ARTisSpectrum | Volume 29 |
one or several major museums, and will gift works to their
permanent collections, leave large sections of their per-
sonal holdings to the institutions in their wills or, in a few
cases, establish their own private museums where their
collections are destined to live on intact. The artist-collec-
tor relationship, therefore, is much more of a collabora-
tion than a pure transaction, and many great artists have
survived thanks to the support of one or a few devoted
and discerning collectors.
Art Fairs
Over the last decade art fairs have emerged as the most
important venues for the buying and selling of contempo-
rary art, with many dealers noting that they do more busi-
ness in the few days they spend at each of a dozen major
fairs around the world than the rest of the year working
out of their brick-and-mortar spaces. Fairs, at least the
ones worth showing one’s work in, cater exclusively to
galleries, so any artist hoping to show in a fair will need
to secure representation with a participating gallery first.
(Occasionally a gallery will test an artist not on its roster
by including their work in an art fair booth, although such
space is typically reserved for artists who have signed with
the gallery.)
A strong showing and major sales at one of the world’s
top fairs can help boost an artist’s career or secure a mu-
seum show, as trustees, acquisitions committee members,
curators, and directors of the world’s leading museums are
typically in attendance — institutions’ purchases make up
a small but not insignificant portion of the business done
at most fairs. The world’s leading fairs, like New York’s
Armory Show, Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach, Frieze
London and Frieze New York, and the FIAC in Paris, are
first and foremost venues for the world’s leading collectors
to see the newest work by their favorite artists. Breaking
into this tight-knit circle can ensure an artist patronage
and support for the rest of her or his life.
Art Schools
Though the category of outsider artists — which includes
the self-taught and those with limited formal training —
continues to gain traction in the art world, the lion’s share
of artists making their way in the world’s major art capitals
have not only Bachelors of Fine Arts, but also a Masters of
Fine Arts (MFA). Like the sometimes-long process of gain-
ing gallery representation, the investments of time, money,
and energy required to obtain an MFA serve a gatekeep-
ing function that helps to separate the passionate and
dedicated artists from the less skilled or devoted.
Such programs are certainly not for everyone, nor are
their price tags insignificant (they often exceed $30,000),
but they also offer some enormous benefits. Chief among
these are the formal skills acquired, the analytical skills
instilled, the art historical knowledge absorbed, and access
to faculty members, many of whom — especially at the
leading art schools like Cal Arts, Yale, the Rhode Island
School of Design, or Goldsmiths — are major contempo-
rary artists themselves. Less tangible, but just as impor-
tant, are the connections such programs offer students
in the art world beyond campus through alumni, vast
support networks, or simply thanks to a well-reputed MFA
program’s capacity for opening doors to galleries, fellow-
ships, residency programs, and other opportunities that
would ordinarily be harder to pass through.
Auction Houses
Until relatively recently art auctioneers had very little to do
with living artists, and dealt exclusively in the better tested
markets for antiquities, Old Masters and Renaissance
paintings, and Modern art. But as the world’s two domi-
nant houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, have increasingly
moved into direct competition with galleries, they have
begun trading in works by contemporary artists, achiev-
ing multi-million dollar records with pieces by the likes of
Cindy Sherman, Gerhard Richter, and Anish Kapoor. Still,
such sales draw from the secondary market — ie. works
that have already passed out of the artists’ hands and into
those of at least one dealer or collector — and are essen-
tially out of the control of their creators. To date the only
exception to this rule is Damien Hirst, who in 2008 cut out
his dealers and organized a solo auction of all-new work at
Sotheby’s, netting himself nearly $200 million in one night.
This happened just as the art market bubble burst,
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