The Price and Value of Contemporary Art – artmarketblog.com
The problem with the market for contemporary art is that the perceived value of the work by a contemporary artist (especially emerging artists) is often reliant on someone taking the risk of backing that artist which then adds credibility to their work thus prompting other people to buy their work as well. With the work of contemporary artists (even more so with emerging artists), the price of their work and the value of their work are often virtually one in the same because it is likely that there will be little or no other factors with which to determine the value of their work. The reason that I refer to the value of work by emerging contemporary artists as perceived value is because it is a value based on the opinion of who ever is purchasing the work. It is unlikely that an emerging artist’s career or their body of work would have had time to develop or progress enough for someone to make a justifiable judgment regarding the value of the work based on the characteristics that are most often used as indicators of value. These indicators include: provenance, contribution to art history, rarity, exhibition history of artist, critical analysis, significance of particular work in artist’s oeuvre, recognition by scholars and academics etc.
In a nutshell, the contemporary art market is driven by people’s perception of value which is, in turn, based on other people’s perception of value which is basically what people refer to as the domino effect. One person gets the ball rolling and others keep it going. This trend is evident with the likes of Charles Saatchi who can make or break an artist because of the influence that he has on people’s perception of an artist’s work. Saatchi’s influence is so great that people mimic his actions regardless of their own point of view and regardless of what Saatchi’s motives for purchasing that artist’s work may have been. By the very act of purchasing an artwork Charles Saatchi or anyone with a similar level of influence can, by purchasing a work of art, give value to that work of art and the artist that painted it. Because there is no real set of factors that dictate what determines the value of a work of contemporary art by an artist whose career is still in the developing stages we often have rely on the opinion of experts such as art critics, gallery owners, museums, collectors, dealers etc. to provide an opinion of the value of the work of a contemporary artist. An opinion which, in the case of gallery owners and dealers, is quite likely going to be at least somewhat biased and subjective.
During boom times the prices being paid for works by many of the contemporary artists rise at a far faster rate than they should and for reasons that are not related to the actual value of the artist and their work. It is usually the speculators and flippers who push the prices for the contemporary works of art sky high as they try and make a quick buck. However, when the potential for making a quick buck disappears and the art market takes a hit, these flippers and speculators are the first to exit the art market. Because the value associated with a work of contemporary art is a type of value that is dependent upon people’s actions and is not an inherent value that is automatically associated with that work of art, if people stop buying the work work of such an artist then there are no, or very few other factors that give value to the work of art. With the one major source of perceived value no longer in play people then start looking at the traditional defining factors of value such as the ones I mentioned earlier (provenance, contribution to art history, rarity, exhibition history of artist, critical analysis, significance of particular work in artist’s oeuvre, recognition by scholars and academics etc.). Because the traditional defining factors of value become much more identifiable and qualifiable the longer the artist has been working and the longer the artist’s work has been in existence, the work of the old masters becomes far more attractive.
People turn to the old masters and works by more established “blue chip” artists during times of art market uncertainty because the value of works by such artists is much easier to identify and because the value of such works is actually associated with the characteristics of the artist’s career and their body of work and not just based on perception. Because the value of works by “blue chip” artists such as the old masters is much easier to determine, works by these artists are far less prone to the rapid rise and over-inflation of prices like contemporary works are and, as such, represent a far more stable and less risky investment. For this reason it is quite likely that there will be a renewed interest in works by the modern and old masters and a reduced level of interest in works by contemporary artists and an even lower level of interest in works by emerging contemporary artists.
**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.