What is the value of art? This is a question I am often asked. If the question is about the economic value of art, then the answer is easy.
It is all about whether “demand” exists for art. All economies function on supply and demand. This is not just the case for art. It’s the same for virtual currencies. Elon Musk can put “bitcoin” in his Twitter profile and demand will go up.
Strangely, in the art market, second-hand things are more economically valuable than new things. The scale of the secondary market (Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions) is larger than the scale of the primary market that offers new goods (galleries).
Only things with a defined price will be distributed. In other words, the economic value of new art displayed in a gallery is value that is unique to curators and fans, not value that can sustain distribution. However, first-rate gallerists have judgment similar to futures traders and angel investors.
When you go to a gallery and buy a painting, it is silly to ask, “Will the price go up?” If you think about art purely in terms of profit, it is a poor investment. You are better off making your purchase at the auction house instead of the gallery.
By the way, the annual yield for art in 2019 was 13.5% (the annual yield for the S&P 500 is 8.9%).
* From a report by the art fund Masterworks
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a high rate of return of 5.5%. The return on real estate for the same period was -1.4%.
* Citibank report for January-July 2020
So how should one artist think, for whom gallery exhibitions are everything?
To put it as Vonnegut did, artists are “canaries in the coal mine of society.” Artists are the ones who can express feelings about society’s realities and transformations. If you think art is unrelated to society, you should study art more.
Art’s client is not a company or corporation. Its client is society.
Some artists are good at creating “demand” on their own. Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami, for example. They are geniuses who capture the connection between society and their own forms of expression.
In terms of being able to create “demand” and immediately supply it, art has more growing room for the new works of living artists than the older works of dead ones.
If you can make people want something, it takes on value. When something takes on value, it takes on and is sold. When something is sold, it is distributed.
I went to see Tadanori Yokoo’s exhibition. I was excited by how he creates “demand” that requires no explanation.
This exhibition features mask-wearing remakes of portraits drawn by Mr. Yokoo in the past. Interesting!