In the era of market analytics, the art world has produced its own selection of reports sponsored by large players and savvy think tanks across the globe. Some notable recent reports include the Art Basel & UBS Global Art Market Report 2018, TEFAF Art Market Report 2018, South Asian Art Market Report 2018 by ArtTactic, and more recently the Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report 2017 by artnet.
In a bid to understand its own internal dynamics, reports are rolled out often to coincide with calendar highlights such as a large-scale art fairs or series of auctions. These reports offer tremendous data and insights into art market activities from the past few years, and collectively have aimed to cover Europe, the Americas, and Asia. The behemoths of the global market (USA, the U.K. and China) and exciting emerging markets take turns in the harsh but welcome spotlight of data; as the art market expands, so does interest in market performance statistics.
However, as a professional working in the Southeast Asian market, the absence of proper coverage of Southeast Asia in these well-circulated art market reports adds to the struggle of trying to figure out where the region falls relative to the established’ Western markets, ‘buzzing’ South Asian scene and ‘booming’ cities of the far east.
Market research outfit ArtMarketGuru has published reports focused on Southeast Asia in 2017. Although it places the focus on exactly the aspects of the Southeast Asian art market many wish to know about, much has changed in the local scene in the short few months since it published. Seemingly grounded fairs have faded, museums are gaining momentum and confidence and collectors are engaging in dialogues across their borders more visibly than before. That is not to say 2017’s reports may not still be accurate, but the uncertainty of it all just adds to the strange feeling of wilderness and nascence in a region known for its 'robust and burgeoning market', as a fellow commentator puts it.
Asserting accuracy is difficult for the exhausted+predictable reason: privacy, privacy and more privacy. It really just comes down to this: high net worth individuals engage in private sales at a rate that distorts perceptions of the truth nature of Southeast Asia’s art market.
If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it. So goes the saying in modern business management theory**
So in a region that is already elusive in its art market practice, and with no truly large-scale art fairs or events garnering international attention in recent years as compared to the likes of Shanghai and Hong Kong, how does one even begin to measure the sub-sectors of auction markets, galleries and dealers?
Regarding dealers, the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2018 purports that the dealer sector is not as financially healthy as in the West, with fewer dealers reporting profits. Asian dealers account for an estimated 13.9% of the dealer population, according to the report’s findings.
Yet, in Indonesia and Singapore especially, there is no observable dearth of dealers.
This discrepancy can perhaps be explained through considering how the concept of agency differs between the East and West. In the West, agency is a well-established, well-utilised and non-cryptic legal relationship between two individuals in its definition.*** It is also very well regulated and well-documented in contractual relationships. Although equally rigorous in litigious circumstances, agency takes on a much more cryptic form in the East - there is still a strong aversion to contracts, perceived to set an undesirable tone for business dealings, and more laissez-faire approaches to a relationship of agency are favoured.*Cough* wildwildwest handshake *end cough*
Prof. Dr. Rachel Powell in the TEFAF Art Market Report 2017 shared that ‘extremely high growth in dealer markets expected…in particular in UAE, Korea, India and Japan. Moderate growth in Hong Kong and Singapore’ for the year following the report which was published in early 2017.
Man…I wish I could find out somehow if she was right.
** ‘If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it’ - the adagé is attributed to author and brain behind modern business management Peter Drucker. Just an outdated ‘mad men’ type of ethos, or still useful for understanding the behaviour of businesses in the social & environmental consciousness movement?
***Not sure the same can be said about it in execution.
Legal jargon, especially in the English language, has perplexed and misled many trained lawyers, let alone those that have never undertaken legal scholarship in their lives. Phrases like ‘obstruction of justice', ‘circumstantial proximity' and ‘act of god' are notorious enough to have found a place in popular culture, and hopefully in the process a larger group of people have developed a basic understanding of how they operate.
Unfortunately, even the most educated and well-read individual can fall victim to this one ’scam’ - the supposedly legal operations of MULPOR Company S.A.
