” was primarily based on economics – as evident through exorbitant prices paid for works or art. (Exorbitant seemed to mean millions to tens of millions of dollars paid for single works of art). It was suggested that the broad spectrum of artwork sold under that threshold would diminish in this economic climate but demand for works by the most recognizable artists whose pieces readily sell for those high prices would increase because it is seen as an alternative investment opportunity to the floundering and volatile stock market. This shouldn’t be a surprise. This has happened before when the economy faltered and the stock market showed instability. However, it’s not happened to at this scale in quite some time.
Having operated for nearly twenty years in the Art Market I understand that art at certain levels is acquired and sold primarily as an investment. An upside to this type of behavior is that many works of art are protected and preserved due to their high market valuation and often the public benefits from this behavior because those works are often included in museum exhibitions. I’m a realist…but I’m also a romantic, so the notion that art is being chosen or not chosen largely based on its perceived economic value still sits awkwardly within me and I’m fairly certain it may sit awkwardly with you too. Well, I’ve got good news for you. The truth may be different than what is often portrayed in the media.
I’ve had the great fortune of knowing and working with some incredible collectors who operate at the very highest levels within the Art Market and my experiences with them have lead me to conclude that they view art as much more than a mere commodity. Though they may buy and sell art as investments, these collectors are extremely committed to learning about the artist and the artwork. They are often committed to the work’s preservation through conservation, maintenance and public exposure. The collectors I know are passionate about artists and creativity; fortunately they also have the means to gather intriguing and beautiful objects into comprehensive personal collections. Eventually, future generations will be able to experience these works of art because many will be generously gifted to museums and galleries around our county. These collectors are thoughtfully building collections because of their passion as well as their desire to make sound investments, which is an entirely different perspective than many of the articles decrying the decline of the art world. Many individual artists may continue to struggle in this economy, but the silver lining is that many future generations will experience a variety of art objects made today because of the foresight and passion of contemporary collectors.