“In the history of art, as in more materialistic matters, money talks vividly,” Alfred H. Barr Jr., the Museum of Modern Art’s founding director, wrote in 1929. “Let us not be ashamed to listen.”
“Well said,” Eli Broad, the financier and one of the world’s leading art collectors, replied when I read the quote to him.
So let us not be ashamed to listen to materialistic matters:
1. Collectors and museums spent about $600 million at the spring sales of Impressionist, modern, and contemporary art. Sixty records were broken. “The upward trajectory of the contemporary art market continued, surpassing the traditionally dominant Impressionist and modern figures,” wrote Eileen Kinsella, editor of ARTnewsletter.
2. A prominent collector reportedly offered another prominent collector $140 million for the latter’s Impressionist masterpiece, but was turned down.
3. A leading New York dealer predicted that before too long, a painting will sell for $200 million. After all, he pointed out, one of the hedge-fund billionaires earned more than $450 million last year.
4. “The market’s hyperactive—but not easy,” said Marc Blondeau, a Geneva and Paris dealer. “People take time when they’re buying.” At auctions, of course, you have to make a decision within seconds, while at galleries you can often sleep on a decision.
So whither the art market?
“Things have peaked,” said Broad, who was among the collectors, dealers, auctioneers, museum directors, curators, and consultants interviewed by ARTnews correspondents in 22 countries for the 15th annual ARTnews200 (and its Top Ten), our list of the world’s most active collectors.
“I can’t see these prices going up, up, and away,” Broad added. On the other hand, an art consultant who advises several top collectors (he and his clients prefer to remain anonymous) was asked whether the market had “peaked.” “Yes and no,” he said. What does that mean? “I’ve been saying for five years that it has peaked,” he said. Then he paused and added: “For the right thing, they’ll pay and pay and pay.” Another pause: “More and more collectors are coming out of the woodwork.”
A mini survey by ARTnewsindicated that some experts believe that things have reached a “plateau.” What’s the difference between peak and plateau? Webster’s defines peak as “the maximum value of a periodically varying quantity during a cycle.” And a plateau as “a period or phase of stability.”
As ARTnewswent to press, there appeared to be no consensus as to the future of the periodically varying quantity.
Michel Laclotte, emeritus director of the Louvre, recently wrote in his fascinating memoir, A Key to the Louvre: “In any collector, there is a share of mania that is irrational.”
Broad, who has made the Top Ten list every year—his foundation and personal collection have a total of 1,100 works—put it this way: “Collectors become obsessive and then addicted. You become addicted to art and you can’t live without it.”