Ladies and gentlemen, check out the website https://www.inter-fairs.com/. Designed to look like it could be an established enterprise’s landing page, this is an online database that provides a fraction of the same information that is publicly available on official fair websites. The ‘about us’ tab is where you find the following content -
The International Fair Directory is the largest international platform offering a global overview of the current scene of fairs and exhibitions. The platform www.inter-fairs.com provides continuously updated information on thousands of international and local fairs, millions of associated companies as well the organizers themselves.
The company accesses the list of exhibitors that is made publicly available on the official fair websites, and this includes the list of galleries for art fairs. It then contacts the specific galleries by post, with a single letter and a fillable form. A cursory reading could easily lead someone to believe the letter is either from the official fair team, or an organisation with an established working relationship with the fair. Any fair exhibitors who submit the form, wittingly or unwittingly become legally bound to pay EUR 1271 or EUR 1212 per year, as specified in the (VERY) fine print.
These two documents have been assembled by someone who knows how to take advantage of the formatting trends in corporate culture, and perhaps in the advertising industry too. The disclaimers that allow the company to survive in Uruguay, which is where it is registered, are just as elusive to the average reader as the fine print that specifies the fees.
Those running the website do not target any specific industry. Whether its tech, luxury goods or even raw materials, the company may reach out via post and follow up through calls where they pose as part of the official fair team, or an affiliate. Ultimately, due to reading habits and how we have trained ourselves to absorb and process information, many have fallen victim to the fine print.
Some fair organisers have noted and highlighted the danger to their exhibitors in the past, but the company has survived for years now without falling foul of the law - simply through the art of legal jargon. In this instance, it is worth recognising as formatting ‘jargon' even though it is different from the written word.
My favourite part was the follow-up call I received at work from what I can only suppose was a lady whose current job scope involves calling fair exhibitors who have been unresponsive to their posted letter. I hope her career path improves dramatically, and soon.
I am doing a stint at a local art gallery in Singapore, and one of the projects I am working on is a new exhibition in the gallery space. It is all very exciting, but it has in some ways removed my rose-tinted glasses about working with artists.
Talking to artists and working with them in an art business framework can be challenging due to the diverse works and needs of each artist. To put together a successful exhibition, a strong and clear art business framework is required. Between galleries and artists, this takes the form of a consignment agreement.
When an artist consigns a work to a gallery, he or she transfers the work to the gallery’s possession but retains legal title to the work. Usually, the terms specify a period for this consignment (perhaps exhibition dates). They also specify that the consignment is for the purpose of sale of the work.
Agreements on average (and as a concept) are marginally more complex in the art industry; the history of the Western art market relying on the gentleman’s handshake is well-documented. Check out Titia Hulst, A History of the Western Art Market: A Sourcebook of Writings on Artists, Dealers, and Markets for more on the topic. You might think a gentleman’s handshake is less complex in practicality than a document filled with legal jargon. But in reality, the art industry is riddled with the complications that can arise from these same inadequate methods of reaching an agreement.
The focus of this critical observation are large cities where the art market as we know it today is better established. However, it may be more an observation of the past. As the market matures, technical aspects like the consignment agreement become more sophisticated and at the forefront of market activity. Younger cities that aspire to be players in the global art market ecosystem would benefit from paying attention to details of such agreements and steering clear of the laissez-faire practices that the art market has been notorious for.
Ultimately, as shared by my boss, the idea is that the consignment agreement should provide a framework for the entire business relationship. Whether it will remain highly individualised and tailored to each project, or veer towards a ‘standard format’ of terms and conditions as the size of the art market and its transparency changes, will take many more years and observational data to determine.
by Richard Van Herzeele
For the Belgian art world, the first quarter of 2018 has been marked by an unfortunate and prominent scandal involving Russian avant-garde paintings in Ghentâs Museum of Fine Arts (MSK). 26 Privately owned pieces attributed to such Russian Modernist luminaries as Malevich, Kandinsky, Tatlin, Goncharova, were included in a new display of the permanent collection which opened on 20 October 2017. Controversy erupted in January, when a group of Russian Modernism experts and dealers penned an open letter raising serious doubts over the authenticity of the Ghent pieces.
