A documentary, shot by Barry Avrich and Jonas Prince in 2017, explains the structure of the art market in a simple and accessible language.
2008. The Great Recession. September 15th. “Lehman Brothers,” a large investment company, declares the largest bankruptcy in the history of the United States. A failure that shakes the whole world.
On the same day, Sotheby’s organizes an auction of Damien Hirst’s works called “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever.” It features a tiger shark in formaldehyde, a room with butterflies, medicine cabinets, and other famous works of the artist. The event attracted a lot of attention; no one could have thought of a possible auction on the day of the stock market crash. “The world of the art market is unpredictable,” the film begins with this main idea.
“Blurred Lines” impresses viewers from the very first minute. Clear structure, divided into chapters, the so-called “lots”; a huge number of interviews with artists, collectors, art dealers, etc.; episodes from films (e.g., “The Expendables 3,” “Midnight in Paris,” and “Basquiat”), statements of influential people about art, recordings of auctions. The variety of information is astonishing. After watching the film, it immediately becomes clear who the art market consists of, what responsibilities everyone has, and what constitutes the price of art objects.
For the most part, the film is about contemporary art. It is not necessarily beautiful as it was in the 19th century. Glenn Lowry, a director of MOMA, argues that the main thing is the meaning of the work. People do not care about its format, they care whether it matters, and what impact it has. The boundaries of the format have long been blurred.
The chain starts with artists. Education is the first step and an important criterion for them, as most artists have degrees. They participate in exhibitions attended by art dealers, who offer cooperation to talented authors, then arrange group exhibitions, solo exhibitions, and agree on the placement of works in galleries. If successful, artists’ works are taken to day auctions, then to evening auctions, and then they become permanent participants. Every artist dreams of being recognized by an art school such as Yale School of Art, Royal College of Art, California Institute of the Arts, etc.
However, even after recognition, artists are forced to find a balance between expressing themselves in the form in which they want and creating something that will please the audience. Marina Abramović, a Serbian artist, is confident that she has a strong position in the art industry, but she also knows that her works are not always easy to sell. Despite Marina’s world fame, people do not understand that she shows art in its immaterial form, in many cases being herself a part of a performance, and therefore they cannot evaluate its price or buy it.
Art dealers. Conductors between art and money. The profession is far from new, as many might think. The patron model appeared back in the Renaissance, when a wealthy family provided support to an artist they liked, who, in turn, had to please the family. Lisa Dennison, a chairman of Sotheby’s in North and South America, is convinced that being a dealer is hard work because a dealer takes responsibility for an artist and his career. In addition, you need to take care of museums, collectors supporting a gallery, collectors supporting an artist; it is necessary to choose the right room for the primary exhibition, to create the right atmosphere, glamor, mystery, inaccessibility. Today, Larry Gagosian is recognized as the most influential art dealer in the art market. “There is no second Larry Gagosian,” “He resembles an auction house,” “Without him, the art world would stand still,” “He has the most significant influence,” “Everyone wants to make a film or write a book about him,” film participants speak with one voice. Unfortunately, Larry Gagosian himself refused to be in the film, instead he provided archival photographs.
Collectors. In the modern art market, being a collector is the hardest thing people can imagine. This industry has become huge. There is much more art, which means it is easier for collectors to make mistakes. Valeria Napoleone, a collector, always tries to draw attention to little-known artists with great potential, which is one of the difficulties of the profession. Sarah Thornton, a journalist, agrees that many of those who buy art do not understand it, so they choose famous names without going beyond comfort. The collector’s task is the opposite. Another difficulty is to stop in time. Collecting is endless; it is like a virus; the need for searching does not leave even for a second.
In the vastness of the art market, there is even a position of an art consultant who understands what a client likes or teaches him what he should like.
An overabundance of galleries, which, in turn, must be extremely careful with who they sell paintings to. Museums that do not make money on visitors and are forced to coordinate important issues with donors, at whose expense they exist. Production artists who do all the work, but themselves remain in the shadows. Frequent corruption. The art market is a complex mechanism, and everyone who wants to be a part of it must be ready for difficulties.
Art fairs and auction houses play an equally important role in this chain. “Basel Art Fair” is the first, only and most significant art fair. A place where top galleries sell top artists. Previously, fairs of this kind were the best way to dispose of old works; they exhibited what remained in a warehouse. Now artists are asked to paint specifically for fairs. It is one-place shopping; no need to go to exhibitions, which is very convenient, especially for art dealers. Auctions have a different task. They are the only step in the entire chain at which the price of the work is known.
A problem with the art market is that no one knows the real price of a work, and therefore the market is not controlled. The original price and origin of the painting are hidden, because all those who follow further along the chain drive up the percentage. Many participants in the film see this as the most significant issue and find it necessary to look for ways to make prices transparent.
“The new job of art is to sit on the wall and get more expensive,” says Robert Hughes, an art critic. The prices for works of art are rising each minute. For example, the work of Jeff Koons called “Popeye” was bought at an auction for $ 28 million, after 2 weeks it was put up for an auction for $ 60 million. But no one will say that this is crazy, because it is a common occurrence. If you compare a quote of Anton Chekhov and the interview with a journalist Vicky Ward, you can see how much art has changed. “In art, there is nothing new except talent” against Ward’s claims that art is just about money.
The art world destroys itself. First, the significant price increase makes people think that it is easy to make money from art, but this is not the case. Second, when the price of a product rises faster than GDP, it creates an economic bubble. Will prices go down or will the bubble burst? Unfortunately, many of the film participants are coming around to the second option.
On the one hand, the documentary describes in detail the structure of the art market, talks about what each of the participants in the long art chain is doing. On the other hand, it raises even more questions that cannot be answered. Of course, the film delights with its composition, the amount of information, and interviews with the masters of this field. However, be prepared for the fact that the art market industry will swallow you up and after watching you will not be able to stop trying to find answers to the questions posed.