This lengthy (11 webpages long) but excellent New Yorker profile of the art dealer David Zwirmer is a little tangential to the things I usually include in this blog – books, photography, education – but I include it in the hope that it will fascinate others as much as it fascinates me.
I was struck, on a recent visit to the LUMAS gallery in London, to see an infographic in their magazine claiming an average 312% increase in value at auction of art sold through their gallery, with a top-rate increase of 884% and the smallest increase of 59%.
As anyone who is struggling to find a return on orthodox financial savings that can even equate to the current low rate of inflation will know, these figures are extremely alluring. But, as this New Yorker article highlights, you have to be able to afford the art in the first place.
Of course, as this page on the LUMAS website detailing these auction results makes clear, the gains are over a period of time, and the claims reflect the current market. There is no guarantee that if you purchased artwork now you would be able to realise the same sorts of gain in 5 to 10 years’ time.
There is another reason for drawing attention to this piece by Nick Paumgarten. It’s an excellent example of the kind of extended essay-journalism that we see too little of these days.
The accumulation of greater wealth in the hands of a smaller percentage of the world’s population has created immense fortunes with a limitless capacity to pursue a limited supply of art work. The globalization of the art market—the interest in contemporary art among newly wealthy Asians, Latin Americans, Arabs, and Russians—has furnished it with scores of new buyers, and perhaps fresh supplies of greater fools. Once you have hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s hard to know where to put it all. Art is transportable, unregulated, glamorous, arcane, beautiful, difficult. It is easier to store than oil, more esoteric than diamonds, more durable than political influence. Its elusive valuation makes it conducive to extremely creative tax accounting.