The main characters in this developing drama are Catherine De Zegher, the Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Igor and Olga Toporovsky, the Russian owners of the pieces, and Sven Gatz, the Flemish Minister of Culture, who initially referred the couple to the museum. The case has rumbled on since the fateful letter and has proven to be fertile ground for art world gossip. However, it also raises some fundamental questions for the international art world beyond Belgiumâs borders.
Much of the commentary on the case has focused on the authenticity of the works. Are they forgeries, as the experts suspect, or instead an extraordinary collection of works made by some of the finest Russian avant-gardists? Sadly, it seems this question will remain unanswered. A recent police search of the Ghent museum placed the pieces still in the museumâs depot, although earlier reports said the pieces had been returned to the owners after being taken down. The Toporovskyâs had already announced their own authenticity investigation, but whether conducting it is still possible, now the depot has been sealed off by the police, and whether its results would be trustworthy in the first place, is anybodyâs guess.
âBut there is another, perhaps more fundamental, question at the heart of this story: was proper due diligence conducted?. The term âdue diligenceâ is often bandied about in the art world, and essentially refers to the investigative steps and procedures one must undertake prior to buying, selling, exhibiting or loaning a work, to ascertain such can be lawfully done. When ascertaining that proper due diligence was conducted, the authenticity of the pieces is of relatively lesser importance. While madam De Zegher would, in laymanâs terms, more easily âget away with itâ, if the pieces were indeed by Malevichâs, Goncharovaâs or Kandinskyâs hand, their authenticity would not necessarily entail that proper due diligence was performed. Poorly vetted art can be authentic, too.
The city of Ghent has now hired Ernst & Young to perform an audit of the museumâs practices to the tune of 44,800 Euros (GBP 39,140.40). The firm will investigate whether the museum has acted in accordance with international guidelines and international reference practices such as the ICOM Code of Ethics. Additionally, relevant staff members of the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts and representatives of several internationally recognised reference museums will be interviewed during the firmâs investigation.
Singapore Art Week just ended, and it gave me something to contemplate about young persons’ curiosity about the art world and art market. Both in Singapore and across the world, opportunities to appreciate art as a luxury good or investment product can sometimes be limited to those in the highest income brackets. Many of us experience art fairs, biennales and exhibitions. However, most platforms and spaces for buying and selling art remain playgrounds for the ultra-rich.
I had already reconciled this as a reality both abroad and in Singapore, when I received an update from Feral Horses, the art investment platform looking to change things up.
Feral Horses is the art stock exchange to buy and trade shares of contemporary artworks directly from artists and art galleries. The team is raising funds through Seedrs for its new proposition of micro art investments.
Here is what that means for my fellow millennial art gallery visitors: When you visit an art gallery partnering with Feral Horses, hold your smartphone camera over the artwork's tag. You will get redirected to the Art Stock Exchange, where you can get in-depth data about the artwork and artist, and the option to buy shared of the artwork almost instantly. The onus is on you, then, to manage your portfolio of shares and investments.
Feral Horses rents out the artworks that they manage, and as shared by the team this approach has two major outcomes. Firstly, the works are exhibited rather than hidden in storage facilities. The works gain visibility in the market, and this directly has an impact on art market valuation. Secondly, investors receive 'dividends' from this rental activity, which creates a healthy system of patronage and market activity. I am a fan of research, innovation and enterprise in the art industry. It is tremendously exciting because it contradicts the art world's reputation for being old, stuffy and resistant to change. Here are some reasons to consider art as an investment product, straight from the Horse's (haha!) mouth
1) Art as an investment is an opportunity to invest in something you share values with - sustainability, or womens' rights, perhaps. Whatever the oeuvre of the artist may be about
2) It is a big learning opportunity - before you invest in anything, you have to study the asset and conduct due diligence. You get to study something you are interested in, which is an underrated opportunity for self-development
3) If your disposable income has kept you from building a serious art collection, micro art investments provide an interesting compromise. The solution of investing in shares can bring you closer to that reality, without first discussing a myriad of issues surrounding art collection management (like interior, taxes, insurance etc.)
4) Art is a high-risk and high-potential asset, and investing small sums over a time period can lead to a stronger, more diversified portfolio.
