The Great Contemporary Art Market Cock-Up – artmarketblog.com

 The Great Contemporary Art Market Cock Up   artmarketblog.comAll last week I was bombarded with headlines that announced the returning strength of the contemporary art market thanks to the phenomenal prices achieved for works by artists such as Warhol, Lichtenstein and Klein whose work was described by one major newspaper as the fons et origo (latin for source and origin) of contemporary art. Now I am not trying to be rude or degrade the journalists who make this mistake, but Warhol, Klein (Yves) and Lichtenstein are NOT CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS, and their work is NOT CONTEMPORARY ART !!. To be honest, I am sick of hearing and seeing artists of another era being referred to as ‘contemporary’, because they are not. The fact that Warhol, Klein and Lichtenstein are all dead – and were all born in the 1920′s – should be enough of an indication that their work should not be classified as contemporary any more. As for myself, when I refer to the work of contemporary artists I am referring to artists who are currently alive, active and producing work that is in line with the prevailing contemporary ethos. At this point I would like to say that there are many journalists and market representatives who do make the correct distinctions between post-war and contemporary art to whom I would like to give a round of applause.

The reason this trend of referring to the likes of Warhol, Lichtenstein and Klein as contemporary artists annoys me so much is because many representatives from the media and the market have been announcing the return of the contemporary art market based on records achieved by artists who are NOT contemporary artists. Thankfully, some market representatives and some journalists have rightly referred to the work of Warhol, Lichtenstein, Klein etc. as postmodern or post-war, which is a much more accurate description. I do, however, also have a problem with the use of the term post-war because of the broadness of the category which I think is another marketing ploy – but would still prefer they use the term ‘post-war’ instead of ‘contemporary’. Although this may seem like a small problem not worthy of being discussed, I think there are too many little issues that are not discussed – issues that together can cause major confusion and misunderstanding.

This whole ploy of including anything produced post world war II in contemporary art auctions and referring to them as works of contemporary art is just not right. In fact, it is deceptive and misleading. So why do some auction houses continue promoting the likes of Warhol, Klein and Lichtenstein as contemporary artists and alongside true contemporary artists? – I believe it is for three very simple yet potentially very lucrative reasons. Firstly, the association of emerging artist with the likes of Warhol, Klein and Lichtenstein lends more credibility and validity to the work of emerging artists. Secondly, the inclusion of a few big names in a contemporary art auction pretty much guarantees that a poor performance by the work of the true contemporary artists will be overshadowed by the success of the work of their predecessors. Thirdly, artists such as Klein, Warhol and Lichtenstein attract large and wealthy crowds who are more likely to throw down some money on the work of an emerging artist if the room is already buzzing from the record sale of a Warhol. Essentially, the inclusion of work by Modern masters such as Warhol, Klein and Lichtenstein appears to be nothing more than a clever marketing ploy.

If you disagree with my opinion then consider for a moment these definitions of the term ‘contemporary’ :

-marked by characteristics of the present period
-happening, existing, living, or coming into being during the same period of time
-belonging to the present time
-characteristic of the present; “contemporary trends in design”

As far as I am concerned, each of these definitions are blatant indications that the work of Warhol, Klein and Lichtenstein cannot be referred to as being contemporary.

The current definition of contemporary art that is used by a large portion of the art market – auction houses in particular – is basically a creation of the market it’s self that serves the pursuits of the auction houses very well. Although the journalists appear to be the main protagonists when it comes to promoting the work of non-contemporary artists as contemporary, the auction houses certainly don’t seem to do anything to discourage this practice. Although some auction houses do hold auctions that are promoted as including post-war and contemporary art, many fail to make much of an effort to distinguish between the contemporary and the post-war, which leaves the journalists free to make the incorrect assumptions and associations regarding the classification of the works – perhaps a cunning ploy by the auction houses to avoid being accused of incorrectly classifying the works. Regardless of who it is that is ultimately responsible for the errors being made, I think it is important that something be done to stop this misleading practice. In the interest of fairness I would like to encourage anyone who has a view on this issue – whether in agreement with my opinion or not – to make a comment below.

