Every week, we'll be your guide as you navigate the world of buying art in our series, The Collector.
The art auction is one of the most alluring parts of collecting art for many people. Simultaneously the most visible market (with its splashy headlines and glamorous guestlists) and the most mysterious (with its secretive bidders and sellers and its behind-the-scenes whispering), the world of auctions can seem inscrutable. There's language to be decoded and research to be done and gossip to be sifted through. (If you've been following the news in the art world lately, you'll know that there are some very juicy things happening in the auction houses of New York.) But once you're in the know, bidding at an auction can be a fun, exciting, and satisfying way to collect art. (Or you may think it's frustrating, vapid, and a rip-off. But that's for you to decide!)
We're lucky to be in one of the city's biggest gallery districts, Chelsea, and love being able to stroll around our neighborhood to see all of the wonderful shows our neighbors are exhibiting. But it wasn't until relatively recently that Chelsea became so synonymous with the art world. New York's galleries have had a long and winding path, matching the ebb and flow of the growth of the city itself.
It Had to Start Somewhere
Kathryn Markel doesn't take too kindly to the contemporary art market. "A while ago, I realized that my antipathy to the art market - not the art world, which I love, but the art market - began because I started in the business in the early 70s. At the time, there was no art market. Artists were making art that they never thought they would sell. Sol LeWitt made art from instructions, Michael Heizer made earthworks. Artists weren't thinking about the art market. They just wanted the approval of their peers." The scene was democratic and focused on community and exploration. Many artists were making prints for the first time, even using the Xerox machine as a tool for distribution. With personal photography being more accessible, the art world was documented and shared. In this new, acutely political world, art was going to be for everybody.
But, that couldn't last long. Slowly, those artists whose works allegedly couldn't be sold began to get attention and the relentless commodification of art began.