Singapore Art Week just happened, 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.
A couple of weeks ago, I joined a gallery team in Singapore with a strong presence in Asia. It is wonderful to be back home and learning about Asian artists who predominantly appeal to the culturally vast Asian community.
One Asian artist, however, defies all odds by being all at once popular in the East and West, a prolific creator of works, and an aged woman. Her current popularity is fueled by trends like feminism, Instagram art and greater attention to mental health. Yayoi Kusama is #55 on ArtReview's Power 100 List in 2017, and there is little to question that ranking (only perhaps why the ranking is not higher still).
On a personal note, many friends, family and acquaintances are fond of reaching out to me to satiate their curiosity about the fine art market. What motivates their desire to engage becomes obvious with the one remark; 'Hm..I can make these dots myself, can't I?'
You can perhaps predict my reaction to this. It is something along the lines of 'No you naive, overconfident chap, you bloody can't.' There is plenty of (growing) literature on the mechanisms of the fine art market. Derived from them, below is a list of things I wish I was calm enough to give instead as my reaction:
1. For those who form opinions of fine art while scrolling their smartphones: It is important to see works of art, including Instagram-trending ones, in person. This is because materials and materiality, scale, how your eye sees colour, visual details and non-visual components like context are part of an artwork.
2. If you have seen them in person, gain an understanding of the technical skills required to produce a piece. Artists must gain access to the right materials, perhaps work with engineers or manufacturers and often involve specialized conservators and restorers.
3. Kusama specifically has gone through an incredible process that informs her artistic expression. Here is a good read: 10 things to know about Yayoi Kusama. When you look at any other work or even a well-attempted reproduction, you are not faced with the same expression or artistic intention.
4. There is a sophisticated and elusive market mechanism that attaches value to these works of art, which allows artworks to behave as commodities. If you are interested in how that works, do not confuse it with the ability of the artwork to be an experience and expression at the same time. It can, and does, have the characteristics of both.
At the moment, Kusama is the recipient of an incredible amount of attention and rapport online, on social media platforms, and in the international art market that buys and sells her works of art of high net worth. Many find themselves curious about why our economy and society rewards and recognizes Kusama on these platforms.
Simply going to view a work will not give you the resources you need to understand 'Why is this artwork more visible/important than others?' Look instead for the answer to 'What is Kusama trying to capture, communicate, channel in her work?' and 'Do I have a personal response to her expression?'
By finding the answer to the second question, perhaps you will find yourself closer to answering questions about our collective approach towards reward and recognition too.
I am currently 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 practice than a document filled with legal jargon. But in reality, the art industry is riddled with the complications that can arise from relying on a handshake or similar inadequate methods of reaching an agreement about a complex project.
The focus of this critical observation is large cities where the art market as we know it today is better established. However, it may now be more of an observation of the art market 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 world 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. Will 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? We may need many more years of observational data before we can find the answer.
In the recent months, I have been working on a collaboration with Vishal Kumar here in London.
Vishal is a data analyst at Sotheby’s auction house, and also a data artist. As artist and writer, we are producing co-art together on different topics relevant to the art market.
I interviewed Vishal on the topic of data art. This answers some questions that our supporters, patrons and peers have asked so far. For anyone interested in the topic, read the interview for an introduction to data art, from a data artist himself.
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: 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.
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.
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 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.
If you wish to find out more about Vishal and my collaboration, stay tuned for our Patreon page.
I was interviewed recently by the lovely team at Feral Horses on the topic of art law. A friendly 3 minute read; click the image to check it out:
Last month, I attended the 2017 conference of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art in Amelia, Italy. Four of us shared a quaint and beautiful farmhouse on an olive farm as our accommodation for the trip.
On Friday evening before the weekend conference sessions, ARCA hosted a cocktail reception.
We attended the event and when we got back to our accommodation close to midnight, the electricity was not working, nor were the water taps. We were in a dark farmhouse on our first trip abroad together, in an unfamiliar and rural place and after a successful cocktail reception. Bless us.
We took a quick look at the fuse box inside the house using our phone torchlights, but that did not resolve the issue.
