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The Art World: Business as Usual?

A recent article in the Economist prompts a review of recent changes in the art market.

As the Economist points out, a number of artists have displayed impressive entrepreneurship throughout history. They can change the art market around them by targeting new customers, opening up new channels of distribution, and finding more cost-effective methods of production. For example, Damien Hirst bypassed art dealers and sold his works directly at auction. The effects of his use of an auction house in the primary art market are still being felt.

Artists have also demonstrated a creative ability to respond to technological innovations. The Economist notes that “modern artists adapted to the arrival of photography, a technology that could have made them redundant.” Artists have embraced new technologies as new media for creating art, and also as new business tools for marketing art.

An online VIP (Viewing in Private) art fair debuted at the end of January 2011. The fair suffered problems as the technological features could not keep up with the number of visitors and demands. However, the Financial Times considered it an overall success. Griselda Murray Brown declared that “commerce is now more global than ever, and the art world both bigger and – when the technology allows – better connected.”

Kinetica Artfair
expanded on the usual kinds of art that could be sold via the art fair model. The fair, which took place at the beginning of February 2011, hosted galleries and artists that display “kinetic, electronic, robotic, sound, light, time-based and multi-disciplinary new media art, science and technology.” Nicole Campoy-Leffler at the Huffington Post asks if this fair represents “The Future of Art?”

Despite the current economic climate, Christie’s reported the highest sales for an auction house, ever, in 2010. Katherine Ryder at the Wall Street Journal reports that Christie’s attributes much of its success to these innovations in the art market, “with more auctions, new customers, private sales and growth in online auctioneering. “

ArtInfo reports that investors are starting to play the art market game. It seems more about business and less about art. “Some analysts believe that the increasing readiness of investors — rather than art lovers — to sink money into art are turbo-charging a boom that might lead to new busts.”

As the art market changes, the laws that affect each aspect of the market process, from production to transfer of title, may need to be re-examined. For example, what legal duties will be placed on sellers to regulate prices?

Read one examination of the art market at the Economist.