THE PHENOMENON OF THE SHARK AND THE FISHES BANK

The art market is often referred to as a separate sector of the economy that develops in isolation from other business areas. A part of this approach is true: art is not just any product because, whether we talk about antiques or contemporary artworks, they all have unique characteristics, they represent the spirit of their creator, they convey sensations to the viewer, they enclose emotion, passion and a critical purpose not present in any other everyday object. But the other part of this statement is not correct: the art market also suffers from the economic setbacks that affect the rest of the commercial spheres, perhaps the difference is that, due to the exclusivity of this sector, it is not so evident to everyone.

Visiting "Shark", by Damien Hirst, via Skynews

By historical and economic tradition, along with some other factors such as the lower legal restrictions or the speed of bureaucracy, the leading art world markets locate in London, New York, Paris, Milan and Geneva, and more recently, Hong Kong. Spain's position does not exceed a low 1%, a percentage that grows by one point if we stick to Europe. Despite this, we must not underestimate the importance of our national market, which progressively incorporated more professionals, absorbing artists, generating buyers and positioning Spanish contemporary art, with an estimated growth of 42% between 2009 and 2016. In this evolution, some authors point out that we have a recent democracy, compared with surrounding countries, and that before the Reina Sofía Museum was inaugurated, there was no other centre in the country dedicated to contemporary art.

But just when we sat on the top of the wave, a few years after entering the new millennium, a deep economic crisis broke out and shook all the foundations of the system. Art and culture, of course, were the first to suffer the cuts. The castle of prosperity falters, capital flows cut, goodbye to investment, languid farewell to the institutional purchases and bank collections. How does this always resilient sector overcome?

Without a doubt, the crisis has marked a before and after in many economic areas. The paralysis of investments led many businesses to reinvent themselves and resurface from their ashes like the Phoenix. The same applies to the art market. But the result of this readjustment differs quite a lot from the previous scheme, because, not only the capital reduction counts but also the entry into the digital world and a generational change that has led to a transformation in consumer habits and the way of approaching art. After those years of uncertainty, a new model emerges in which people no longer visit the galleries, there is art of online consultation, travel and tours are reserved for large events, concentrated in art fairs, new satellite proposals arise, with virtual galleries, minimal spaces, online sales, and a withdrawal of proposals.

"Tulips" by Jeff Koons

The paradox of this stage started in the second decade of the 2000s is the distance created between types of galleries. In a fully digitised environment, the contours between professional profiles blur. Now it is not only the gallery owner who promotes the artist but the artist himself who invests efforts to gain presence, which leads to a weakening of roles. And amid this tidal wave of events, a phenomenon is gaining weight progressively: the great galleries, successful survivors of the debacle, expand and grow until almost completely assimilate to a museum. From this triumphant position, they are the only ones that can afford the maintenance of large spaces, cover the costs of production of work, participate in the most renowned fairs and continue to open branches abroad. With this dynamic, it happens that these galleries have an irresistible power of attraction over the most promising artists, perhaps discovered by a local gallery now unable to guarantee the promotion to which the creators aspire. Thus, the art world pivots in a sea of ​​events, where the great white shark lives with tiny fish, but they all contribute to maintaining the ecosystem.

Therefore, what happens in the art market, little or nothing is far from what happens in other economic sectors. The influence of globalisation and the uncontrollable tendency to create giants capable of supporting future attacks establishes a network of small businesses that survive in the shadow of those few chosen. This circumstance seems to polarise the sector in two large planes: that of contemporary astronomical price artists who have created real art factories, produce on an industrial scale and are represented by the most famous galleries, and that of artists who are best known at local level, that can modestly live from their work and are distributed, when they have an international presence, between different small galleries. And this pattern is replicated in all commercial areas. The shark and the bank of fishes. With this simple metaphor, we portray one of the most repeated patterns in our capitalist society that applies to the entire industry, whether we talk about fashion, cars or food. That is why the millennial generation has begun to explore alternative models of galleries, with more attention on the artistic quality of young talents and less weight in the exhibition space: 21st-century galleries that open their doors to the future.

