Tuesday, October 05, 2010

BBC interviews Chairman of Christie's International on the art market and the commercialisation of art

Last night, BBC HARDtalk's Sara Montague spoke with Edward Dolman, former CEO and current Chairman of Christie's International, on the state of the art market, the appeal of art as an alternative investment to stocks or bonds and the growing commercialisation of art. At present, a full version of the interview does not appear to be available online but an extract can be found here. Based on my own notes of the interview, this is what Dolman had to say:

On art as an investment: investors are looking for "tangible assets, especially in a period of inflation" but investors must realize that "the value [of an artwork] can go up and down." Acquiring art for investment purposes is "hardly a new phenomenon" though the principal drivers for an acquisition should be whether the buyer "engages" with and is "inspired" by the artwork.

On the top-end of the art market: a very discrete group of people composed of around "100 to 150" investors/collectors with "the East [referring to Russia, the Middle East and China in particular] playing a much bigger role."

On the recession: the top-end of the art market has recovered but other areas are seeing a "slow recovery."Some pre-recession trends have continued: post-war contemporary and Chinese art are "still hot" and at "the very high end." Dolman went on to discuss the "serious competition" faced by Christie's from the new auction houses in Beijing. However, he said the fact that "most great Chinese works are outside China" gives Western auction houses a competitive advantage over their Chinese counterparts.

On the record-breaking Picasso auctioned last May: people at Christie's were "not surprised" it sold for $106.5m given Picasso is widely considered to be "the greatest artist of the twentieth century" and the place the 1932 painting holds within the artist's oeuvre. Picasso, Dolman said, is "as close to a blue chip investment as you can make in the art market today."

On Christie's as a taste-maker: the auction house is not responsible for "creating tastes" but rather "responds to what clients are wanting to collect" and to demand for certain "categories of styles."

On the tastes that drive the art market today: modernism, "objects that remind them [buyers] of their own time." For example, Warhol "has a huge appeal because he mirrors the society a lot of collectors lived in." Dolman also noted the emergence and development of a "global taste" with Hirst and Koons collectors in Asia becoming some of the most imporant for these artists.

On Christie's' new CEO as a symbol of the commercialisation of art (see here for background): Christie's "is a business after all," a global one with shareholders "who expect returns." The auction house will benefit from the "fresh eyes of an outsider" and the former CEO (who had been at Christie's for 15 years prior to his appointment as CEO in 1999) said the fact that Murphy had no prior experience in the art world was of no importance because people at Christie's "already have a lot of the knowledge."

On any misgivings about the commercialisation of the art world: None. "Society's recognition of the art world is fundamental." The fact that it's "seen as having such great importance explains the value assigned to art."

On Jerry Saltz's view that money corrupts the creative process: such a critique represents "a denial of everything that's happened in the last one hundred years;" patrons are "historically behind great art" and "money and art [have been] linked for generations and generations" (Dolman makes a reference to the Medici). It is "unwise to disconnect money from the livelihood of the artist and his ability to create" and art's "[monetary] value has allowed it to be preserved."

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