A Small Group

Speaking about coteries, a recent article in the NYT points out that there are world wide an estimated 200,000 or thereabouts of individuals with more than $30 million in assets, yet the total bidders at Christie’s spring 2014 auctions of contemporary art totaled a whopping 190. That’s one tenth of one percent of the potential market for even the most expensive art. All of which makes me wonder why all the fuss about high auction prices. Clearly this group of high bidders, who want to collect Francis Bacon and Richter and Peter Doig, are not only unrepresentative, and uninformed, but in the context of the entire global art world their decisions have no greater weight or significance than a random selection. Statistically that is the truth. Since I wrote this post, an article in Hyperallergic discussing the size of the private market relative to the auction market confirms the point. A small and unrepresentative pool of collectors indicates nothing, but that’s not to say that value in art can be determined by voting, or that however big, the private market is a better indicator. The number of qualified observers is maybe several hundred times greater than the number of bidders at Christie’s, and some significant amount larger than the number of all buyers, and they make their group mind decisions in the normal mysterious way, usually by gossiping about not much of anything. It seems there is a lot of scope to make an art world, but for some reason everyone is hypnotized by money. The same article says that “…the wealthiest art buyers are concentrating on a narrow range of low-risk blue-chip names.” But then that’s not true. That narrow strategy is high risk, since it doesn’t necessarily have wide support, even among the small group that really knows. History may bring a reversal, as it has many times before.

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