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International Exchange

Some in the art world have said that a weak U.S. dollar has given international buyers more leverage.

"I don't think this is a currency play," Heller said. "I think this is a wealth play."

Allan Schwartzman, an art adviser and the first curator of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, said today's buyers had "spent enough on houses, lifestyle, boats, cars and whatever."

Today's buyers come from a generation that had more access to art and is more familiar with the names of artists.

"Another generation that has emerged, that was familiar with and comfortable with art or conversant enough that there is an easier crossover point to art appreciation and art collecting than the previous generation," Schwartzman said.

"I would say that the vast majority of them are people who make money with money," such as hedge fund managers, investment bankers and to some degree those in real estate, he said.

Schwartzman said that what happened at auction was playing a dominant role in the contemporary art market. In the early 1980s, the action houses wouldn't take anything that was less than 10 years old because they didn't want to participate in contemporary art.

"Nowadays, you see artists who have their first show one year and then there's something at auction by them the next," he said.

"There's a number of people collecting contemporary art who would rather get the work than [worry about] the price," Schwartzman said. "That's why you see things selling for twice, four times, 10 times what the general market felt their value was going into that particular sale."

Maybe they really want that particular piece, he said, or maybe "the money is really not that significant to them."

"All of which is a reflection of the level of wealth of the top people perusing art today," Schwartzman said. "It's people who have done really, really well."

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