I am and always have been exceptionally lazy. Sunrise was around 6am in Italy during the week of the summer solstice, and our first proper day of this academic conference began the next morning. I thought to myself, 'we have enough bottles of water and torchlights functioning on our phones to go to bed, get up early and attempt to solve the issue in daylight.'
As it turns out, my friends are nowhere near as lazy when trying to solve problems. Kayla was attempting to get to the larger fuse box towards the farm entrance while Joanna was trying to contact the farmhouse owners whose place we were renting. I cannot recall what Richard was doing, but I remember him pondering beside me on the porch briefly before moving about the estate. Additionally, the wifi had not been working which complicated the matter of finding solutions or contacting people. Mind you, I had not moved from the porch the whole while.
This continued for (I think) half an hour without progress, so I just went up to quickly get changed. I got ready for bed and came back to wait on the front porch in case I could be called on/be of some use.
Perhaps they were inspired by my pyjamas or perhaps the mosquito bites started to itch, but thankfully everyone called it a night very soon after. Surely enough, our AirBnB hosts messaged Joanna to say that we must flick a switch in the large fuse box near the farm entrance. That fuse box had a padlock that clicked open with a tug. It was only placed there as a superficial deterrent. There was also a wasp’s nest inside that large box, which Kayla braved for us all. 'My mom is deathly allergic to bees and wasps, so I'm pretty used to dealing with them...little bastards.' - Kayla
Our first morning at the conference was salvaged, but imagining what could have happened with wasps, mosquitos and no electricity or wifi at midnight has made this anecdote that much easier to recount.
Can we meaningfully engage with art without attending key art events?
Art Basel is happening right now, and I am lamenting being here writing my dissertation rather than travelling to the art fair. I am reading all there is to read, looking at social media feeds, and gathering knowledge about what I am missing out on. But how far will these efforts really carry me?
There aren’t many in the art world that would argue with the notion that ‘you must see the work in the flesh’ to understand it. Engaging with actual artwork is necessarily done in person - this is referring to sensory engagement. Subodh Gupta has taken this to the next level, with art that is experienced through consumption that will ultimately enter your physical DNA.
His work ‘Cooking the World’ invites those lucky enough to book a ticket to the performance to have a meal prepared in old cooking utensils from India. Food consumption and the ritual of it reflects the nation’s vast diaspora. I have been whispering to my friends that food art is the next frontier for collectors, but was not confident enough to gamble on what shape or form that would take. (A Recipe book? Images of food, both image and food made by the artist? Preserved foods that can be displayed for longer periods?) Now, with Gupta’s work at Basel receiving so much attention, I have some idea.
There is a lot more coverage available now of these events, aided by advances in technology and the growth of publishing. Gallery websites share what art news reporters find, and also disseminate details on the galleries’ performance at the art fair more readily than in the past. Artists have embraced social media platforms, and of course the more well-established bodies like the Art Newspaper continue to provide insight about Art Basel and other key art events.
Engaging with art can perhaps be done more easily from a distance now, but engaging with important players and figures in the art world certainly cannot be. There is a reason why individual and gallery schedules are mapped around these events; human relationships (business relationships!) are built here. For an art or art business professional within this network of art market activity, a presence at prominent fairs like Art Basel is a must.
Do members in the art industry read more than those in other industries?
There is no avoiding an exchange or discussion of print and publication if you are an art enthusiast. Where at a museum or gallery exhibition, at a biennale or online, much of the dissemination of knowledge relating to art and the art market occurs in writing.
Perhaps this is due to the nature of the knowledge in question. Understanding artwork, especially fine art, involves understanding relatively complex theories and concepts that inform the work. This could be anything from the biography of the artist to topics in art theory, art history, semiotics, philosophy, sociology, linguistics, the sciences, medicine…the range of topics that art can tackle or address is the full range of human knowledge, intellect and existence.
It is difficult to convey this knowledge verbally and in short writing; books are the natural fit.
Or perhaps there is something else that informs this trend.
Steve Siebold, the author of ‘How Rich People Think’, has conducted research on over 1,200 of the world’s richest individuals over the last 3 decades. According to his findings, a common trait between these individuals is they consume books and literature for self-education purposes.