 

Buying the first work of art always instils respect. A difficult feeling to define that mixes vertigo with adrenaline. But over uncertainty and caution, a pleasurable sense of connection, understanding, and desire prevails. That work that, once seen, stays in the mind, reappears in the memory several times a day and seems to tell you that it is willing to be part of your home, is the perfect candidate to make the decision.

In the first steps, many collectors do point out that one does not start from an established plan, but rather that one acquires pieces based on taste and the connection one feels with them until, after time, they realise that the volume of works that accumulates can be labelled as a "collection". For example, this is how Alicia Aza explains it:

“I was not aware that I was collecting until many years later when a third party named me as a collector and talked about my collection. In 2005, I became aware of what collecting means and decided to articulate a collection with an identity of criteria and formats”.

Marcos Martín Blanco, co-founder, with his wife Elena Rueda, of the MER Collection, shares this same opinion:

“Collecting has been a passion, driven by a visceral state that encourages you to do so. The collection, in terms of acquisitions, has not been particularly complicated because, let's face it: it is easy to buy because they are all beautiful things and you have some clear idea of where you want to go, but at first those preferences were not so clear. It is with the time that a criterion is being formed”.

It is not always this way, of course, but for the buyer who starts out on this path, the personal connection that entails the first piece is essential. There it is the germ of a lasting relationship that is not limited to a simple aesthetic question but is an open window to knowledge, to exploration, to a world that is often unknown to us and awakens our fascination. The seed of that connection is purely sentimental, and it is precisely this impulse that determines the first acquisitions. The first piece is never forgotten.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Ana Maqueda

Exceeding the usual recommendations made by advisers and agents, rare is the occasion when the art lover decides to buy by pure investment. These paths usually open later, when the volume of pieces is large enough. In addition, there are those who are a bit against this classic concept of the traditional collector, approached from an eccentric, elitist and little accessible vision. On the contrary, art buyers are, above all, art lovers, sentient beings and permeable to creative stimulus who, at a given moment, decide to deepen the relationship they already have with art to take a piece home.

It is not that hard to overcome that small psychological barrier that turns the visitor into a buyer if one approaches the matter from a more personal and intimate perspective than from social consideration. Small-format works, graphic work or serial photography are of great help for this, whose price range, generally more affordable, allows a closer comparison to the daily basis expenses. In this way, the purchase of art falls within the range of feasible activities and becomes something close and possible.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Marc Cisneros

At that moment, a different relationship with art begins, based on pure experience and coexistence with the acquired piece. Perhaps it can be seen as an act of daring, but on many occasions, it is more a matter of necessity and transformation. Collectors also agree that the acquisition of an artwork is an exercise on personal analysis and opening up to a new field of knowledge that was previously alien to us. Alicia Aza explains that the reason she acquired her first piece of video art, by Sergio Prego, is because she did not understand it and because she saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to self-improve. This open window to knowledge creates new connections and bonds with creators, as one of the most fascinating parts of the process. Candela Álvarez Soldevilla explains that

"I think the most interesting thing in the art world is talking to artists. They are people with a special sensitivity to listen and understand.”

And Alicia Aza also says:

"I can share the satisfaction of being able to count on many artists in my circle of close friends today, and that is a long way to go."

Thus, with works that seem acceptable within the horizon of expenses that each one considers affordable, it is easy to find a piece that catches us. Since then, our home also evolves into a space in which art has a permanent place and presence, and there is no doubt that this transforms us inside.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Henar Herguera

Jaime Sordo, owner of Los Bragales collection and founder of the 9915 Contemporary Art Collectors Association, has always defined his relationship with art as a true passion and a vital necessity. For buyers who start on this path, he has the following recommendation:

“It is an essential condition that they feel the need to live with their passion to enjoy the works. Another very important aspect is that before making decisions for purchases, they are informed, so it is necessary to read specialised newspapers and books, visit exhibitions and museums and a lot of contact with galleries, which is an important and very specific source of information of the artists they represent. Finally, the presence in national and international art fairs. All this generates information and training.”

Indeed, fairs have become a good place for discovery because they condense a wide offer and allow diverse and global contact in a concentrated way. For this reason, many new generation buyers start in the context of an event such as Art Madrid, whose closeness and quality constitute a unique opportunity to meet, soak up and feed the passion for art.

(*) quotes taken from various interviews published in public media between 2013 and 2019.