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VA19: The Market

VENICE AGENDAS 2019: THE MARKET attempts to deconstruct the financial mechanism that powers the art world. How does the system of the art market work? Who are the beneficiaries and who are the losers? Initiating an analysis through research, round table discussions and commissions of new work, Venice Agendas intends to explore the impact of the art market on the territory and environment that artists, institutions, curators and writers have to navigate to create, present and discuss original contemporary artwork.

The project looks at the power and influence that the large international commercial galleries, art fairs, biennales and auction houses and collectors have on the landscape of the art-world. We investigate how that landscape affects funding and how it impacts on smaller galleries, art education and artists’ practice. There will of course be different effects on different countries depending on internal structures but the central aim is to examine how the international market operates.

As well as a critical examination of the current state of the power structure of the market there will be a parallel investigation and emphasis on the alternative models and organisations that actually support the development and creation of new artwork, in turn creating different models for survival. The alternative models (proyestosLA, Ruberta (Glendale California), Okey Dokey (Cologne & Dusseldorf), Not Fair, Condo  that have developed, give a different take on how the system operates and signals a different kind of market, trading in ideas innovation, artwork criticism and new ways to bring those things to the public attention and international recognition. How can these alternative structures be supported and allowed to thrive in an art world dominated by money, influence and privileges profit over quality. The large scale galleries are in the luxury goods retail industry and scarcity is an important element in that equation: “An asset that keeps its value, that is in permanent short supply, what’s not to like?” (JJ Charlesworth, Artnet, 2015): As JJ Charlesworth has argued, major collectors are locating portable assets in tax friendly countries, of which the UK’s non-domicile regulations offer handy and comfortable accommodation.

Institutions like Arts Council England and museums like Tate recognise the fact that financial valuation and creative valuation often have no correlation or connection. Defining their role is an essential counterbalance to the international art fairs like Frieze that operate like many multinational companies, aiming to limit competition and create a brand dominated by an unregulated financial system reflecting that ‘this is a rich person's game played according to rich people’s rules; a small powerful elite who use Etonians - the employers of Sotheby's and Christie’s - as their go-betweens” (Carol Cadwalladr, The Guardian, 2014)

The regularly promoted fiction that there is a trickle down economic model where those below can benefit from the double dealing above is highly questionable. The meltdown in confidence in the current world wide accumulation of capital is now opening up new questions and discussions as the whole system begins to look shaky. While the art market contracted in 2008 after the financial crisis, its recovery was swift, to 2007 levels by 2011, better than many global economies but in the same period, public funding for the arts in the UK has contracted.

How can (should?) the art fairs, auction houses, blue chip dealers support artistic development? What models can artists develop to increase their economic viability. Risk is valued in all contemporary art circles, but who is really taking the risk? Who are the true investors and funders of the art world and the art market ? Artists and all those in the creative sector through studio rents, material costs, time spent without income, subsidising their own practice through other work, are probably the main financial backbone of the system but are also the least recognised and certainly those with the least power. This ‘under sector’ is together with, small galleries and artists’ initiatives - the main principle agencies supporting new talent.

Should Arts Council England support be realigned to provide support where it may be more effective. Do small scale galleries often run by enthusiasts who support artists and their practice have financial support from the public sector. It is often the smaller commercial galleries and artist run spaces where artists are nurtured,  should the question be how can they be best supported and encouraged.

There will be an international call out to artists and community groups to be involved in the project that launches during the preview week of the Venice Art Biennale 2019.