Art As A Commodity


I've been invited to a debate on conservation of the contemporary arts; and I feel it's important to not just document the event, but also, my thought processes before, because the subject seems to be highly contentious. If I go in with an open mind ready to learn, I may do just that.

This debate arises from growing concerns among those associated with the art market about the impermanence of contemporary art and the unique challenges that it brings, such as the many forms of media used in contemporary art and hence the likely impact on their long-term monetary investment value. It will touch on which areas of the art world are responsible for the longevity of contemporary artworks, and how this corresponds to their present and future values.

The Art Market

I know very little of the contemporary art market, which I think is important to note, because my view is one that is shrouded by a certain ignorance. I have two of Christie's not-catalogue-buts-shows-works-and-prices books; which show that Netz, by Gerhard Richter is expected to sell in the regions or £7,000,000-£10,000,000 ($12,000,000-$16,000,000). Incidentally, Richter also thinks that the art markets prices are shocking. Also important to note, is that Richter is as confused by the art market as I am (Bonus).

From the point of view of an emerging artist the art market seem's to be less about art and more about money. Big wallets are buying beautiful art, keeping it in vaults and selling it on. The debate seems to be rising from the concern that video art, happenings and clouds in rooms are difficult to buy and sell. There is very little to be held; and how can you place monetary value on an intangible.


Conserving Art

I've seen a lot of exhibitions that solely focus on the documentation of a live art piece. In fact, I've never seen any work by Tehching Hsieh; I have only ever seen the documentation of his year long performances; which fascinated me enough to go buy a huge book on him. The documentation is the conservation of artworks such as Hsieh, and Sierra. The photographs and associated writings become the proof that this was an artwork and it happened and it was experienced by the artist and others.

Example: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard create beautiful videos and live art. In the case of live art, the art is the moment and experience.

To conserve the art, you can document it in different ways, but in terms of the artwork going to auction, I struggle to see what would be auctioned off, maybe a memory stick with a video on it? The intellectual idea (but that's a scary thought).

Art As Investment

Richter fondly recalled the memory of selling Abstraktes Bild almost 30 years ago to a Cologne collector “for I think around 15,000 marks” (around €7,670). “I was very proud that it became part of his collection.”

No one who had bought his works in recent years, he said, had ever contacted him to show an interest in him or his work, implying that they were only interested in the work’s investment value. He confirmed that often his works were among those bought as safe, tax-free capital investments and stored in art bunkers in east Asia or Switzerland.

Personally I think Richter and I would get on well. Which is why I keep quoting the Guardian article. I also find it sad that art is becoming an investment. As a 'young' artist I buy and create works for the joy of it, I sell because I've recently (re)taken the stand that artists shouldn't work for free.

Art as a private investment scares me, because if art is being bought and kept in Switzerland/Asia, there's the reduced chance that someone may see it and be inspired by it. I think every artist/designer/crafters/musician can remember a moment where they saw a work in the flesh that made them think "I want to do this", and that's an important factor to consider.


Longevity of Contemporary Artworks

The blurb about the debate seems to insinuate that the longevity of an artwork has a monetary value. If an artwork cannot age, then maybe it can't be bought and sold for all eternity making more and more money. I believe that an artwork does not have to go to auction repeatedly to have longevity; an amazing piece of art can exist not just in the documentation, but in the person and their mind.

We all have that inspiring thing that we come back to again and again, and although we may not be able to revisit the source of inspiration physically, we can mentally. Isn't that the best example of longevity?

Conservation + The Art Market

I am concerned that some may stop attempting to document artworks if they hold no investment value. We should document and remember artworks, even the rubbish ones, because that was the outpourings of someones soul; and that's a beautiful thing. We should encourage our friends and networks to see, listen or experience something that inspires and touches us. The Weather Project by Olafur Eliasson was visited by thousands, and they have their own personal documentation of that moment, that sit with the press and artists own documentation, in a way the artwork has been conserved.

For those of us who don't sell anything in the global art market I have concern over how it effects us; except, maybe it doesn't; as it's the same dealers and the same investors buying artworks.

My thought process, as it stands, is that we should stop seeing pound signs when we look at art. That the artworks value resides in the experiencing of it, that if artworks don't become investible as they are now it's not that important. It's important that we find ways of supporting artists and related artist activities and endeavours; that doesn't end up with artwork in a cell away from eager eyes.

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