Archive for category Subject: Art Business

The Art Museum in Modern Times || Charles Saumarez Smith

At a time when just about every institution is being questioned as to its role, need and relevance, it is fitting that those devoted to art should come under the eye of someone as august as Charles Saumarez Smith. Having held senior posts at the National and National Portrait Galleries as well as the Royal Academy, Charles is well-placed to offer not just an opinion on these matters, but one which demands to be taken seriously.

The book takes the form of a series of case studies that examine individual institutions, starting with the Museum of Modern Art in New York and stretching to the West Bund Museum in Shanghai by way of the National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing, the Hepworth Gallery and several incarnations of the Louvre. In each, Charles examines the intent, layout, content and realities, offering several views of how institutions develop both organically and through steering. After this, he presents his overall conclusions, which involve the roles of what we might call the stakeholders – clients, architects, private collections and the morality of wealth and, of course, the audiences.

There is a wealth of material here, but Charles manages it well. The book comes in at under 300 pages, which is something to welcome – a lesser author could easily have doubled that, not so much by over-writing, but simply by not being so completely on top of their material. “Impressive” in this context is a word that would normally be applied to something much larger, but here it is appropriate to something so manageable, both physically and intellectually.

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Show Your Art || Gita Joshi

This book is absolute gold dust. It’s not the first about the business side of art and I’m going to take on trust the legal side of things – Gita is an independent curator and art dealer and she runs the website thecuratorssalon.com. I think we can probably safely say that she has the experience to have these things covered.

What makes it unique is that it’s written from the point of view of experience. The writing style is approachable and advice includes such things as telling your story – put simply, who you are, what you do and why you do it. This is what gets people interested and gives you a personality. Corporate-speak won’t cut it here and Gita will show you how to get people interested in you as a person. Watch any reality TV show such as The Great British Bake Off – it’s the people you invest in, not the cakes.

There is also a wealth of practical advice, right down to the art fair checklist. I’ve exhibited at trade fairs and this is spot on. It’s not just the obvious things, like work, easels, a price list and so on, but details such as a notebook for contacts, a cash float and what might be the most important thing of all – something to sit on. I also liked the do’s and don’ts – do talk to everyone, don’t drink too much on the opening night!

This is a privately published book and there are areas where it could maybe do with a bit of a polish, but you won’t mind that because the information comes from an insider whose experience you’ll share and whose wisdom you’ll want to learn from. If you’re in any way serious about promoting your art professionally, it’s the book you need. I know, I have the word for it: sympathetic.

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A Year In The Art World || Matthew Israel

An account of what goes on inside the world of art business is always going to be interesting, but the question is: for who? Is it those insiders themselves, who will probably enjoy critiquing someone else’s view? Or maybe they’ll value an insight into what everyone else involved does, assuming they don’t know that already. How about the investor? They, especially if they’re just getting a toehold, would certainly benefit from a who-does-what guide, particularly if it also covers who’s-most-likely-to-rip-me-off. Artists themselves might like that, too. But the general reader, that wider public outside the specialist market? Nope, unless it’s written like a thriller, which this isn’t.

So, this is something very niche and we can at least be grateful that the author has taken the trouble to address his specialised audience directly, rather than trying (probably in vain) to widen the appeal. I’m a bit concerned by the strapline under Matthew Israel’s name on the cover, though: “curator, artist and art historian”. If his is an authoritative view, wouldn’t the people the book is aimed at know him? Maybe I’m being cynical, but to me it doesn’t inspire confidence in his insider knowledge. The potted biography on the back flap gives him quite a pedigree, albeit most rather vague and some a bit peripheral.

I know that art is a business and that, once you get beyond artists’ private and small galleries and when the sums of money become eye-watering, a lot of very serious people have to be involved, but these are waters that attract sharks and are very much unsafe for the uninitiated swimmer.

So, to rein in my cynicism, let’s sum this up as thorough, generally well-researched and pitched really rather well between readability and superficiality. If you want a primer in the business of art, it’s a worthwhile starting point. Watch the beach safety flags, though.

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Making & Marketing a Successful Art & Craft Business || Fiona Pullen

There’s been a fairly steady stream of books on this subject over the years but, up to now, they’ve usually been written by or for (or both) the business professional. This one differs in the first instance by having as its author someone who is active in the field she writes about.

The second, and even more important, aspect is that this is aimed at those who are primarily creators rather than entrepreneurs. The presentation is bright, pithy and written in everyday language. There are no lengthy treatises on legal and commercial practice – although this is all covered. Rather, short paragraphs and breakout boxes sit alongside simple to-do lists. Although this is a complex subject, learning about it doesn’t need to be intimidating. If you were thinking of putting a toe in the water but were put off by the immense list of what you need to know and do, this is immediately reassuring the moment you open the pages.

Running a business isn’t a simple exercise, although you don’t have to start with a chain of shops and a host of staff. Maybe you just want to sell your own work from your home. Do that and a lot of the difficulties go away. You can deal with the problems of success when you have them. You do need, however, to know how to price, present and market your work and Fiona has plenty of advice that will help you avoid the pitfalls that entrap many a newcomer. Early failures can easily put you off, as well as being expensive, but follow the simple guides and you should be rewarded from the outset.

There is necessarily a lot of detail here and this is, at 256 pages, not a slim volume. However, the layout makes it easy to locate the sections you need. Following Fiona’s excellent advice is not difficult and can even be a pleasure.

