Jake Biddington's Art Investing

Rational Exuberance


Editor's Note: This archived article was first published in January of 2000.

This whole millennium change thing finds the art world--like the world in general--engaged in serious navel inspection. William Packer writing in the London Financial Times (12/18/99) actually made some thought-provoking comments on the state and the future of art. The art scene in London may be leading the world in alienating the general public, so Packer has substantial grist for his thought mill.


His article made the point that the late 19th century through early 20th century produced several potentially rich veins of creativity in the visual arts: Matisse and Bonnard (both Fauves but very different artists), Kandinsky (Blaue Reiter), Malevich and Mondrian (proto-minimalism), Kirchner and Beckmann (expressionism) and Marcel Duchamps (Dadaism). Packer writes that the only vein that has been worked--and he suggests worked over--is the one generated by Marcel Duchamps and his conceptual offspring Richard Hamilton (British Pop artist) and German artist Joseph Beuys. Packer concludes that the contemporary art that has been reviewed ad nauseam in the art press and that comprises a show like the sensation-causing SENSATION (at the Brooklyn Museum) is a very particular, rather intellectual ore from an art source that may be petering out.

I couldn't agree more. Conceptually inspired art may engage the interest of some people; it's an air ball for a lot of us.

To continue the mining metaphor: Packer also implies that we haven't begun to appreciate the dazzlingly rich material from the other veins. Individual artists may have been privately mining these vast riches, but quietly with small head lamps. These personal efforts have been lacking the benefit of the Art World to underwrite and popularize the ventures.

This is not because the people comprising the Art World are blind; it is simply that they have grown very, very rigid in their thinking. (Try showing up at an art gallery opening wearing a color other than black. Art crowd behavior brings a new meaning to the word "orthodox".) Personally, I think that this inflexibility is a result of an embarrassment of riches--especially riches dumped in the lap of us Americans after World War II. Having won the war, America became the cultural center of the universe. Americans being Americans, we had turned our backs on Europe and the traditions it carried. Alas, the baby was tossed with the bath water, and we found ourselves lacking the historical knowledge to make aesthetic judgments confidently. Since Americans have never really been comfortable faking it, we turned the role of taste arbiter over to "experts". These experts were the art critics and a few key dealers. This group (mostly unconsciously) arrived at a consensus to focus on one vein. Arts' multiplicity and complexity was just too hard to explain to the public. Art wasn't neat and simple; it was complex and varied. But, it was just easier--and much better marketing--for the experts to channel attention to one kind of creativity and forget the rest.


Conceptually inspired art was declared "cutting edge". The rest was simply ignored. This approach made a handful of dealers, artists & collectors rich. It left most other artists toiling (and often drinking/drugging) quietly in their studios and the rest of us watching sports on TV.

Now, Hallelujah brother, we have the Internet--The Holy Grail of Narrow-Casting. Who could have conceived a better venue for individual artists to exhibit their own gems in a Cartier format? What could be a more inviting place for us curious folk to look, learn and savor the vast variety of these freshly unearthed visual riches?

From the industrial revolution to the technological revolution, the past 150 years have brought us more wealth in visual ideas than we could fully assimilate in a thousand years. It's our incredibly good fortune to live in a time when we can access this huge variety in art--enhanced by the views of critics, art historians and dealers--but no longer pre-filtered by them. Censorship is so yesterday


So, what does this mean for the art market, for museums, for collectors and for artists?


#1 Boom in Contemporary Art Market for Less Established Artists

The contemporary art market (art of living artists) will become much more broad-based with many, many more collectors and many more artists' work being considered investment grade. (Investment grade meaning that the work can be traded in the secondary market with a reasonable degree of liquidity--somewhere between real estate and stocks.)

Reason: The Net makes it easier and cheaper to exhibit art, it allows collectors to obtain info in a relaxed and pleasurable manner, it makes it easier for like-minded collectors to find each other and it offers cost-efficient resale venues.

#2 Prices of Art by Big-Ticket Contemporary Artists Fluctuate Madly

Reason: The stock of a lot of this "commodified" artwork has split and doubled several times. On an individual basis, each artist could catch a wave or an undertow based on market forces alone. (Though some are more vulnerable than others.)

#3 Museums Abandon Role as Easel Art Zoo
--Focus Turns to Installations, Multi-Media Art and Retrospectives

This is, of course, already the trend. Museums are a great place to see art-as-theatre installations and other work too extensive, too intrusive or too tiresome to experience at home.

What I wish museums would do is to start lending and/or leasing most of the art they have in storage to offices, schools and private individuals so that we could have a quite, personal time with the more traditional "museum quality" art. Loss through human wear & tear or theft is preferable to destruction in the dark by mold.

#4 Hand Made Art Outpaces Techno-Produced Work

Reason: How tired are you of peering at screen images, screen surfaces and video & animation pacing? Imagine 10 years from now! As our visual perception grows more acute, we will tire of the choppy pacing and slick surfaces technology formats serve up.

What will be popular? For home use, complex layered images delivered in one visual burst will be big sellers. This presentation allows the mind to decipher the image at whatever pace it can manage. This is the essence of a good painting. Also sensual surfaces will be in demand: shimmering oils, textured metals, velvety charcoals and tactile ceramics will help alleviate screen ennui.

Quality multi-media art in which aesthetic content matches technical skill will become very popular for public installations such as corporations, restaurants and clubs.

#5 The New Art Stars Are Developers--not Innovators

The innovations--the themes--have already been presented in the art of the early 20th century. The new, big names in art will be artists who arrange, orchestrate and deliver these visual themes in intriguing, engaging and complex ways.

#6 Grey Clothing Will Supplant Black at Gallery Openings

Just kidding.

More Jake: Jake Biddington's Collecting Series:
What's It Worth? Appraisals and Valuations
Investment Grade Contemporary Art
MORE Jake on Investing in Tangibles:
PPP Test: Judging Quality in Contemporary Art
Art, Time and Technology
American vs. European Paintings
Jake Biddington's Art as Entertainment
Jake Biddington's Vetted Antiques & Art Shows
Jake Biddington's Patent Numbers as a Dating Tool
Jake Biddington's Hard Assets as Portfolio Diversification
Jake Biddington's Buying Fine Jewelry at Auction
Jake Biddington's Long Term Investing
Jake Biddington's Short-Term Investing
Jake Biddington's The Craft of Art

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