Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Art Space News: I'd Hate to Burst Your Bubble

Art Basel Director Samuel Keller, who has directed the fair since 2000, will step down this year as head of the world's biggest contemporary fair. Keller has seen the fair through some difficult times and is the mind behind the sister fair- Art Basel Miami Beach (established in 2002). Keller's successor will be named shortly before the Basel fair opens. He is one of several noted art market leaders who have created a protective 'bubble' around current art sales.

For the first time in three years organizers have released a sales estimate. It is expected that over $500 million dollars will be spent this year on works ranging from Pablo Picasso to Damien Hirst.The fair serves as another example of how well the art market is doing. However, what happens if the bubble bursts? Where would it leave younger- less establish artists who are involved with this current market?

Art Basel is scheduled to open on June 13. Over 300 dealers including Doris Ammann and Larry Gagosian will be in attendance- along with an expected 56,000. Hot artists at the show include Cy Twombly, Ed Ruscha, Tom Friedman, George Condo, Jim Lambie, and Elizabeth Peyton. However, there will also be a sale boom in works by younger artists born in the late 1970s and early 80s, artists who have yet to truly establish themselves- that is my concern with the current market.

True, there has been record-breaking sales of art in 2007. It seems that the art market has finally overcome obstacles that had left the market in question for several years. However, I'm nervous as to how much longer this can occur before there is another slump. Slumps in the art market tend to trickle down the chain of art sales. When the market is good it is good for every artist- when it is bad... it is bad. When it is bad... even the most established artist can have a hard time selling his or her work.

Many younger artists, who are not really established yet, are fetching up to $20,000 for their works according to collectors who frequent fairs like Art Basel. This is due to the market at this time. If the art market were to fall it would cause many of these younger artists to get caught in the process- which could lead to young careers being stamped out before they even started. The current market is reminding people of the bubble of the 1980s market and history teaches us that it can burst at any moment.

I'm not suggesting that a young artist should not price his or her work high. However, young artists need to think in the long-term about their careers. Fetching a few high prices now is great, but what if the 'bubble' around the current art market were to pop? Where would that leave them? It is hard to go from fetching $20,000 to just a few thousand per piece. One would do that at the risk of offending collectors who had purchased their work for higher prices. In other words, I'd hate to burst your 'bubble'... just be careful.

The art market looks great at this time. A young artist can throw caution to the wind, right? Just remember that in the wind a bubble can only be carried so far before it finally pops. That is a situation that leaves a young artist who is not established with only one direction to go- Down. Don't get caught in the 'pop'.
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...


Just wanted to let you know that I enjoy your blog immensely. It's quickly become one of the "regulars" on my ever-growing list of art blogs that I read daily.

I felt compelled to comment on this post, because you definitely raise some points about the "bubble bursting" that I as well have been thinking about a lot lately. I, too, worry a bit about these younger "Art Stars" out there that are currently selling work for astronomical prices. In addition to the art fairs, these folks are in big demand in the gallery circuit as well; their schedules are packed tight with group and solo shows, adulation from magazines such as Juxtapoz and Art News, and are talked about in the blogosphere all the time. I'm sure that in addition to a devastating financial impact that the bursting bubble will have on these kids, there will be an even more devastating psychological impact on them as well. I feel for them, but I also hope that they can handle it without sending them into complete obscurity.

Well I've rambled enough for now, I think. Again, great blog--extremely thought-provoking and always a fascinating read!

Balhatain said...


Thanks! I'm glad that you enjoy the blog.

Success is great, but it has to be stable. Unfortunately, most art programs do not teach graduates marketing skills.

Often classes that involve the business of art are not required- and they often conflict with classes that the students need to graduate. I base that on discussions I've had with recent graduates.

I kind of see it like professional sports. For example, a star college football player can be picked up by the NFL before he has even finished his degree... but what happens when said player is injured and can no longer play? Or what if it turns out he is not the 'star' he was upon entering professional sports and is cut- blackmarked? He has nothing to fall back on and his stint in the NFL was most likely not enough to become a legendary player. In other words, this player will drop off into obscurity.

Art stars, as you put it, probably do not think about saving the money that they obtain for their art. Perhaps some do, but I'm willing to bet that the majority of them don't. So if the bubble bursts they will be left with nothing. Like the forgotten football player- they will only have memories. Memories are often not enough...

When the art market crashes it can be very hard for even the most established artist to rebound from. Research the history of art in the last hundred years and you can find many examples of this. You are probably more than aware of that.

Also, remember that it is a rule of thumb that you are not even 'born' in the art world until you are in your 40s. So it is just odd to see 20-something artists making so much with no stable career backing them. It is like being 'born' premature. Right?

The important thing is for every artist to be cautious of a 'boom' in the art market. This trickles down from the 'art stars' to everyone else.

Like I mentioned, it can be very hard to place work for sale at a few thousand after you have been selling for $20,000 or more. Art business is kind of like walking a tight-rope.

My reply was kind of rushed... so hopefully there is something of value to it.

Warm regards,


Perhaps we need to not be so focused on the business and more on the art? However, the art market is a reality that we must all accept.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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