Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Art and Artists

Because the best art of previous styles are disappearing into museums and collections that will end up in museums, comtempoary art has become more important in the resale market. Also the role of aesthetics has declined in judging art. What is emphasized is the mystique of the artist, who owns his work and recent prices at auction. There is often elaborate verbiage describing the "meaning" of a work, much of it invented by the copywriter.
The author asked the question "Who are the great contemporary artists?" to dealers, auction specialists, and other experts. No two offered the same list of names. There is a list of twenty-five artists who made the consensus, none are women. The only woman that was mentioned in some of the lists was Cindy Sherman, a photographer. Supposedly she is the most popular woman artist of the 20th century-I don't recognize the name so I did a Google search and came up with two Cindy Shermans! Both are photographers-one doing standard commercial portrait photography and the other the famous artist. Looking at some of her pictures they looked vaguely familiar but to say she is more popular that Georgia O'Keefe or Frida Kahlo is ridiculous.
Despite the publicity about the high prices, the world of contemporary art isn't very large. The figures used by the author are: ten thousand museums, art institutions, & public collections; fifteen hundred auction houses; 250 annual art fairs and shows; seventeen thousand commercial galleries worldwide. The estimated value of world contemporary art sales is about $20 billion per year. WOW! But to put it into perspective: $20 billion is the worldwide sales of Nike or Apple Computer or half the worldwide sales of the Walt Disney Corporation.
The art market looks good from the standpoint of a branded artist represented by a branded dealer and OK for the artists and dealers on the next level down (mainstream). The author has estimated 80,000 artists in the Greater London and New York City areas. There are 75 superstar artists (7 figure incomes), 300 hundred successful artists (6 figure incomes), next level down are about 5,000 artists that have some gallery representation and supplement their incomes from other sources. There are at least 15,000 artists looking for representation in both London and NYC but branded galleries ignore them, the mainstream galleries don't bother with cold calling artists.
So where do these galleries find their artists? Branded galleries take artists from other galleries, the mainstream galleries visit artist's studios, attend art school graduate shows or follow up on recommondations by friends, gallery artists and collectors.
What this means is that many artists struggle for several years and most give up being professional by age thirty.
Getting to the top requires various combinations of talent, luck, marketing and branding. The next several chapters describe the careers of Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Tracy Emin. "None provides an easy template for the aspiring artist."
There is a chapter devoted to Charles Saatchi, an advertising executive who became a branded collector and dealer. He specializes in "shock art" and "conceptual art" (for example Damien Hirst's shark). There is a list of the top twenty active collectors of comtemporary art at the end of this chapter.

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