Sunday, April 06, 2008

France slips to 4th in art sales...and why nationalism is good for business (part 1)

It's official, France has slipped to #4 in international art sales and has been eclipsed by upstart, China. This has prompted French officials to put forward a proposal for interest-free loans (up to $10,000) to less wealthy people toward the purchase of contemporary art.

Via Winkleman -

From the BBC:

Banks providing the loans will be compensated through tax breaks for corporate art patronage.

Small businesses, too, are to be given greater tax incentives to buy art works and auction houses will be modernised.

An independent study by art market experts Artprice showed France with 6.4% of art sales worldwide in 2007.

China has 7.3%, Britain 29.7% and the US 41.7%, according to the survey.

Figures suggest the French art market is growing at only 13%, compared with 36% globally.

The new proposal/strategy mirrors programs in the UK and the Netherlands. (see Bill Gusky)
The UK's Own Art program works something like this.
Own Art offers interest free loans (typical 0% APR) of £100 to £2,000, which are repaid in regular instalments, making it easier for people to buy high quality contemporary art and crafts. By encouraging sales in a wide range of visual art and craft including painting, sculpture, photography and ceramics, Own Art aims to encourage new buyers and patrons of contemporary art and develop the visual arts economy through increasing sales, which will benefit both galleries and artists.
Galleries are selected by an independent panel which assesses each application based on certain criteria including the quality of work on sale, their professional relationship with artists, the quality of exhibition space and the knowledge and training of staff.
Blogger Katherine Tyrrell adds more detail on the Own Art program.
The schemes were set up by the Arts Council and, as my post makes clear, the intention behind it was threefold ie that they should:

* enable people from all walks of life society to access and own original works of art - by having an affordable means of buying art
* help artists to live by means of their own creative endeavour and output - by helping more people to buy their art
* support galleries which sell high quality contemporary art - and stimulate local and regional economies through promoting the small-scale gallery network in the regions – with a particular focus on supporting the tourist economy.
Ed's dilemma on the subject and from the comment thread:
But back to my originally stated uncertainty about this. I'm not a raging free market nut by any means, and I appreciate that one goal of such programs is to help emerging artists, but there's a little voice in the back of my head saying there's a longer-term side effect of this that will possibly do more harm than good. Also, I'm also not so sure the nationalistic pride component that's driving France to this measure isn't antiquated in the global market.

If nationalism has to play a role (because that's what politicians do), then rather than put energies into making it easier to buy or sell the art France is producing (which, quite frankly, can be seen as somewhat insulting on one level...the notion that French artists needs a government program to help them compete), why not put the money into promoting it to a wider audience instead?
My take on these schemes is a basic one. If it keeps artists producing and generates a wider audience then this is sound investment for the countries involved. These countries are basically getting on board with what most banks and the high net worth set are already invested in - the new asset class is global contemporary art. It's a lot less messy than oil or arms, and it is a sector that is basically the last outpost of unfettered, unregulated capitalism. Look at how obsessed Dubai and Abu Dhabi are at getting in on the action. There is a lot of money to be made and a lot of structuring to be implemented, which in itself sets up new and unknown market niches.

With regulatory oversight - something painfully missing in the U.S. - then I don't see why these schemes can't achieve mostly the desired result - global competitiveness matched by local business development. That local development is not only, tourism, and gallery growth but also sustainability for smaller cities like a Glasgow or a Rotterdam. Artists stay instead of fleeing which helps real-estate development/ renewal, etc. Let's not forget the arts service sector - local arts storage, framers, shippers, etc. Lot's of potential new business and tax bases, plus bragging rights.

Would this work in America? Right now, I don't see how. The political and regulatory atmosphere is wrong. Plus at 41% of the global market, I don't think the movers and shakers want to rock the very lucrative boat they are in.

The real question isn't the economics which seem quite timely, but how will it impact the making of art in the 21st century? How (by whom) will the new audience/owner be cultivated into owning? Can a lifetime commitment to collecting be articulated through these schemes? Or will this new demo-graphic's approach resemble buying a car? Will a new class structure arise within the gallery system/network where these subsidy schemes are in play? Will it create a new aesthetics regime?
What role will the university play in all of this?

Big questions, which also lead to a very large and somewhat en vogue notion of the economics of
national pride. This is particularly applicable for France, England and China. Sorry, just not convinced America sees its global identity in art terms. However, the truth is that no matter the nation, as nationalism grows so does a nation's wealth. Something to think on.

More on the economics of nationalism in a following post.

links: Winkleman, Gusky, BBC, and Artprice


Katherine Tyrrell said...

I'd take cover in case a Glaswegian comes along and takes exception to you referring to Glasgow as a "smaller city". It does have 1.7 million people and its urban area has the same population as Paris!

As I indicated on Edward Winkelman's blog, the purpose of the scheme is very definitely about widening the pool of art buyers and enabling more artists to sell their art. The take-up has been highest in areas which are more in need of regeneration.

highlowbetween said...

good point Katherine! - if it matters, I can at least name more artists represented in Glasgow than Paris ;) I think in the US many people don't see it for the cultural capital that it is - Paris being an obvious reference for many.

I like the point of the schemes and hope the goals are achieved. Artists here have it quick difficult so the hope is something like this could be imported if the economics were validated by results abroad.