Art Market Adapts to Supply Issues – artmarketblog.com
Souren Melikian of the International Herald Tribune recently wrote an article voicing his concerns about the dwindling supply of important Impressionist and Modern paintings. Using Monet’s “Nymphéas” which sold for £40.92 million June as well as what he considers to be an underwhelming Degas pastel that sold for £13.28 million, Melikian points out that it is the work of the “Impressionist and Modern Masters” such as Degas and Monet that are achieving the highest prices. While there is no doubt that many of the most important Impressionist and Modern paintings have historically topped the list of the most desirable and most highly valued works to enter the art market – Melikian suggests that without these potentially record breaking works, the art market will be unable to continue to flourish.
Surely Melikian would not suggest that the work being produced by practising contemporary artists is not, and will never be, worthy of the prices being realised by their predecessors? Well, with comments such as “The day someone shouts at the happy-clappy art buyers that the “contemporary art” (Koons “Balloon Flower (Magenta)” used as an example) they chase echoes the deadpan jokes of a Frenchman called Marcel Duchamp who thumbed his nose at the bourgeois establishment 100 years ago, they might wake up out of their trance” it would seem that is exactly what he is suggesting. What this comment also makes obvious is that Melikian’s negative view of the future of the value of work by living contemporary artists such as Koons seems to stem from his own personal opinion and prejudices as opposed to the solid evidence and factual information that should constitute such an analysis. Further research into Melikian’s writings unearthed a similar article written in 2002 titled “Going, going, gone:art’s disappearing act : The demand drains market” which once again alluded to the dwindling supply of Impressionist and Modern paintings. Going back even further reveals an article from 1996 titled “Mediocre Works Sell for Dizzying Prices: The End of Impressionism” in which Melikian writes “It is the broad sweep that is revealing, and what has every appearance of being a search for substitutes to the no-longer-available Impressionists. This is characteristic of a market about to wind down.” Funnily enough, the market has not wound down but has in fact continued to go from strength to strength thus exposing yet another error in Melikian’s analysis and theory.
Considering the history of the art market and the tendency for what, at the time, are perceived as the most unlikely candidates for future progression to the top of the art market ladder, I do not see how one can dismiss the work of living contemporary artists such as Koons. In fact, many of the artists that are now some of the most highly valued artists were once dismissed in much the same way that Melikian has rejected the likes of Koons. For example, a 1956 review by the UK’s Times newspaper of an exhibition of Abstract Expressionist works declared that “The large, uncompromising canvases . . . have a monumental impermanence, show a defiance of Art and a kind of strange anonymity. They should be given the favorite American word of ‘projects,’ and seem intended for abandonment as the frontier advances, for are they not shock troops in the American invasion of painting?”. It is these Abstract Expressionist works and other Post-war works that have already begun to take the place of the dwindling supply of important Impressionist works.
In conclusion, Souren Melikian has been predicting the demise of the art market due to the dwindling supply of important Impressionist and Modern paintings for over 10 years yet the market seems to have been able to successfully adapt to this supply issue and continues to flourish. Although I think that Melikian is a fantastic writer I believe that he has seriously underestimated the importance and value of contemporary art and the art market’s ability to adapt and evolve. To suggest that the work of practising Contemporary artists is not worthy of being valued as highly as the work of the Impressionist and modern masters is extremely naïve.
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications