In the last decade, the art market and the trade in antiquities experienced radical change. Collecting of “affordable” art, acquiring art purely as an investment, and negotiation over possession of antiquities have changed the balance of power in the art world. Will globalized acquisition of artworks and agreements to share ownership of antiquities normalize the prestige of possessing specific objects? In short, expansion and transparency of the art market has made collecting a less exclusive practice.
Why do individual artworks command 10s of millions of dollars at auction and 100s of millions of dollars in private sales? A number of articles have questioned the financial value placed on works by artists such as Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, Gustav Klimt, and Mark Rothko. Are the aesthetic qualities and cultural significance so distinct, or does a limited supply of works by revered non-living artists create competition between collectors or museums seeking cultural prestige?
What about the investment potential of art? Works by living artists, such as Gerhard Richter,have made headlines in the context of being, relatively, safe investments. Statistical analyses of the art market suggest that investments in artworks are competitive with securities, but strategies for selecting artworks to minimize financial risk are still developing. Not surprisingly, the increasing value of, and expanding interest in, art is not lost on forgers, and reports of fakes introduce another source of risk to collecting as a financial investment.
On the other end of the spectrum, affordable art is making headlines worldwide. Art collecting has broad appeal, and the resulting demand is serviced by various means such as art supermarkets in China, printmaking in India, and high volume retailers in the United States selling limited edition runs of works by famous artists. In some cases, such as India, collectors prefer to buy known fakes of well-known artists. The quality of the fakes is high enough to appreciate the aesthetics of the original works, but the collectors risk less in the event that works by a particular artist lose market value.
Both the expanding demand for affordable art and appreciation of fakes suggest that, for many collectors, acquiring art is less about the prestige of pedigree and more about personal appreciation. Further, affordable contemporary artworks are, in fact,originals. As possession of original artworks becomes more common, perhaps collectors will feel less reliant on public or professional opinion of aesthetics and more interested in personal appreciation of art.
The ability to discover, learn about, and acquire art through the web enables new collectors to develop a sense of appreciation on their own. Especially with the aid of social networking, new collectors can seek feedback to explore and refine their taste without retaining a professional art advisor. With such newfound freedom, collectors worldwide will redefine what it means to acquire art in the interest of appreciating culture of the 21st century.
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