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The emergence of a new patrimonial art

By Kovach Barna and Murray Hunter - posted Wednesday, 4 May 2016


Metaphorically, new art trends are like volcanoes. They erupt along the tectonic fault lines of colliding and shifting cultures. No one can predict when an eruption will occur. Nor can the length and magnitude be known until after the event.

Art goes through violent changes when cultures shift, leading to new trends and paradigms, due to the tectonic nature of cultural vista.

Today's art world is a very well mapped-out universe consisting of a few thousand leading galleries, museums, a few hundred influential curators and art fair organizers, writers and critics, wealthy collectors and institutions, and of course, the artists themselves.

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The artwork is a USD 64 billion a year industry. It mirrors socio-economic trends and itself has become globalized, with different regions within.

Contemporary art is considered a financial asset class, where the promotion, investment, and protection of this asset has taken on priority within the art industry.

Art has become financialized. Financial institutions and fund managers have joined art collectors in creating their respective portfolios of art. Today's definition of good art is that it is saleable and the definition of a good artist is that he or she is marketable.

The prices of contemporary art have grown to spectacular heights, where the million dollar range for art pieces is very common, and some artists sell their works for tens of millions dollars.

However, if somebody buys a painting for millions dollars, what they are actually buying is a stretched canvas and paint. The actual material value of a painting is a tiny fraction of the purchase price. The price of the art work is based on and justified by opinions within the art community which give a certain value and importance to the artist as a brand. The artist becomes a brand with a price tag.

Within the art world, stability is an important factor because nobody wants a cultural shift which can suddenly devalue art assets. However such devaluations happen from time to time and affect whole periods of historical art.

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The large difference in valuation cannot be justified by artistic quality. Its real cause is the pressure on the existing paradigm for change. Certain periods of arts and their paradigms can "fall out of favour", where the drop in interest leads to falling prices for that particular category. Consequently, art works from this category which were highly priced in their period of popularity can be bought today at 'give away' prices. At the same time artists whose work in some way is compatible with the emerging paradigm change, may see their art receive much greater appreciation. This would result in revaluation, resulting in the acknowledgement of their importance and higher price for their works. For instance academic painters, who are almost completely forgotten today, were well known and popular in the 19th century, where they commanded praise and high prices for their works.

The impressionists were not considered to be serious artist in their time. For example, Manet's painting caused a scandal at the annual exhibition in Paris. However, today Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Pisarro and other impressionists (and post impressionists) command sky high prices. The once so famous academicians then lost their prestige, where their prices went down. Consequently, there is no real interest in them from collectors, art writers and museums. They wait for the moment of rediscovery if it ever happens.

The authors believe that within the art world today, innovation is carefully contrived to keep the market buoyant to make sure that the 'stars' of yesterday are the 'stars' of today.

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About the Authors

Kovach Imre Barna is an independent spiritual teacher, thinker, calligrapher, painter, and sculptor.

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Kovach Barna
All articles by Murray Hunter

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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