As a millennial who is looking to make sense of the big bad world of investment, being risk-averse comes naturally. we have seen multiple instances of economic crashes due to failed markets. I think this is a very clever and realistic way to address a large market gap, for people who wish to actively participate in the market but do not have the same disposable income (yet) that visible art collectors begin collecting with.
Galleries often create marketing or business strategies based on their understanding of an individual's purchasing power. How much this impacts their interaction with a visitor or prospective client, of course, varies wildly for each gallery across the globe. If a large number of galleries get on board with this initiative, the practice of measuring how deep a visitor's pockets go will be less relevant, and millennials may find a newfound confidence when visiting their favourite contemporary art galleries.
In the summer of 2017, I collaborated with industry professional and data artist Vishal Kumar on a creative project that fused our interests in art pushing boundaries in inter-disciplinary discussions. As two creatives with very specialised interests and active roles in the art market, one of the best aspects of our collaboration was the exchange of ideas between me as creative writer and Vishal as data artist.
Here, Vishal answers some simple questions to shed light on data art, and what it means to be a data artist.
M: What is data art?
V: Data art is the process of creating works of art using computer coding, data and design. It can be digital or physical. Static or dynamic and interactive. Typically, an algorithm is written and then the algorithm is run through a software to generate the work of art.
M: What makes a data artist different from other artists?
V: Not much at all. The creative process across all media and methods is the same. An artist has an idea, a theme of interest, and the determination to improve and excel their craft. An artist may use one medium or a range of media to create their art work. I see the code and the data as my medium and the screen as my canvas. I had an idea in mind, the last theme I explored (with you) was “symmetry”, and then I created my work of art using my craft. The key difference between me and other artists is that I use data and code to express my ideas, another artist may use oil paint, watercolour, or printmaking to do the same thing.
Another way to think about it is this: an algorithm is a set of rules to execute an operation. I write an algorithm with code which tells the computer a set of commands to make the data art. A print maker follows a very similar chain of rules and commands to make a linocut, for example: first cut and chisel the lino; choose what colours you want; apply the ink with a roller; put the whole thing on a piece of paper under a rolling machine; then, press; finally, the work of art is made.
M: What value can data art add to our daily lives?
V: One of my main missions for creating art with code and data is to communicate to my audience that computer programming can be creative, flexible and playful. There is certainly a preconception that coding (or the like - software development and IT, for example) is a nerdy and boring practice, which serves a functional or operational purpose. I have demonstrated that this is not true. I want to shift people’s focus from the boring to the more creative, playful and malleable aspects of the code.
So, to answer your question, data art can add value to people’s lives by helping them realise that code is not boring! Also, I think data art can help individuals understand the power of code and how it has become a vital part of our society.
M: What is the most challenging bit of being a data artist?
V: There are a wide variety of computer coding languages, syntaxes and frameworks. The majority of those cannot be used to create data art. There are only a handful of ones which can. You need to able to identify the whole landscape and then choose which languages and frameworks you want to use. My advice would be not to do all of them at once. Even then, sometimes you have to have a very particular piece of code installed on your computer to make the whole thing work! Once you have installed the framework or software of choice, you then have to be able to write an algorithm with code to create the data art.
All of this is quite challenging and can be completely daunting to someone starting out. I definitely got frustrated and gave up on some methods, but I love problem solving and I had the persistence to make it all work. For the record, I use currently use Processing, P5.js and D3.js, however, I am also interested in OpenFrameworks.
M: Does knowing coding or any other specialised discipline help me understand data art?
V: I believe you don’t need to know coding in order to understand data art. I don’t know how to play the violin or the piano but when I listen to classical music or contemporary jazz I still understand the art: I get the rhythm, I feel the beat, I sense the emotion. It’s the role of the artist to use the instrument in such a way so that the audience can understand the work of art. But, certainly, having specialised knowledge of coding will help you understand how the data art was created, but not always what it is trying to represent.
To read more about Vishal and my collaboration, check out Vishal's post Making Data Art and Collaborating with a Writer.
Chalton Gallery is a not-for-profit project space in Somers Town, London. Their programme is dedicated to showcasing contemporary art from the UK and Mexico.
