The Art Market and the Pursuit of Superlatives

Posted in Art Market by Editor on July 7, 2012

At Enfilade we’ve noted a number of the events described in this article from the WSJ — including Masterpiece London, Treasures, Prince Taste at Sotheby’s, and the Exceptional Sale at Christie’s. Emma Cricthton-Miller here addresses the trend toward singularity and the strength of the high end of the market for art and luxury goods.

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From The Wall Street Journal:

Emma Crichton-Miller, “Redefining ‘Masterpiece’: How a Shift in Collectors’ Focus Is Changing the Art World,” The Wall Street Journal (28 June 2012).

Once, London’s Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair was as integral a part of the English summer season as Henley or Ascot. This year, its successor, Masterpiece, whose third edition runs through July 4, reaffirms its claim to Wimbledon fortnight. In between the big auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams, and running in tandem with Master Paintings Week (until July 6), the fair looks to attract a young international audience usually more inclined to spend its money on great wine, fine jewelry or fast cars, to the alternative pleasures of Old Master paintings, contemporary ceramics, antique sculptures or Georgian furniture.

The key to the event is its name. It is under the “masterpiece” rubric . . . This approach has come to dominate fairs and sale rooms around the globe, as collectors focus on outstanding individual examples across categories rather than box-ticking must-haves within a single category. For critics, it aligns art directly with luxury, suggesting that what ultimately unites these objects is their availability only to the very wealthy. But more broadly, it reflects a shift within the market that is changing how we look at objects, understand collections and live with art.

As newspaper headlines indicate, the top end of the market has emerged largely unscathed from the world financial crisis. Records continue to be broken, most recently with the $119.9 million May sale of Munch’s pastel The Scream (1895), now the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. The middle of the market, however, has become more difficult, as auction houses struggle to sell pieces from less well-known artists and periods. . .

The full article is available here»

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