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//Art of the Deal// – Maciej Gajewski

Art of the Deal – Maciej Gajewski

We will probably still need to wait for a book like that to appear in Poland. It discusses the art market in its current shape, it is insightful and shatters all illusions. The area situated between art and economy, where the evolution discussed in the book takes place, is the author’s specialty. Each page of the Art of the Deal confirms that and testifies to his great erudition, an immense wealth of materials and commitment.

As a result, Noah Horowitz’s doctoral thesis (which he defended at the famous Courtauld Institute of Art in London) is a page-turner. On the other hand, it is a huge challenge.

This book is surprising. Its very construction, divided into three parts (video art, performance, investment funds), combines seemingly incompatible issues. As it turns out, however, all of the questions discussed by the author are closely interconnected. For instance, he describes the development of the contemporary art market through the emergence of limited supply (limited edition) video art.

The author starts with discussing two events that shocked the public opinion in 2008 and are, from his point of view, emblematic of the current global contemporary art economy. The first one was the auction of Chinese contemporary art from the Estell collection, while the second was the famous Damien Hirst auction of 15 September (the very same day that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy). Both of these Sotheby’s auctions provoked controversy as to the mechanisms used to generate economic value at today’s art market. These mechanisms, as well as the rising popularity of investing in art and its culmination in the form of investment funds, are the topic of Noah Horowitz’s book. He states that all the major factors that determine the value of artefacts are constantly being manipulated by their ‘producers’ and sales agents. His book not only lays bare such practices but also explains their historical background.

This attempt to outline the origins of the contemporary market is one of the biggest advantages of the publication, which offers a valuable contribution to the history of the market in the last half-century and constitutes a model of historical analysis that helps us understand the present. By looking back 50 years, Horowitz discovers surprising and fascinating connections. For instance, he presents the evolution of investment funds from a typically postmodernist perspective, i.e. juxtaposing it with the dematerialisation of art (video, actions, installations). Horowitz interprets the way it was introduced on the market (by limiting the edition size), one of the prominent issues discussed in the book, as an example of the birth of strategic, economic thinking on the art market. His remarks on video art trade are especially valuable as this topic is rarely discussed in reference literature.

Horowitz’s work clarifies the common mistakes and overlooked phenomena connected with the art market. Let me mention for instance the importance of the social value (prestige of works of art), distinguishing between front-room and back-room business, i.e. the way in which dealers actually earn money, and the transfer of attention from the object created by the artist towards the type of property rights that emerge through his or her action. This last topic recurs throughout the entire book, as the author believes that the future of the market is connected with the seemingly non-commercial performance and video art. Selling such art follows the latest trends in lifestyle marketing. It seems therefore that experience economy and the emerging trade in time-bound art (performance, action etc.) will present the most important challenge to the industry in the nearest future.

The chapter devoted to investment funds is the closest to the author’s original idea for this book, which was to offer a critical analysis of art investment. Horowitz describes an interesting paradox that lies at the very heart of the art market and becomes more and more visible with the increasing value of investment (especially investment funds). It lies in the dichotomy between the idea of priceless, non-commercial art as opposed to art as just an asset class that generates a certain return on investment. Such a diverging attitude, in line with the author’s classification of market participants inspired by Pierre Bourdieu’s theories, reveals a paradox which, for Horowitz, triggers numerous risks – rather than opportunities – to the art market. The detailed analysis of the long history of investing in art and the much shorter story of art funds reveals the tension arising when the worlds of money and art come closer together. Interestingly enough, Horowitz claims that an instrumental approach to art as not much more than a class of assets makes artists and their work vulnerable and also hampers return on investment.

This is only one of the very accurate observations that Noah Horowitz makes with regard to investing in art and the future of art funds. Regardless of our personal take on the development perspectives of the art and finance industry, the opinions presented in Art of the Deal afford a worthwhile insight into the art market. It is a mandatory position for participants of the market and people interested in its evolution.

Maciej Gajewski (b. 1981) – economist, art market analyst. In 2006–2010, he worked at the Documentation Department (post-1945 art) at the Zachęta National Art Gallery in Warsaw. Since 2011, he works as an art market expert at the Market Analysis Department of Abbey House S.A., an auction house. Author of texts on the global and Polish art market. Writes a column devoted to the Polish auction market in the ‘Art&Business’ magazine.