Tag Archives: economics


20 Jan

… of the art market. What were you thinking of, you dirty wee puppy? I’ll deal with you later. No, according to a University of Luxembourg study, the international art market is in a “mania phase” and the bubble is going to pop any time soon, leading to a “severe correction”. Countdown starting right now to an art exhibition called either Severe Correction or Mania Phase.

The contemporary art market has been a very bad, bad, dirty, disobedient and thoughtless pig.

The “zombie formalist” artists (i.e. makers of art as an asset class, devoid of narrative, representation, politics, ideology, etc.) and their handlers are partly to blame, but as the gentleman who created the term rightly says, and as I have also said in a various ways over the past few years about a hundred bloody times: “Since the entire market is entirely irrational, it can’t be rationally interpreted.”

Nonetheless, it’s in the nature of financial bubbles that any talk of the bubble bursting often brings about the very same pop feared by beneficiaries of the bubble, which probably wouldn’t happen if nobody was talking about the bubble bursting… and so forth until your head bursts too.

The Guardian article also contains this nugget:

“Levin said the bubble was inflating in part due to the prevalence of high-end money laundering being done through art, and how the two have come to affect one another. Buy art in one country and pop it in the private jet, the theory goes, and by morning you’ve moved $100m between tax jurisdictions.”

Again, QED. Exactly what I’ve said on this blog and at various talks and conferences on numerous occasions, sometimes to self-righteous splutters of indignation or shocked disbelief. On this blog we know some people who might “pop” art between tax jurisdictions or run art galleries to launder their dirty money, don’t we readers?


Won’t we all be sad though when artistically worthless art owned by super rich people becomes monetarily worthless too?


19 Jan


Chatterton 1856 by Henry Wallis 1830-1916

“Unfortunately we have no budget to pay fees or expenses.”

a-n the artists information company have just published their draft recommendations and guidance on the payments and fees that should be due from publicly funded galleries to artists. FYI I’ve worked on the Paying Artists campaign and I work for a-n sometimes. I also think artists based in the UK should have their own look at it, so I won’t offer too much commentary except to pull out:


Despite stiff resistance from an insignificant and usually bonkers minority of the public and a significant minority of people who work for public arts organisations, all of whom are baffled or bitter (or both) that an artist should get paid anything… the suggested fees for artists are far from outrageous and usually amount to no more than a few thousand or even a few hundred pounds. Bear in mind that it’s rare for most artists to have more than one show per year in a publicly funded gallery in the UK. Although many public galleries do pay properly, some still don’t even clear the very low bar for pay set by these guidelines. Some don’t bother trying. And if a gallery in receipt of public funds can’t even budget to pay the equivalent of one artist’s salary for a year across all their shows– the bare minimum this guidance suggests– then they need to take a good look at their finances in general, and so should their funders.

Indeed their funders are beginning to do so, because apparently they’re exasperated too. After all, mentioning no names, it’s not unknown for very large flagship Arts Council-funded organisations *cough English National Opera… cough… Firstsite* to mismanage their finances and general governance so severely that they lose millions and have to be removed from ACE’s national regular funding portfolio with a warning they’ll be cut off permanently if they don’t sort themselves out. Nobody, including the Arts Council, wants to hear five or six figure-funded places whining about being pushed into the red if they paid artists a bit more for their work.

Even in the absence of more funding, many gallery directors or senior curators (for example) could take a pay cut they’d hardly notice to make a significant difference to the incomes of numerous artists. Obviously this is rarely a popular suggestion, or indeed a suggestion at all, when the grown ups are attending their endless round of conferences, art fair collateral events and talking head panels that no artist or self-employed arts worker could afford to attend even if they were invited, which they aren’t.


“Activity that is part of the gallery’s day to day work should not be treated as an in kind benefit (e.g. marketing and publicity around exhibitions.)” In other words, you don’t get to act magnanimous by offering something that you’d do anyway. So many arts organisations and venues really need to take this on board, not just in the publicly funded sector but also across all of the arts. Genuinely valuable intangible benefits do exist, but doing the job you get paid a salary to do is not an onerous burden or a favour you’re doing for your contractors, customers or audience. “We offer desk space and marketing support” is very often one short step away from the heinous “We offer exposure”, because if you employ someone to do marketing or administration then the workload they incur in the course of their jobs includes dealing with artists and other freelancers working for the organisation. And anyway, if marketing and exposure and whatnot are really worth so much money, in a contest between exposure and just having the money we’d prefer the cash in a brown envelope, please.

Funnily enough, some in the arts rely upon more or less the same dodge of intangible benefits that are so intangible they don’t really exist; i.e. that thousands of artists will do for nothing what they should be getting paid for, thereby piddling away their own bargaining power and that of artists collectively.


