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On the art market (2).

Jerome Marot

Active member
In the first thread about the art market, I presented what is considered to be the “traditional” market and works through galleries and, more recently, social sites. To my surprise, I realised that this market is only interested about collectors (with hindsight, this was not unexpected) and that the aesthetics of the art that is sold is only secondary: the market works essentially on the collector-artist relationship. Gallerists are not in the business of selling art, they are in the business of selling social status.

One may wonder if there are other markets for which the aesthetics of the works would be more important and/or would not be primarily catering to collectors. I believe there is but you may not agree that these other markets are “art”. The reason is that the galleries, etc… have appropriated the word “art” to their exclusive use. So, these other markets are not “pure art”, they are “commercial”, etc… But this is a direct consequence of the primary market pretending all the others are not the real thing.

If there is another market which is not catering to collectors, simple economics would imply that this other market would need a much bigger base of customers. So the question becomes: is there a mass market for pictures? The answer is yes: Ikea, for example, sells frames with photographs within. It may not be called “art”, but the production values are quite high and it is still a picture to be hung on a wall. The main difference is that when a gallery sells a series of 30, Ikea sells series of ten thousands. I believe that this is indeed the other end of the “art” market.

Ikea publishes the name of the photographers. I had the curiosity to check a few names and the demographics are quite interesting: while photographers exhibiting in galleries almost always have a bachelor from an art school and an “artist statement” written in incomprehensible terms on their web site, photographers chosen by Ikea are all self taught and seek contacts for portraits or advertisement jobs through their web sites. It is a completely different demographics.

Is there anything between Ikea and traditional art galleries? Yes, there is: I believe that firms like yellowcorner or lumas have chosen that niche. Interestingly, these two firms appear to have been created from printing labs looking for an outlet for prints mounted under acrylic. Interestingly, the two firms are going upmarket at present and try to appeal to collectors. Yellowcorner has press cuttings on their web site, reading through the older ones is enlightening as to the evolution of the firm.

Are there any other markets? I am not really sure. It seems that there is a somewhat active market for landscape pictures sold through art fairs in the USA. I am not aware of anything similar in Europe.

Are the aesthetics of these markets different? Obviously yes: a series of pictures about your best friends dying from aids was a classic for art galleries in the 90s (this is sarcasm, but not as much as you may think…) while Ikea essentially sells flowers and landscapes matching in colour their lines of sofas (you can check whether this is sarcasm on your local Ikea site). Lately, galleries seem to have rediscovered the aesthetics of the new topographics movement while yellowcorner or lumas favours saturated colours and extreme contrasts. It is a bit like the difference between the Phases photography magazine and 1x.com that was discussed in another thread. Part of it may due to technical reasons (oversaturated pictures look really good behind acrylic), but may also reflect the tastes of the customers. Although I am not so sure about the tastes of the customers, because the difference in aesthetics is not the same for other graphic arts as for photography (e.g. painting or drawing).

This post will close this series on the art market from my side. This post will also close my participation in the forum for a while, as I will not connect to the forum through summer. This should not deter you from commenting and giving your opinion on the subject of course. You may know the art market better than I do and have noted markets which I did not consider, for example.