Home » The Art Market: Explained

The Art Market: Explained

I came across a funny, smart article called “A guide to the market oligopoly system”, which is a piece by Felix Salmon that uses a drawing by the artist William Powhida to deconstruct the complexities of the American art market.

William Powhida, A Guide to the Market Oligopoly System. Image: reuters.com

It makes interesting reading, particularly the part of the pyramid where locales are listed on a scale from Topeka to New York, where he notes “the value of a work of art is to a very large degree a function of the city where it’s being sold. New York’s at the top of the heap (or, to be precise, Manhattan); Berlin punches well above its weight; Paris, the erstwhile center of the art world, is conspicuous by its absence.”

It suggests that Toronto, which I would put on par with Philadelphia or Seattle at the lower end of the scale, is a small market that determines the fate of its artists. It’s a bit of a double-edge sword for artists: Do they wallow in relative obscurity in a small going-nowhere market like Toronto (or all of Canada, for that matter), but where they can teach and have the support of government grants and artist-run centres and have a decent quality of life, or do they dive into the overpopulated, over-competitive waters in New York or London, where they also risk obscurity (and, likely, poverty)?

I’m thankful for the excellent, world-class artists who have decided to remain in Canada. Though they may never achieve super-star status, we need and appreciate them.

Read the full article, HERE.

Oh, and Happy New Year! See you in 2011.

2 Responses to “The Art Market: Explained”

  1. Matthew Carver says:

    Thank you. I found Felix Salmon’s piece an interesting and funny article.

    Regarding that and your own thoughts regarding his article, I have some thoughts of my own…

    I do think Toronto would rank above Seattle (seriously, would you or any artist in Toronto feel better to have a Dale Chihuly as your signature art star?).

    Berlin is a unique situation though for how highly people think of it in the art “market”. It’s very different than London. London can think of itself as the capital of the European art “market” and also where artists reside.
    Berlin is where more of the production still happens…
    but I’m not convinced this is where you sell it.
    Artists and even galleries may have a base here… but that capitalist stuff happens more I believe, outside. Yes, at the fairs.

    Also, NYC has been hurting a LOT more than people know.

    This is why certain people are working hard to tap deeper into Asia and places like the Middle East.

    For all of that though regarding this city and that city, I think people spend way too much time worrying about places rather than the work. Whenever I come home to visit family and friends in The Great White North, I hear way too many Canadian artists sigh and talk as if everything would be fine were they somewhere else.

    It’s been over 8 years since I lived in Toronto. I remember that time… before so many of us were forced out of buildings to make room for condos. Perhaps a lot of things back then, still happen now. There was a time when every other artist told you they were in a “collective”. These often ended up producing some of the best shows. Artists would pool their resources, find a space that was vacant for a good month and put on something special. It’s also how some places for showing art got off the ground. I was involved in the first year of Loop and remember pulling sinks out of the walls of a former laundromat on Queen West and putting up drywall. We had heard the stories about how places like Mercer Union had started up and decided to do something rather than complain about dealers who ignored the slide packages we sent out (just dated myself I know).
    I sometimes wonder why I don’t see this collective effort manifest itself in some of the satellite art fairs I’ll look at in cites such as Berlin and London when Art Forum and Frieze are on. Sure, you can complain that you live in Toronto, that there are no collectors in your city and that it sucks … or you could get together with a bunch of artists you respect, work out some killer statements and packages and get a booth somewhere like the Liste Fair next time Art Basel is up. Seriously, what’s stopping you? Or, you could give up and say it’s because you live in Toronto.

    One of the best shows I saw recently here in Berlin was “Bastards of Misrepresentation” at The Freies Museum. Curated by Manuel Ocampo, it focused on new contemporary art from Manila. Yes, that’s Manila as in the Philippines. I’m convinced it houses the most exciting painting scene on the planet … amidst an almost non-existent art market (but Asian collectors are starting to catch on). There is something important to note though about this show which Manuel told me himself. The exhibition in Berlin came about because these artists got together, pooled what they had and put on shows and fundraiser events in Manila that ended up paying for the transport of their work to Europe and the publication of a very impressive 140 page catalogue. They thought that what they were doing was worthy of getting out there and made it happen.

    A couple weeks ago I was hanging out with the artist, Shaun Gladwell. He smiled when Toronto came up in the conversation and talked about what a great place it is and his experiences there at The Power Plant, YYZ and Georgia Sherman Projects. He spends a lot of time in London and shows his art around the world in the most prestigious spaces but never said a bad word about Australia or the situation of artists in Sydney.

  2. Ruth Rifka says:

    Thanks for this wonderful read and your insights.

    Plus the fun of studying William Powhida’s piece!

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