I recently attended a lecture at the Courtauld Institute. In this lecture, the speaker Olav Velthuis argued that the idea that the art world is global is really a lie. Because, while some of the objects which are circulated by the art market may come from all corners of the world, any gallery, especially those from BRIC countries, to enter the art market and become a substantial player is pretty difficult. Velthuis noticed from his research in India that while the galleries spoke about how their gallery planned to show their artists in international art fairs like Frieze or Art Basel, when they had the opportunity to apply for a spot in the fair, they did not apply. Why? Because it was too expensive. Yet, their marketing, and vision as a gallery remained the same on websites, brochures and the like: We are an international gallery representing an Indian artist who is received across the world. It seems as if it is no longer cool to be local. Just look at Gagosian Gallery, it has over ten gallery spaces around the world from New York, to Athens, to Hong Kong. The reputation of galleries must be that they are international. And so it seems galleries such as the ones in India Velthuis engaged with, are crafting a reputation that makes them seem global. Yet, their actions are local. They represent Indian artists who are unknown to the rest of the world, and do not place them in international art fairs because they do not have the funds. So international in words, local in actions? Furthermore, Velthius found that the subject matter chosen by these local artists was often times specific to where they come from, even down to their neighborhood. The artists themselves were painting local, culture specific subject matter. Why don’t the galleries try to embrace this, and develop a local patron base? Why go abroad, and global? Maybe that answer can be found if we follow the money…
Let’s look at the people buying the art. Are they global? It seems those with the money to buy do come from all over. New York investment banker, to royalty from Quatar. These people really do span the world. But are they so few that local markers cannot attract their attention and investments? Their sights are often set on branding themselves as international individuals. They therefore look for galleries that have that reputation.
So, how does one define global? The most involved patrons come from all over the world, so yes the market is global. But galleries in such countries as India cannot afford to take the risk to enter into the art fairs that would put them in front of wealthy patrons that have this global panache, so no the art market is not global.
Is it that because art is produced everywhere, and therefore the market that supports this is by default global? Or, is global the ability of artwork produced in Dallas to find its way to Hong Kong with no problem? To answer this question, we have to dig deeper into how art moves.
If one has the money, one can buy, sell, travel, see art in corners of the world, and take risks in supporting emerging artists, taking them anywhere they want to go, or be seen. But, if we want to create the ability for a young gallerist in India to actually be able to show their artists to large audience bases in America, something must change. Maybe the traditional auction house, art fair world isn’t the best route for these galleries to take. Is there a new kind of exchange program that could be created? One where the barriers to entry are not as according to money, but instead are tailored to those without a reputation, those who do not have a collector base already? What would that look like? Will galleries have to start embracing their locality even more to be recognized on the international stage? When one says international art market, is it really an EU/US based market with a keen interest in some developing countries artistic production? To embrace a new definition of international, does the art market actually need to be more decentralized? Would limits in buying and selling help to prevent an EU-US monopoly of the art world?
How works of art flow really is a loaded question. It is a question that demands an analysis of the word global. It has social, political, and economic impacts because art is consumed, and thus it creates a market. With a market comes supply and demand. If the demand is focused on only certain kinds of art, the supply will follow those demands. But, one of the beautiful things about culture, and international exchange, is that by its very nature it exposes people to things that they never knew existed, things outside of themselves. So, if culture is supported by a market which is driven by demand, how can people demand that which they do not know exists? I believe with tangible products a free market works because there always an object that is deemed outdated, and thus serves as a jumping off point for innovation and newness, the by-product of demand. For example, their could have been no iPod without the flip phone coming first. And, innovation is the best kind of organic, exactly-what-we-asked-for, progress. However, culture is not a product, and often times there is nothing “outdated” about it that can serve to point us in the direction of innovating a new kind of it. It is far more intangible, it is an identity. What does a market servicing the open, sustained circulation and growth of appreciation of identities look like? Could it be that “awareness” becomes the demanded product, art experiences become the supply, and new players allowed into the market becomes the by-product, the organic innovation?