A New Sentimental Art Market Era Pt. 3 – artmarketblog.com
If you want some further examples of the sentimental and nostalgic direction that the art market is beginning to take then I shall provide you with two more. The first example is the direction that the Australian Aboriginal art market has taken recently in response to a severe drop in prices and a major change in perception caused by several factors that I will discuss shortly. Australian Aboriginal art experienced a huge boom roughly in conjunction with the global contemporary art market boom, which saw prices for Australian Aboriginal art skyrocket, and the market for said works expand at a rapid rate. Unfortunately, that boom turned to a spectacular bust for much the same reasons and at roughly the same time that the global contemporary art market took a massive hit.
Much like the global contemporary art market, the Australian Aboriginal art market boom saturated the market with a plethora of rubbish, which in turn diluted the overall quality and relevance of the works of Australian Aboriginal art that were available on the market. Although it may seem that such a situation would serve to increase the value and desirability of the top quality works, it is just as likely (if not more likely) to make people question the value of the entire market and become rather disillusioned with the whole sector or genre – which is exactly what happened. Rampant fakery, forgery and mimicry, combined with obstructive and useless attempts at regulating the Australian Aboriginal art market, caused collectors and investors to fly the white flag of defeat in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstructions. As an indication of how far the Aboriginal art market has fallen as result of the problems associated with the market, the Australian Art Sales Digest has calculated that the value of Aboriginal art put up for auction has fallen from a high of just under $24 million in 2007 to just under $11 million in 2009. 2010 is shaping up to be yet another disappointing year for Australian Aboriginal art with total auction offerings likely to be even less than last 2009.
In response to the rather dire situation that the Australian Aboriginal art market is facing, the market and cultural sector has begun to focus on the Aboriginal master artists of the past who were the real reason that Aboriginal art became so popular. With most art movements and styles there are a small group of artists who pioneer the movement/style and whose work is considered to be the most legitimate and authentic. As a new movement/style progresses it is inevitable that other artists will begin to imitate the characteristics of the work of the pioneering artists in the hope of reproducing their success. In conjunction with the progression of that movement/style there is a tendency for the original purpose and intent of that movement/style to become severely diluted as more and more artists join the procession. The further the movement/style progresses, the more disconnected the movement/style becomes from the original purpose and intention. This is what happened with the Aboriginal art market and also with the global contemporary art market. Fixing such a problem means regaining the integrity, legitimacy and validity that the movement /style once had. To regain the integrity and legitimacy of the beginnings of a movement/style one must return to the roots of that movement/style – a process that is happening with the Australian Aboriginal art market and the global contemporary art market. Australian Aboriginal art dealers and other interested parties have begun to “rediscover ” the work of the early pioneers and disassociate themselves with the work of the plethora of imitators. Because most of the original Aboriginal master artists are either dead or very elderly so focussing on this sector of the market is a very sentimental affair indeed – especially for the families of the deceased artists.
The other example I want to use is the recent reconnection that the French have made with Monet – one of their most famous sons. Although the western world has embraced Monet and made him one of the most valued and respected artists to have ever laid paint to canvas, the French have long considered his work to be far too commercial for their sophisticated tastes. The Paris’ Galleries Nationales recently launched the first retrospective of Monet’s work since 1980 in the hope of reviving interest in the work of one of the world’s most highly valued artists. What makes this exhibition so significant is the reasoning behind the decision to hold this exhibition at this particular time. Guy Cogeval was appointed to the Presidency of the Musee d’Orsay in 2008 and is the curator of the Monet exhibition which is currently on show at the Grand Palais in Paris. When Cogeval was asked by Juliette Soulez of ARTINFO France (fr.artinfo.com): Why have a Claude Monet retrospective today?, Cogeval replied “Fifteen years ago, I personally felt that everything had been said about Monet and that people talked about him too much. I lived in North America for eight years and there were many Monet shows — it was almost a craze”. Then when asked if he was happy with the retrospective, Cogeval said “Overwhelmingly, visitors walking through this exhibition — including Impressionist specialists and college professors and my fellow curators — feel that they’re seeing a Monet they didn’t know before”. Both these statements suggest to me that a similar thing happened to Monet to what happened to the Australian Aboriginal art market and the global contemporary art market. It seems that a long period of western commercialisation of Monet’s work combined with what was essentially an overabundance of Monet focused scholarship effected a gradual diversion away from the “real” Monet.
The French, who were on the outside looking in, obviously cottoned on to what was happening to people’s perception of Monet’s work and were quite rightly disgusted by what was happening. I recently read a review of a book called The Unknown Monet: Pastels and Drawings by Grace Seiberling of the University of Rochester who I think summed up the situation perfectly when she said about the book that: “Their focus on Monet as an artistic genius is in accord with the demands of a particular kind of inquiry into Impressionism, connected with museum exhibitions, and focused on the formal achievements of the sort of artistic superstars who attract paying visitors”. What Guy Cogeval is doing is taking a sentimental and nostalgic approach to Monet’s work in the hope that it will fix the damage that has been done.
**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