High-earning members of society read extensively, whereas those with lower earnings opt for entertainment in the form of tabloids, entertainment magazines and videos.
At this point I must emphasise the importance of being learned; a work of fiction can be entertaining, can be educational and enriching, can be both, or can be neither. The learning lies in being able to discern what each book qualifies as for your own goals.
Hannah Richardson wrote an article on a new cultural divide in England ‘into readers and watchers’. It provides some interesting quick statistics and observations on a growing and possibly worrying trend, one that also hints at socio-economic divides in UK society.
Many of us would be consumers of both writing and videos, both educational or otherwise.
[Shoutout to my dear friend Allyson Hitte who has read 30 books so far this year and also watched THE ENTIRE SERIES of Gilmore Girls] but chances if we had to pick a camp to identify with, the choice is more obvious today than it was in the past.
Whether or not there is a correlation in the affinity towards and acceptance for books in the art world, and the socio-economic spectrum it mostly engages, is an issue I have yet to resolve.
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
This time last week, I was attending TEFAF Maastricht Art Fair along with 75,000 other people. Looking at various exhibiting galleries and dealers from all over the world is common to all art fairs, but the calibre and finesse of works available at TEFAF Maastricht, especially the concentration of antiques, ancient art and works on paper was a notch above the rest.
Friday morning started with a symposium. First was a presentation by Prof. Dr. Rachel Pownall, author of the 2017 TEFAF Art Market Report, followed by a panel discussion about the 'importance of context in determining the value of a work of art'. Both these activities were relevant to my current Art Business course, and the invitation to attend this event at the beginning of TEFAF Maastricht 2017 (March 10-19 this year) was a positive learning experience.
One of the best features of the fair were the ‘Specials’, two of my favourite being the exhibition by Galleria Borghese and 'TEFAF Curated' by Penelope Curtis titled ‘La Grande Horizontale’. The main appeal of these sections were twofold - firstly, in a setting where all other spaces had a primary commercial purpose and design, these spaces had an indirect one. These therefore became points in the fair that dispersed the tensions that can be built up by row after row of interactions between prospectives buyers and sellers by bringing them together and highlighting their commonality: they are both lovers of art objects. Showing fine curation and inviting fair-goers to engage again in simple art appreciation is also a great way for differentiating a fair from the pool of fairs where the majority of exhibitors are returning dealers and gallerists of previous editions.
As a student and new-comer to the world of art, I always approach fairs firstly as places of learning, and secondly as commercial affairs. The potential of art fairs as places of learning is immense given the level and sector of market activity and the quality of artworks on display. Understandably, dealers and gallerists do not have a strong incentive to make their booths conducive places of learning for fair-goers like myself. Not everyone is welcoming to those who simply are not prospective buyers, and my position can reveal the attitudes of gallerists and dealers (i.e. the extent of their open-mindedness, the centrality of their profit motive) quite quickly. It is always heartening when someone as qualified and involved in TEFAF Maastricht such as Jean-David Cahn invests time in encouraging ‘new blood’ and invites questions from the young attendees at these fairs.
Much can be said about my fellow attendees as well. The demographic of the fair-goers was difficult to miss - the majority were old, affluent couples with Continental European backgrounds. I could not help but chuckle every time I passed by the salad, sushi, oyster or champagne bars - it looked like a very large and calm non-diverse family were sat at their dining table.
TEFAF had much fresh energy, but only of a certain kind. There were gallerists and dealers enthusiastic about conversing with me when we shared a passion for and liking for a certain artwork they had brought in to the Maastricht hall. There were also those who only engaged with me when they misjudged me for a prospective buyer; sometimes with very ridiculous and poorly crafted spiel about works I either knew more about (yes, really) or knew as little as they did about. Opportunities for learning presented themselves at the symposium, and thereafter only by chance.
Where new blood wants to emerge, usually players in the art market would do well to facilitate that process for the continued growth and success. TEFAF Maastricht was one of my first experiences where this was so conflicted between the organisers and majority of gallerists and dealers.Trying to swim against that current all weekend turned out to be exhausting.
I should end this with a word i have added to my personal word bank - my vocabulary - after attending TEFAF Maastricht:
Bleary- (adj.) weary, worn out