 

 The Great Contemporary Art Market Cock Up   artmarketblog.com**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

share save 256 24 The Great Contemporary Art Market Cock Up   artmarketblog.com

Related Posts:

  • http://tinyurl.com/381htn Debra Bretton Robinson

    I agree wholeheartedly. Its definitely a marketing ploy. But I think unfortunately most undereducated art viewers lump any art in the 20th Century as “modern” and equate that to “contemporary” whether the artist is alive and kicking and producing or not. Clearly more education is necessary. But how to administer?

  • http://joyengelmangallery.com joy

    According to Wikipedia and I quote “Contemporary art can be defined variously as art produced at this present point in time or art produced since World War II. The definition of the word contemporary would support the first view, but museums of contemporary art commonly define their collections as consisting of art produced since World War II.”

    But I agree with you, ‘contemporary’ used to mean ‘now and alive’ however, since it has been used by the arts industry in general to mean art produced since World War II, I feel it’s time we differentiated between the ‘old contemporaries’ and the ‘new contemporaries’ – it’s definitely long overdue to create a new definition for art produced today and in the current context of a modern world. “Modern” and “Post modern” have gone and are associated with art from the 1860′s – 1970′s so it’s time we canned ‘contemporary’ likewise into the recent past and gave ourselves a new name!

    Art today is so much more. There are so many advances in technology and so many of us are exploring the new media, new ways of applying paint, new mediums and styles…….

    So I for one would like to see perhaps a “post contemporary” or just ‘new wave’, ‘the new gen’ ……. but yes, let’s do something to differentiate today’s art from all the ‘dead’ guys!

  • http://www.artmarketblog.com artforprofits

    Thanks for the comment Joy. In my opinion the Wikipedia definition is inaccurate and merely a reflection of the errors that I have discussed. I don’t believe that you should be able to change the meaning of the word ‘contemporary’ when used in the context of fine art just because it serves the market better.

  • http://www.coralmaybarclay.com Coral May Barclay

    I agree with you about the inaccuracy of descriptive terms, re: contemporary and modernism. There seems to be huge confusion that mixes up style and a time in art history. Having just created a website on FASO and trying to describe my own art in the style box, after much deliberation have come up with “contemporary expressionism”, referring to the fact that is being painted NOW, with all that implies, but also gives acknowledgement to the STYLE “expressionism”, which was coined way back when. (I’d have to check my art history facts as to when)
    Artmaking, and the business of art is so complex these days and it seems that words and the language used are just tossed around to help market whether they are accurate or not. BUT on the positive side, maybe that is the creative part of morphing art, language and meaning and its in a constant state of change like life itself.
    its hard to decipher what it all means.

  • http://www.artmarketblog.com artforprofits

    If I didn’t believe that the confusion is actually promoted and exploited by the market then it wouldn’t be such a big deal. Because the market appears to exploit the classification confusion I think something needs to be done.

  • http://facebookInc Dawn Hilton

    Guess I’m a ‘contemporary’ artst then Nic, although I feel art kills me most days!

    Great blog by the way, love the use of the words ‘COCK UP’, good to see someone with balls out there that tells it like it is.

    I have to post this on my ‘Hilton International Art Gallery’ page on facebook, my readers will love it.

    Dawn.xx

  • http://www.mikehinc.com Mike Hinc

    Nic
    You’re right but so what? The market it conservative, cautious, and critically illiterate. Sorting out their terminology will do just that and no more. Indeed separating the living from the dead the unknown from the known will (as you yourself imply) only impede sales of real contemporary art. So what are you saying? The buyers are bozos, the market is mercenary, the critics confused, corrupt or contemptible ……that’s news?

  • Pingback: Contemporary Outshines Impressionist & Modern – At Least for Investment Returns « Skate's Art Investment Review

  • http://www.artmarketblog.com artforprofits

    Thanks for the comment Mike. I agree with your comment and understand that what I have written is perhaps not a new concept to many people. I wrote this post to encourage discussion and spark debate on this matter which I hope will, if anything, make more people aware of the situation. Considering recent market movements I can only conclude that most people have no idea of the way the market works and the devices that the market uses to it’s advantage.

