“The Art Market 2017”

The Old Masters market

Between a reality often distorted by figures, and the legendary discretion of art dealing, it’s difficult to grasp the health of the Old Masters market. While the July sales in London struck it lucky, where does the Old Masters segment really stand? An investigation. The market is a drama… nourished by signs and symbols. Every year, it is played out, once again, according to a perfectly rehearsed staging, by big auction sessions, report publications and grand dinner occasions. According to whether prices are up or down, whether interest rates flash green or red lights, we scream bloody murder or else murmur congratulations at fairs, all the while speculating on art-market bubbles. In the meantime, the media monitors the scene, rushing to spread news on the latest favourites on the stage of this worldly theatre. According to dealer Arnaud De Jonckheere, “these figures conceal the reality”. Figures, in fact, reflect auctions and reports. They are indicators that are necessary for objectivising a market which begs for analysis and commentary. The problem is that these curves are today largely indexed on a few records that bring joy to major auction houses, with an inclination towards sourcing out new works. Meanwhile, reports rely on resources that are necessarily incomplete, often data on the dealing world, dependent on the goodwill of professional syndicates. Hence a bothersome dialectic: figures and reports hide as much as they reveal. The paradox comes to the fore all the more in a world marked by secrecy, as remarks Bertrand Gautier, from gallery Talabardon & Gautier: “We used to be a profession based on a certain notion of secrecy, and we remain discreet people. But in the last ten years, the profession has changed in colossal proportions.” How exactly, we might very well ask. A globally stable market The...

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