This is the third of a four-part series from Art+Auction magazine in which key art-market players weigh in on the future of the field.
The primary market is strong and it actually never suffered as much as other segments. It’s broader than it ever was, it’s got more depth than it had, and there is a wider collector base.
That’s why the art fairs are so well attended. Fairs have become a very convenient way for collectors—individuals and groups like museum trustees—to come and get an up-to-date education. The trick of doing the art fairs as a dealer is choosing the right one. What works for you personally and for your gallery program might be different from what works for the gallery across the street; it might require different involvement and commitments. Fairs can be expensive and definitely put a strain on the system. It’s really like doubling one’s job; the gallery still functions, and artists still value the importance of a gallery show. The system might actually favor smaller operations, allowing some gallerists to have a relatively small space in their home city and have a very high profile on the fair circuit.
The resulting international presence does mean we have to work more closely with the other dealers handling our artists. It is crucial to understand that and take advantage of it. It is important as a gallerist to work in a global way on projects and exhibitions. We need to all get in on the exchange of ideas so the galleries work collectively for the artist rather than individually.
My own feeling is that it is a mistake for gallerists to try to embrace all markets. That is when a gallery can end up looking like a supermarket. This has to be about selling taste and aesthetic and ideas—that is what gallerists do, whether we are doing it in the primary or the secondary market. I do believe there is a place in the world for small dealers who do things well, who really know their field, their area of expertise. You have to choose judiciously and stick to what you believe in even when it seems everyone else is doing something different. You have to believe in what you are doing.
—Lucy Mitchell-Innes is a director of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, in New York. Prior to becoming a gallerist she worked for more than a decade at Sotheby’s, where she became worldwide director of contemporary art. In 1996 she opened her gallery on Madison Avenue with her husband and business partner, David Nash, later adding a second location, in Chelsea.
During the second half of 2011, we finally saw some super-heated sectors of the Chinese auction market begin to cool off—“cool” being a relative term, of course, for houses that have claimed annual totals in excess of $500 million. But does this cooling represent a fundamental correction? I’m not sure.
Auction results exert a disproportionate influence on perceptions of the Chinese art market at home and abroad, and this narrow focus can obscure the lack of development in other parts of the industry. Doing art business in China is still more difficult than it should be: You have the government regulations and the local inexperience, but also deeper and more troubling problems with the system. These have frustrated international transactions and longer-term cooperative relationships, as well as hindered the kind of noncommercial events that help establish an art culture. The mushrooming of unregulated art “exchanges” throughout China last year is a noteworthy trend that embodies many of the less healthy forces in the art market—one that I believe will meet with substantial problems, and probably multiple failures.
China is approaching a tipping point. An increase in connoisseurship and professionalism could strengthen the art market’s shaky foundation. The country urgently needs professional support systems to foster the healthy maturation of an industry that has been growing on money alone. Appraisals, attention to the issue of fakes, the need for reliable disclosure from auction houses—these are just a few issues that must be addressed. The unethical and questionable practices that pervade so many sectors in China are a particular threat to the growth of a great art industry, where a lack of trust and honesty is more likely to undermine it than is the case with, say, electronics manufacturing. Ideally the slowdown of late 2011 will usher in a quieter but more fruitful period where the connective tissue of professional support systems begins to grow.
—Nancy Murphy is a partner at the law firm of Jincheng Tongda & Neal, in Beijing, where she has practiced law for over 10 years. She is the author of ChinaArtLaw.com, a founder of CenterPiece, a diversified art services firm in Hong Kong, and a member of the EU Chamber of Commerce Creative Industries Working Group.
Cultural development is occurring most rapidly in countries where governments have declared their interest in the cause. Because Dubai started the Dubai art fair, the first important regional art event, in 2007, it had a head start, in a way, and many galleries opened there. At present Dubai has more than 64 galleries. Tehran has approximately 40. For the moment, Western dealers express their presence mainly through art fairs rather than permanent spaces. A number of fairs have sprung up in the region—in Lebanon and North Africa, for example—and have found quite a lot of trade, though not as high as in the West.
Looking ahead, there is a great deal of interest in buying regional contemporary art as a means to nurture local artistic expression. There will be more acquisitions of calligraphy and other locally produced contemporary regional art. Increasingly, we’re noticing a migration of collector interest to international contemporary art as well. The Qatar Museum Authority (QMA) is mounting a show of Takashi Murakami. Collectors, particularly those in Doha, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, are very interested in taking a global perspective.
The freedom of political expression brought about by the Arab Spring has also generated a great deal of artistic expression. New types of work, such as video installations and films, have recorded aspects of this movement, and the QMA is archiving some of this material in an effort to preserve the artistic activity that is going on.
The challenges that lie ahead are to continue to develop the art market at a healthy pace—the major houses have been active, and we will hold more sales in Doha this year—and to educate.
—Roxane Zand is director, Middle East and Gulf region, at Sotheby’s. She began her career in 1978 as part of the group planning the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art but left Iran in 1980. After resettling in London, she worked with a number of cultural and educational institutions and currently serves as an arts editor for Encyclopedia Islamica.
The use of digital technology as a means of access in the art world has never been more relevant. I think the next step is to use technology to support how galleries do business. I find that the start-ups that have met with success look to complement galleries’ outreach efforts to attract new clients, rather than replace or reconfigure those relationships.
The art world has been relatively slow to embrace online means of sales and distribution, especially when it comes to prime inventory. However, with the demographics of the art community tilting toward younger, more international collectors, the benefits of a digital approach are coming to the fore. Start-ups have made great strides in offering an improved experience via super-high-resolution images, an editorialized viewing platform, and, in our case, a streamlined transaction system.
The strategy has paid off particularly well in prints and multiples, which have been a great launching point for online art sales. At Paddle8 we’ve noticed buyers crossing into photography for the first time, making the shift from large editions to smaller runs, and younger collectors acquiring unique works.
In 2012 several online art ventures will seek to cement their status in the art community. We’re looking to form partnerships not only with galleries, but also with established brick-and-mortar organizations from all corners of the art world—from institutions like Performa and LACMA to art fairs like NADA to publishers like Phaidon—so we can sup-port their initiatives globally through unique, collaborative projects.
—Aditya Julka is cofounder, with Alexander Gilkes, of Paddle8, the online marketplace. A serial entrepreneur, he is a Harvard Business School Baker Scholar, a veteran of McKinsey & Company, and an art enthusiast and collector.