Art: From prestige to aesthetic appeal

From the trophy collectors of the 1950s to the eclectic collectors of today, the market for modern art has taken a dramatic turn. “Postwar Art and the New York Contemporary Art Market,” a symposium held last Friday and Saturday, explored the shift of the art market from “big names” to small artists and its expansion to the international arena.

“There’s so much in the art world — it’s an international billion-dollar market,” artist Walter Darby Bannard said at a keynote panel Friday at the Yale University Art Gallery.

The symposium kicked off Friday with reflections on Yale alumnus and art collector Richard Brown Baker’s contribution to the art market. The symposium continued Saturday with lectures and panels held throughout the day to discuss the fundamental changes of the art market and its influences.

In order to set the stage for Saturday’s lectures and panels, Friday’s discussion focused on Baker’s unprecedented mode of art collecting. While art collecting used to be about purchasing pieces from prestigious artists, the panelists said, Baker let his aesthetic preferences dictate his purchases.

“He remained dedicated to the young, the living and the unestablished,” Bannard said.

Saturday’s discussions intertwined with Friday’s panel about Baker’s behavior in the art market; the market’s openness to smaller artists and international buyers was a fundamental theme. According to University of British Columbia professor Serge Guilbaut, the expansion of the market was also related to the economic boom after World War II.

“At the end of the war, everyone was waiting around with fat wallets,” Guilbaut said. “Collectors forgot about the well-accepted cliché that some art is too abstract to buy. They were not searching for prestige anymore.”

According to artists at Saturday’s panel, the broadening of the art market has come at a cost. Speakers agreed that the sense of community shared by artists has disappeared, and that the art market has mainly become a money-driven industry, which has robbed art of some of its intrinsic value.

“Wealth has been choking New York,” said Jeffrey Deitch, an advisor to art collectors, “and sooner or later artists won’t want to be there because they don’t have a place there.”

Many of the symposium attendees enjoyed the diverse views given by artists, gallery owners and professors and the way they were presented.

“I thought they were really good speeches about how we’re entering a whole new era,” Liz Tiano, a New Haven local, said.

But other audience members found that the panelists did not speak enough about the reality of the current art market.

“I thought they were painting an idealistic picture of the past gallery world,” said Katia Zavistovst, a graduate student at Williams College. “I thought there would be more about the present situation.”

The symposium was organized by Jennifer Farrell, the Florence B. Selden curatorial fellow from the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

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