Random Thoughts on the Aftermath of ABMB by Giappo
Well it’s all over folks! Today marked the final day of ABMB 2013. They came, they saw, they partied. They looked at lots of Art, and some of them even bought it too. The overall reports this week were that the fairs were on fire with many collectors eager to make purchases in this currently “booming” Contemporary Art Market.
Brisk sales were reported from out of the gate with rumors of some galleries even selling out their entire booth in the first hour (weren’t they lucky!). Many big-ticket items exchanged hands over the week such as Jeff Koons’ Baroque Egg with Bow (Turquoise/Magenta) 1994-2008 reportedly sold for $8m by Gagosian. A number of works were sold in the 25k-500k range by artists including popular names such as Ai Wei Wei, Tracy Emin, Jose Davila and many, many more. “It was a big day,” David Zwirner said, “As big as I can remember,” in a Bloomberg article referring to Basel’s opening day.
The unfortunate reality, which I am certain of, is that too many smaller galleries are walking away from this week barely breaking even, if not taking a huge loss, from the enormous expenses they incur to participate in these types of international art fairs. Just the booth alone can begin around $20k for a few hundred square feet, and those are just for the satellite fairs. The vicious cycle of gallery life continues! The art market is strangely a direct parallel to the current American economy. The perception of wealth distribution is much more skewed then we might imagine. The rich (mega galleries) get richer as the smaller galleries struggle along for maybe another year before being chewed up and spit out by the cutthroat market. The top 1% represents both the buyers and the galleries selling them the work. Dealers like Gagosian and Zwirner are representatives of the biggest and best in the world, however they are simply two among thousands.
Amidst the sea of white cubicles at the fairs how can a smaller gallery even make their visual mark? One interesting approach this year by a gallery, which instead of exhibiting their artist’s work, simply painted their contact information on the booth’s walls. As I’m certain this saved them lots of money transporting art, I wonder how well this marketing ploy panned out? I’d be interested to know how many sales they actually made, and if so, to how many new collectors? I mean after all, that’s one of the main points of the art fairs, isn’t it, to attract new collectors. It’s not only about catering to the top 1% that fly in on their private jets, valet their foreign cars out front of the convention center, and commence on their brand name art shopping sprees and VIP parties?
There are still some unique collectors out their like Steve Wilson and his wife Laura Lee Brown of Kentucky, which the NY Times did a special feature on, following them around the fairs as they quickly purchased $250k in one afternoon of “lesser” known artists. “Mr. Wilson relies on his eye and his gut, snapping up gallery-sized installations for four and five figures in less time than it takes most people to buy a pair of shoes.”
Though this regrettably still does not help the little people. Another article in The Art Newspaper states, “If there is a trickle-down within the art world,” one dealer remarked, “it is that people are looking to younger dealers and younger artists. They are looking to whoever in New York is at an $8,000 to $12,000 price point and doing exciting things.” This sounds wonderful in theory, but honestly how many people do you even know that can or will spend $10,000 on a piece of art? I guess in this inherently lies the dilemma. Don’t get me wrong… I myself am not one for “affordable art.” I believe that fine art should demand a certain value and original artwork should not be given away for just a few hundred dollars.
With 2013 soon coming to a close global economies and the super rich show no signs of stopping, and we will undoubtedly continue to see jaw-dropping prices for works sold at auction and the upper tier of the primary Art Market in the New Year. The next big stop on the global fair circuit will be NYC in March. My wish would be that there is much more reporting on the small to mid level size galleries. I would very much like to hear about some of the younger artists that sold their work for the first time or were bought by a museum. I enjoy the glitz and glamour just as much as the next person, however what makes me happiest is seeing artists doing what they love and making a living from it, not just the top 1%.