29 Oct

johnkenneyjamesiandthegunpowderplot1967East Angles– North Folk and South Folk in particular– may like to attend this free event in Norwich that I’m taking part in next Wednesday, related to Living Wage Week:

Wednesday 5 November, 4-7pm at City Hall, Norwich

“Norwich Visual Art Forum and a-n host an open discussion about paying artists as part of Living Wage week. Free event for artists, students, arts organisers and anyone interested in Fair Pay issues. Using an Open Space-style discussion format, we will pose the question ‘How to achieve fair pay for artists’. We will hear from a-n about the Paying Artists campaign, from artists and arts organisers about their experiences and insights and you will be able to contribute questions to the agenda for open-table discussion.

Come along, with your thoughts and questions, to City Hall at 3.45 for 4pm to take part in this rolling and open discussion, all welcome. Please reserve a place at www.payingartists.eventbrite.co.uk so that we know you are coming. If you can’t arrive at 4pm, please come when you can and join in.”

Not sure if it’s a cheeky political gesture that it’s on Bonfire Night or just a coincidence, but either way I’ll be there to talk about a-n/AIR’s Paying Artists Campaign– and doing my best to make sure the concerns and experiences of working artists are heard in this discussion– along with the artist Lawrence Bradby (of collaborative duo Townley and Bradby), living wage advocate and Norwich city councillor Alan Waters, and a representative from an arts organisation TBC. Completely free and open to absolutely anyone who has an interest and/or something to say about the subject.

Living Wage Week Paying Artists flyer (and timetable)

Reserve your free ticket

a-n/AIR members can access evidence and discussion about the Paying Artists Campaign here:


4 Jul


Some more quotes from the book Collecting Contemporary Art, published by Taschen. All by Marcus Glimcher, at the time of the book’s publication an art dealer at PaceWildenstein, New York (now the Pace Gallery). It’s all interesting stuff, but there’s something about his explication and grammar that makes me think of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, patiently lecturing the back of a guest’s head as a preface to suddenly embedding a fire axe in it.

“The art market is not really a market; it’s too small to qualify as one. Furthermore, if it is a market, it’s a market of uniques. Therefore, there is no true comparability between prices. Finally, it’s a market of Geffen goods which is what gives it such strange characteristics. Geffen was a nineteenth century economist who said that there are certain goods that will disobey the basic laws of supply and demand that when the price drops to a certain level, instead of demand rising, demand will suddenly begin to drop. As the price drops, demand will drop further, so there is a cliff in the supply and demand curve at some critical price level.”

“When is the art market going to crash? When the stock market crashes, when the real estate market crashes.”

(Note: This was in 2006, before the stock and property markets crashed. He was mostly wrong about the art market, though. Apparently even an art dealer who deals with blue chip clients couldn’t imagine that the rich would keep on getting richer during an apparently endless recession as they have done since 2008.)

“Art is an object with no utility, as the economists would say. The utility of a painting is zero… If we can come to some agreement that these things have a certain value, then that object deserves to be of higher value than anything because it has escaped the bonds of the physical world.” Continue reading


27 Feb

Named for the Italian con artist Carlo (or Charles) Ponzi, who in the 1920s relieved investors of about $420,000 (equivalent to about $4.5 million if he’d done something similar in the 21st century). The main characteristics of what’s now called a Ponzi Scheme is that it pays “profits” to investors from their own money, or from the money provided by subsequent investors. They rarely make any legitimate profits. They’re often based on vague promises and unrealistic projections, as indeed are many of the originally legal schemes like hedge funds; hedge funds can also very easily degenerate into illegal Ponzi schemes when they go wrong, and this has happened with particular frequency since the turn of the last century. Ponzi Schemes inevitably collapse either on purpose– because the fraudster makes off with all the money, as they always intended to– or when investment stalls.

Of course Ponzi was neither the first nor the last to operate in this way for his own enrichment. In an infamous case of 2008-2009, Bernie Madoff was eventually sentenced to 150 years in prison for the biggest securities fraud/Ponzi Scheme in history, with losses to investors costing $65 billion.

Now let me suggest a scenario to you, the arty people who read this blog: a large number of artists pay an “entry fee” or “administration fee” in order to have their work considered for an exhibition or a prize. There will be vague promises of it being your big break, that big knobs will see your work, an implication of nothing ventured nothing gained, that you have to speculate to copulate or something like that, I don’t know what the phrase is. Only a few of the entrants, or only one, will actually receive anything. Most will receive nothing, but they’ve all paid for the person who did get something… which is much more likely to be the person or business who’s running the competition than it’s likely to be any of  the entrants. This is also a form of Ponzi Scheme, don’t you think?


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