|Patricia Frischer, Bottomless Budha, Mixed media, 2016|
When I was running a gallery in London in the mid 70’s, we put labels on all the work with titles, medium and prices because we were in the business of selling work to people who came into the gallery because they were interested in the art on the walls. The gallery specialized in master drawings from the 20th century. At the time these were underpriced because the print boom was in full swing and it was more economical to promote a limited edition of 100 prints than one original drawing. We helped people to learn about these artists and tried to get them to trust us to introduce them to some contemporary artist. I put on the first show of Judy Chicago in London. A show of California artists (now all of note like Sam Francis, Roy de Forest, Sam Richardson, Joan Brown, William Whiley) traveled to many of the capitols of Europe with the aid of the American Embassy which actually had a gallery at that time.
There were galleries, also in the West End, which were dealing in very high end art both modern and contemporary. Sometimes there were no labels or prices as they depended on the snobbery of a patron worth cultivating that would know the artists and his/her worth (mainly his at that time!). This was before installation or video art was much of a thing in London. These galleries often made new collectors buy emerging artist before they were allowed to buy what was presented as a limited number of works by the current art stars. (for example: David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield, Peter Blake, Andy Warhol).
Museums were supposed to supply education about the artists at that time but of course, pricing is never mentioned in those august institutions. The world of art marketing and art collecting was pretty much shrouded in mystery. In the late 70’s I wrote a book on art marketing for artists just to try to help them understand how this world worked. My hope was that they would not be so frustrated once they knew the system that existed then. At the highest end, this system pretty much still exists. But the times have changed dramatically. You can see art on the internet without having to go to a gallery or an international art fair. The marketplace is at once more available and more confusing.
In this anything goes world, you have to make your own aesthetic decisions. This is true not only of the buyers of art, but for the artists as well. There are gallery owners, private dealers, curators, and art critics to guide you, but there are so many types of art out there and so many ways they are being promoted, that you have to hone in on what you like first to start finding those who might advise you. Here are just a few things I am noticing now in San Diego:
1. The rise of the artist curators. A curator finds a point of view and then gathers artist around a theme, shops the idea to venues and help administer the relation between the venue and the artist. There are a number of professional curators but we are also seeing artists step forward and put on shows that will include their own work as well as others that supports a certain topic. This might be a one off, or a continuing job for an artist capable of bringing these skills together.
2. The new artist rebels. There have always been the bad boys and girls of art, but previously a gallery dealer would be the buffer between them and the buyer and would make decisions about how the work was promoted. The artist might be belligerently pulled out of their own world and paraded on occasion and that was part of the mystique. The new rebel artist calls all the shots. No artist statement, no labels, even confusion about art pricing. You can almost hear them saying, “If you don’t understand my art, it is not for you. Fuck off.” By nature, these artists are unpredictable, but that is the attraction. The work is often challenging, even uncomfortable.
3. New generation of master artists. These artists have been around the block. They are no longer emerging but are hitting their stride. The work is usually recognizable and they have shown so often that there is a great deal written about the work. Prices are more or less established and, with luck, rising. There is a maturity about the work which might change more slowly or become even more deeply invested in their style and interests. They have gallery representation, maybe even in more than one city and/or have connections with many museums.
4. Transitioning artists. Once defined as emerging artists, I see these artists more concerned with defining themselves on an ongoing basis. The art world no longer demands a recognizable style, so these artists can search openly for what mediums and themes interest them. Their exhibitions might at first look like a number of different artists are showing. But they are free to explore their interest in a more holistic way.
So as an art buyer, you can decide if you want a challenge, if you want something to match the couch, if you want to invest in an artist with a proven track record, if you want to follow an artist on the journey of discovery. And this may not be an either/or decision. All of these different artists can make work of excellence and so one of the main responsibilities you have is training your eyes to be discerning. This takes time and is your own journey of discovery.
You can see a series of in depth remote guest interviews with artists from the UCSD 2021/2022 series. The first was Every Ocean Hughes , a transdisciplinary artist and writer.
You can find more information about art collecting on our SmART Collector featured on San Diego Visual Arts Network.
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