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Art world recession?

March 2013


Patpong Angel by Asian artist Pairoj Karndee (Thailand)
Patpong Angel,
by Asian artist Pairoj Karndee (Thailand)
synthetic polymers on linen, 90cm x 130cm

What a wonderful experience it is to have an amazing artwork arrive...

Over all the years (asart began as Anthony Smith Fine Art in the late 70s), I have never lost the feeling of anticipation and excitement on opening a box sent from our artists or, more usually now, receiving an email with their latest creation attached. Magic...

But before continuing, I have been quite surprised to see headline articles from The Wall Street Journal to local papers in the UK, Australia and China, discussing topics such as:

  • the rising worldwide interest in Asian art
  • whether the art market has moved its focus from New York to China and what difference such a shift will make on the world's art stage?
  • that art remained one of the very few assets not to have depreciated in the last 5 years (and in many cases appreciated strongly).

It seems that art is everywhere.

Many years ago we may have had an article on page 8 or 9 (or 23!) either mentioning a "discovery" or a record price paid for a painting. But it was never front page news, as the belief was basically "who's really interested?" The world has changed and now art is front page news.

But it's not just art discoveries now (although these still tend to be further into the papers, such as the recent discovery of a Rembrandt), but the prices of artworks are really gaining the front page headlines:

  • Gerhard Richter's painting selling for over $US US30.5 million last year, with the added cache of belonging to Eric Clapton
  • Munch's "Scream" for approximately $US US111 million
  • Jeff Koon's $US US32 million sculpture.

Are these artworks actually that important to get such prominence or is it our fascination with financial cost rather than with artistic value?

Interestingly, the papers never really discuss artistic value: it's open to debate and would probably bore the majority of readers anyway. They only discuss the concrete: the cost in cold, hard currency. But we need to remember:

  • Art has always been valuable.
  • The materials in a painting are valuable and were much more so years ago.
  • It is the human genius, the creativity, that gives it its true value.

So why mention all this?

It brings what is happening in Asia much into focus. Asian art, as I have written, is the new kid on the block, yet it is creating major waves around the world.

As I wrote in a recent article, it's the technical brilliance of so many Asian artists coupled with their originality that will ensure their future.

If we look at art records of the past 5 years (in the midst of a global economic recession), it's interesting to note that 2 Chinese contemporary artists have moved into the top 10 living artists by value.

Southeast Asian artists too have taken off. Recent sales have included a Lee Man Fong sold (Sotheby's, Singapore) for $US US4.4 million, Hendra Gunawan for $US US 880,000 and S. Sudjojono for $US US1.3 million. This shows that the excitement isn't just China based, it's Asia wide.

So now back to the arrival of a new artwork, the moment I always look forward to. As I look at the work, no matter whose work it is, I often just ponder on its future.

  • Will it one day reach these stratospheric heights?
  • Will the work be just loved for itself, irrespective of value?

What have history and almost 40 years of experience in this field told me? Quality always commands a premium.

So, when I saw Pairoj Karndee's email, I just opened it in anticipation, with my thoughts racing as usual. It's unfinished, but I was staggered...

I hope that you are too.
Anthony Smith and the asart team

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Anthony Smith has been invited by Art Antiques Design to share his expertise about art in a series of articles:

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