Contemporary art will always be the art market’s infrathin: constantly criticised for its record auction prices, its difficulty of interpretation and its inherently subversive nature.
In many respects its critics are unwittingly key contributors to the Contemporary art market, and Marcel Duchamp’s understanding of the fusional relationship between the market and its detractors is still perfectly relevant.
So if this relationship is really so limpid, why is Contemporary art still so contentious? To answer this question we need a rational macro- and micro-economic approach founded on the irreversible reality that the Art Market has become “efficient” since the turn of this century.
Combining this approach with an understanding of the Art Market’s geographical and mechanical structures allows a sounder and more exciting analysis of its Contemporary art segment, and — for the first time in history — allows a coherent snapshot of the global art market and its immediate future.
An artist can be defined by his capacity to convert thoughts, feelings and experience into a mirror of our unfolding world, and although all artists who ever lived were once “Contemporary”, the Contemporary art market has a spirit of risky freshness that is today absent from the market for Old Masters and Modern art. It is probably this relevance to the here and now – and the future – that explains the success of the Contemporary art market in an era of exponential growth in scientific and technological discovery.
Indeed, the Contemporary art market’s potential could be seen as an example of Metcalfe’s Law. We could express this as the market’s potential on the internet is proportional to the square of the number of its connected buyers, collectors, dealers and curators.
Since the year 2000, the Contemporary art market has multiplied in value almost 14 times. This growth has been driven by ease of access to the market and the dematerialisation of sales, with the internet becoming a primary medium of discovery and exchange. No less than 95% of the market’s participants are connected to sales, mainly via mobile devices.
However, a number of other factors have been driving the Contemporary art market, not the least of which is its ‘financialisation’. This aspect has combined with a massive increase in the number of Fine Art consumers (from 500,000 after WWII to around 70 million in 2015), a significant reduction in the average age of art consumers and the geographical extension of the market to Asia, the Pacific Rim, India, South Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. Our long-standing association with our Chinese institutional partner, the Artron Group and AMMA (Art Market Monitor by Artron), headed by Wan Jie, generates vital insight into the development of China’s art market and allows unprecedented analysis of the Asian continent as a whole. Home to a vast population of highly talented artists, we expect the future of the Contemporary art market to be largely driven by the market’s Eastern hemisphere.
Another driving force in the growth of the Contemporary art market is of course the global museum industry: approximately 700 new museums (all categories) are opening around the world every year, making the museum industry a significant economic reality in the 21st century. More museums were built 2000 and 2014 than during the previous 200 years. As these museums search the markets for museum-quality works they contribute to the spectacular growth of the art market. In 2016/2017, no less than 1,200 new museums will open in the world’s five continents and Contemporary art will undoubtedly play a major role in that movement.
With Central banks around the world practicing monetary policies that punish savers and undermine pension plans, the art market is posting insolent health with its Contemporary segment posting turnover growth of 1,370% over the last 16 years. This dynamism is not just reserved for the market’s stars. Our figures show that even for works valued above the $20,000 threshold, the average value accretion is approximately 9% over the same period.
However, these market phenomena are not the only changes in Contemporary art; there has also been an underlying sociological evolution that has allowed Contemporary artists to make mature decisions about their output, decisions that ultimately foster enhanced market confidence. The old cliché of the “ill-fated artist” has been forgotten and the old saying the only good artist is a dead artist has been consigned to history.
This eleventh Artprice Global Contemporary Art Market Annual Report examines the core issues and trends underpinning this new sociological and economic reality.
As I have said before and in answer to my initial question about the contentiousness of Contemporary art, today’s Contemporary artists are once again playing their natural role. As the philosopher Giorgio Agamben expresses it: “A contemporary artist is someone who dares to look straight into the obscure beam of his era”… and the results will always be disturbing and contentious.
As the founder and CEO of Artprice, I have also been an artist-sculptor for thirty-four years; and it seems to me that Agamben’s succinct depiction of the role played by Contemporary artists is indeed the most accurate, the most tragic, but also the most poetic.
In our standardised and globalised “global village”, the Contemporary artist expands the depth and range of our connections to the world, including a vast spectrum of notions that we may class as spiritual. This role satisfies a permanent need as we move towards the virtualisation that will undoubtedly generate a paradigm shift in the not too distant future.