The Art of Art

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By Alan von Kalcreuth

The International Contemporary Art Fair wrapped on February 1 after four days of artsy madness.   Art Los Angeles Contemporary took place at the impressive Barker Hanger at Santa Monica Airport and the massive structure was crammed with exhibitors and art-minded, trendy people.

“There are aImage lot of people here,” observed , a photographer dedicated to photographing art and art-gazers.  “This is the best show on the West coast.”

But what of the art on display?  “Tedious, and not much better than the spontaneous work of kindergarteners,” was one attendee’s opinion. “Only these artist have a larger work space that they don’t have to share with five other five-year-olds, and they the opportunity to use stuff that the kids can’t always get their hands on.  I prefer the kid’s stuff, it’s not supposed to be impressive, or expensive.”  The attendees did not want to identify themselves, but revealed they were in the film industry.

One noticeable feature of the opening night, a sixty-dollar ticket event, was SO many people.  The first impression one gets is there is a load of contemporary art lovers in LA.  It soon became apparent however that the hoards were NOT gazing at the art they were gazing at themselves.  With a glass of champagne and a hanger full of trendies the Art Fair was clearly a great destination point.

One of the hanger-strollers, most probably a mid-level Image 2corporate manager by day, was dressed smartly in an off-the-rack Macy’s suit BUT was sporting what looked like his mother’s Chanel scarf around his neck, a sort of cautious Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Investing in contemporary art is big business and the escalation in “value” of a piece is a curious affair. “People look at artists like Damien Hirst and the impression is that the international contemporary art market is very wide and very deep,” explains Michael Findlay, director of Acquavella Galleries in New York and the author of The Value of Art. “I think that impression is largely created by marketing.”

“Very few artists have sell-through rates of over 80% at auction” art adviser Todd Levin points out.  There are artist like Alexander Calder, who hit an incredible 95% sell through he explains, but these are exceptions. “The meaning of art is collapsing under the brute weight of data,” reveals Levin.

Thea Westreich, an art broker and adviser, points out the value of these contemporary art fairs.  “Sit with the dealers, talk to them about their new artists. If they are there, talk to the artists. That is priceless. It’s very unusualImage 1 for us to walk away from an art fair without discovering an artist we think has great potential that we want to tell our clients about.”

The contemporary art market is volatile, the crash in 2008 saw the value of most contemporary art pieces fall by as much as 50% while the traditional art market only dropped 35%.  The experts advise for protecting your investment is to buy stuff you actually like, not what some dealer has declared as a sure and safe investment.  This means that if you are stuck with it you won’t mind because you like it!