M: Could you share an introduction of Chalton Gallery, and how you chose this location and space?
J: I have been working with Mexican artists for about the last 6 to 7 years. Finding a space to do so is always difficult, and I was lucky to find this one which is property of Camden Council; slightly cheaper than private land. You go through a process where you have to tell the council what you are going to do with the space. I’ve been promoting British artists or artists based in the UK and in Mexico as well. The idea was to open a space here with an intention of creating more of a platform.
The important thing about small galleries is that we should link the artists to bigger institutions, potential collectors, but here we have tried to create this exchange on an international level. That is one of the principal objectives of the gallery.
M: Has the gallery always focused on working with artists and creating a platform for them?
J: We have mainly been showing artists early on in their careers: recent graduates who have been working only for the last 2-3 years. These artists are also constantly doing other things like being part of separate collectives, having residencies and engagements. I think it is quite important to show their work here and in Mexico. I was invited to Glasgow most recently and to Paris in August, where I will be showcasing video art created by artists who have also been showcased in this space. It might seem boring at first because you’re showcasing the same artist multiple times, but it is very important to do so on the formal level, because that is when an exchange can happen.
M: So Somers Town as a location seems more of a logistical and business decision, but has the locality played a role in the narrative of the gallery and its objectives?
J: No, not Somers Town specifically (in the international narrative exchange). The important thing about Somers Town has been the response of the locals who have shown a huge interest in the gallery. Sometimes I meet children who remember the first exhibition and can share about their favourite exhibition of the past.
The important thing about art institutions (including small galleries like this one) is not necessarily sharing knowledge but fostering a state of mind. Let’s say the Tate Modern on a Saturday is visited by 25,000 to 30,000 people. That is huge, but it is not that they are learning about the new artists and their works, it is that it puts them in a new state of mind. Somers Town was a forgotten area between the busy stations of Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston. Drug abuse and prostitution are some of the problems historically plaguing the area. People have been stimulated in a different way because of the gallery, according to my observations.
M: And these are probably people who are not familiar with art in a gallery context, are they?
J: That is right, they are always surprised or amazed at the works and activities. The collections in the area are so accessible. The British Museum is in fact a nice 20-25 minute walk away. These collections are unfortunately taken for granted by the people in Somers Town. However, many times these same people will glance at the work in Chalton Gallery and have a new experience, thought or idea. The potential impact that small moment has on their individual states of mind is tremendous.
M: Indeed, that is one of the greatest things to celebrate about art. Do you think this potential is unique to art, or can something other than an art gallery possibly achieve the same outcome?
J: I think it sometimes has to do with aesthetics. A beautiful coffee shop can also motivate and encourage people. There is someone whom I met who hates living here 'because it's Somers Town’. I think if the street can have a different level of aesthetics, that feeling can change. Community centres do not really qualify for this. They are seen as a last resort, although they are an enterprise that can help create a local area or neighbourhood.
M: Have you been able to measure this impact on the community?
J: I tend to always ask for responses from visitors or passers-by. This gallery always has small groups of attendees, whom you are likely to encounter at another art event the very next day. When i see newcomers, I ask how they came to know about the gallery and what their thoughts are.
There is a lady that submitted a complaint to Camden Council about the artwork being offensive. Never assume that everybody has the same morals and philosophy. Once she informed me that she had complained about the work’s offensiveness, I asked others if they felt the same way. Some shared that the gallery and works make Chalton Street more vibrant and interesting, including for their children. Others are confused. I try to research people’s thoughts and responses.
M: That reminds me of street art, which sometimes evokes strong and diversified responses from people of the same local community
J: Yes, the gallery tries to engage people but tries not to be offensive. We have invited people to come for a coffee later this week to have a discussion about the matter. It is wrong to ask people to change their mind, but a discussion can be constructive. That is the problem sometimes; we do not have the space and opportunity to have an exchange in a rational way. This is something Chalton Gallery does aim to have.
Chalton Gallery is located on 96 Chalton Street, Camden, London. Check out their website http://www.chaltongallery.org/ for latest exhibitions and events.