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Art Business Today || Jos Hackforth-Jones & Iain Robertson

Subtitled 20 Key Topics, this is a symposium devoted to the business of the art business. The editors both hold senior positions at Sotheby’s Institute of Art and many of the contributors are involved with that body. This is, therefore, nothing if not authoritative. Subjects addressed include globalisation, ethics, emerging markets, authenticity, due diligence and artist/dealer/collector relationships.

Art business is a fact of life, although it has little, if anything, to do with the creative process. It would be nice to think that patronism fitted in here somewhere – that dealers could (would/should) develop relationships with collectors and, in turn, introduce them to emerging talent that could be nurtured, if not for its own sake, then as a possible investment. That happens, of course, but not at this level. Those involved here are the high rollers who want works that are guaranteed to at least hold their value and preferably increase immeasurably. Much of this was visible in the recent BBC documentary on the rival auction house, Christies.

Do you detect a note of jaded cynicism here? You bet you do. I’m perfectly aware that there is a market for “great” art and that, once an artist dies, their oeuvre is complete – to quote from another context, “buy land, they aren’t making any more”. However, I can’t help feeling that there’s an evil spirit driving this multi-billion [insert currency here] behemoth and I’m not sure I’m all that keen on this uncritical insight, excellently done though it is.

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Crime And The Art Market || Riah Pryor

Who doesn’t like a good mystery?. The shady figure on the cover of this serious, but accessible and informative study, promises intrigue at the highest level!

Riah Pryor, an investigative journalist who has also worked at both The Art Paper and Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Unit, has an impeccable pedigree that promises sound inside information and understanding.

Art crime is big business and has been going on, in one form or another, since people started being able to carry their works with them. It is also something that is under most people’s radar – after all the art most of us have on the wall won’t attract international masterminds and some may even be a crime in itself! Art crime is not victimless, though, because someone has to pick up the tab and important works may be damaged or disappear from view for lengthy periods. Art is also often used to finance other activities, or as collateral for other shady deals. A lost Old Master may not impact on your daily life, but the activities that surround it may well do so.

This relatively short book is commendably free from jargon and the sort of detail that’s only of interest to the specialist. If you want to lift the lid on what can be a very shady world indeed, it’s a compelling read.

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Here Comes Mr Cass || Wilfred Cass

Self-published autobiographies normally suffer from a wide range of disadvantages: if their story was really interesting, a commercial publisher may have taken it up. They can be self-congratulatory; not least, they lack an editor who can remove details that, while fascinating to the author, and maybe even their family, are meaningless to the wider public.
This is different because the subject is the founder of the Cassart chain of art shops and the Cass Sculpture Foundation. He also has a gripping story to tell, which he relates readably but, above all, modestly.
The Cassier family (as they were) were industrialists and art collectors in Germany. Being Jewish, their position became dangerous in the 1930’s and Wilfred’s parents took the decision to leave, along with many others. Families that are determined to succeed will usually do so anywhere and the Casses, as they became, were no different.
Wilfred recounts, without self-congratulation, the course of how he became absorbed into the English educational system and his subsequent life in business. There’s quite a lot of archival detail that is probably of more interest to the family than anyone else, but it doesn’t intrude and you may well find that it fleshes out the narrative nicely. Overall, it’s a fascinating and heart-warming story.

This is a thoroughly readable account of the development of a major art business and the Foundation that its liberal-minded founder built up.

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How To Write About Contemporary Art || Gilda Williams

Well yes I had to, didn’t I? I mean, you can only wing it for so long and I don’t think you can call yourself a true hipster critic unless you can come up with the right phraseology. It’s all about the juxtaposition of mores in a socio-cultural ethos these days, innit? Oh, ah. First lesson: avoid jargon and poor structure.

A book such as this absolutely stands or falls on its author and, without simply typing out the back-flap bio, I can say that Gilda Williams has an impressive pedigree, having written for a variety of publications and been Commissioning Editor at Phaidon.

Here are some tips:

Avoid lists, unless for dramatic effect to emphasise variety and excess. Well, regular readers will know that lists are a staple of a lot of my reviews, but strictly for that purpose and usually limited to three items. I mentioned it, but I think I got away with it.

Organise your thoughts into complete paragraphs. Yes, good one, but isn’t that the heart of all good, clear writing? I’d say you need to tell a story and, if at all possible, have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Frankly, I could go on. The fact is that this is a thoroughly sensible and accessible guide to writing that could almost be applied to any subject. Above all, it’s well-written (phew!) and there’s a narrative thread that takes you through basic stylistic tics and tropes and on to how to approach different styles of art and writing – from the essay to op-ed journalism and the artist statement.

Every publication will, somewhere, have a style guide for contributors. This book is the nearest thing to a universal one and makes for an invaluable vade mecum that should sit in a prominent place on your bookshelf.*

* Can a vade mecum do that? Shouldn’t it be in your pocket?

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Big Bucks – The explosion of the art market in the 21st century || Georgina Adam

Almost every market has grown exponentially in recent years. Shares, currency, wine, collectibles, so why not art? Auction houses are no longer niche operations catering to the cognoscenti, but global and often cut-throat businesses, says Georgina Adam, that feed and feed off a market that’s looking for inflation-beating investments, portable wealth and, in some cases, safe havens for what can only really be described as dodgy money. Behind this are mega-dealers and middlemen who operate in the shadows.

Of course, not everything is like that, but there is a clear underworld and this well-argued and readable account peels back the layers to reveal it. Maybe it’s a little sensational and maybe the case is sometimes over-stated, but there’s no doubt that what was once a comfortable sideline is now very big business indeed. That’s what you get when only money matters.

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