  • http://www.arttakesmiami.com/portfolio.php?preview=true&artist=semiotic Robert Mazerolle

    Unfortunately- much of what you define as truly contemporary art is far from contemporary. Much ‘bad painting’ and various expressionisms are pale shadows of the ground breaking originality at the source of these styles, often rooted in the ’40s and 50s. As Lady Gaga re-interprets DADA theater- does that make her contemporary? Simply because the corpse is warm? Most art made today, aspiring to be contemporary- is derivative. I would go further and term it decorative. Even in sculpture- is it contemporary to make constructions and installations? Maybe it was 25 years ago. To set up thoughtful video installations? (yawn). In photography- is it ‘contemporary” to retouch a photo so it looks surrealistic? Are performances featuring body painting (1967) and discordant music to be considered innovative?

    I quote my fellow Montrealer – the great Leonard Cohen in ‘the futur’ : “all the lousy little poets- tryin’ to sound like Charlie Manson…You’ll see a white man dancin’.

    As to auction houses- they don’t move much contemporary art anyways, and second sales (auctions) barely benefit the now mature artists who are too old to profit from a line mention in a magazine (usually consulted in the waiting room of a divorce lawyer’s office).

    Finally, I will agree that term POST WAR is stupid because it says nothing about the art except date stamp it. The mechanics of modern semantic art nomenclature militate towards naming a few styles per decade, and the un-named are banished to oblivion.

    I am particularly sickened by the term international art.
    But then again – i abhor national labels also. Because a painter is Flemmish does that mean he is the national representative of flemmishness?

    In Miami- there is a distinguishable art movement called cubano art. Most of the practishioners haven’t set foot in Cuba ( it is illegal and dangerous anyways). Sometimes they call themselves ‘cuban-american’ in a weird attempt at self-definition through identity politics.
    ( they are as american as the next mongrel)

    But to stray from this nomenclature may be suicide- the wealthy cuban collecting public isn’t about to go to Havana to look for contemporary art to collect. And bin switchers will have to re-make their reputations in another bin – as what: Texan cowboy artists?

    The business side ( of which critical semantic terms provide the necessary ammo) is increasingly resembling the recorded music business, with poorly thought-out labels dividing the record store into bins for easy selection by the yokels. Think of the term “Rythm & Blues” – it means nothing. Most of the singing is so unbluesy that it is a joke. But a position in that “style bin” may yield awards, recognition and airplay. Recent musicians attempt ‘cross-over’ – to avoid the tyranny of the bin.

    I predict the ‘art business’ will evolve along a similar path. But my main point remains my first one- most of the art made today is far from contemporary.
    Perhaps a deficiency in the enthusiasm of the art criticism community. They must rise to the challenge of increasing the number of ‘bins’ so as to expand the market. We need more words to sell the art. We can’t all be ‘contemporary’! In fact – most of the artists are derivative!

  • http://www.arttakesmiami.com/portfolio.php?preview=true&artist=semiotic Robert Mazerolle

    by the way- nice blog- engaging topics.
    And I thank you for the pulpit’s temporary use.

  • http://www.artmarketblog.com artforprofits

    Thanks for the comment Robert, very relevant.

  • Pingback: steady as she goes – analysis of NY sales results « a kick up the arts

  • http://www.photography-art-cafe.com Photography Art Cafe

    Great article. I think the confusion over classifications in art history is possibly rooted in the self-interest of both the art market and art critics! It distances both groups from the general public and lets them, the experts, set the price and the terms of debate.

    P.S. Like the blog, v.straight talking and interesting!

  • tony kingson

    sorry, my friend, but your ‘ provoking ‘ is a big yawn …
    the only thing that comes across is that you’re not happy.
    so:
    pick a number, get in line, and quitcherbellyachin
    and bring a lunch
    T

  • Pingback: Colalex Gallery » Archive » Contemporary Outshines Impressionist & Modern – At Least for Investment Returns « Skate's Art Investment Review

  • Pingback: The Great Contemporary Art Market Cock-Up – artmarketblog.com « Topicco – Find, Read, Share

Plugin from the creators ofBrindes :: More at PlulzWordpress Plugins