By Georgina Adam
In her new book Georgina Adam quotes the former Christie’s chairman Thomas Seydoux as saying, ‘When I started out, 30 years ago, millionaires had boats and jets – but didn’t necessarily have any art at all. That has changed, for the very wealthy today, it’s not fine not to be interested in art.’
Former Financial Times columnist Adam has spent more than 30 years writing about the art market and the arts. In her new book she explores the transformation of the modern and contemporary art market from a niche trade to a globalised operation worth an estimated $50 billion a year.
Lively, witty and full of intimate scenes; Larry Gagosian’s opening in Paris, so big he used an aircraft hangar, to the art show in a half destroyed building in Azerbaijan, Adam covers all the players in the art market today. Drawing on her personal experience, the author describes how contemporary art has become the overwhelming force in the market; how dealers and auctioneers went global; and why art prices have rocketed so high that one player seriously believes that he will see a $1 billion artwork in his lifetime.
Adams charts the shifts of power and money with the rise of the mega galleries such as Gagosian and Hauser and Wirth and the identification or ‘branding’ of certain artists with a gallery. The money spent on keeping the gallery brand’s worth is staggering – a Gagosian party invitation, the biggest and the best, is delivered by special courier. Adams hilariously uses collector Adam Lindemann’s list, published in the New York Observer, of all the parties he wouldn’t be attending at Art Basel Miami to illustrate the extent to which collectors are wooed.
Auction houses, once small and secretive institutions run by old money, have become vast global enterprises. Dominated by Sotheby’s and Christie’s, with huge marketing departments and global reach, the auction rooms have been the motor of the contemporary art market’s growth. A dealer is quoted as saying, ‘The perfect market is where you know you have a constant supply, and only contemporary art can provide this.’
Adam, who is a regular columnist at The Art Newspaper, where she was art-market editor, describes in fascinating detail how we arrived at this surreal state of affairs. As well as the galleries, artists have become huge brands in themselves. Jeff Koons for example, uses a team to reproduce his own work, just as Andy Warhol working in The Factory, duplicated prints. She charts with regret how an artist’s contribution to culture is not even part of the discussion anymore.
Big Bucks is a lively and timely portrait of the art market and the global elite, with the accompanying glamour and exclusivity but also its sordid underbelly. With no self-regulation on the part of the principle characters Adam does not see the market changing anytime soon.