I’ve had a couple of requests to write about the economics of the The Wu – Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, the new album from the Wu-Tang Clan. The album is being released in a beautiful box, in an edition of exactly one:
Last month, at an appearance in Wisconsin, Barack Obama made a mild dig at art history graduates like myself. “A lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career,” he said, “but I promise you, folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.”
Back in 2012, I wrote a post with the headline “How Larry Gagosian is like Goldman Sachs”. The general idea was that both of them use their relationships and their balance sheet to make money off and/or with their clients. Since then, as Christian Viveros-Fauné says, the art world has become even more coterminous with the art market:
I had lunch with Artnet’s Thierry Dumoulin last week, and we talked a bit about the classic interactive NYT chart of box-office grosses. (It’s getting on for six years old, now, but it’s still top-notch.) I wondered if it might be possible to do something similar for artists — to show how different artists have their auction peaks at different times, and how some artists fade away while others become newly fashionable.
When I wrote my piece last week about art-market reporting, I didn’t name names, I was just trying to lay out some basic rules. And while I’m happy to engage in the occasional snarky tweet about some of the bad reporting out there, I generally won’t make an entire blog post out of such complaining. Because it’s boring, and also because it’s invidious to pick out just one bad article from hundreds or even thousands.
One of my pet distinctions is the one between a bubble and a speculative bubble. All speculative bubbles are bubbles, but not all bubbles are speculative. In the markets, the late-90s dot-com bubble was speculative: it was based on the greater-fool theory that even if you were overpaying today, you’d be able to sell to an ever greater fool tomorrow, and make lots of money. A speculative bubble is fueled by flippers — people who don’t much care for or about what they’re buying, but who reckon that whatever it is, they’ll be able to sell it at a nice profit. So the Miami condo bubble of the mid-00s was speculative, while the current Miami real-estate market, which is nearly as hot, isn’t.
When 2011 came to an end, the dominance of Chinese artists in the international league tables was clear, if puzzling. Three of the top five artists, in terms of sales, and both of the top two, were Chinese; Zhang Daqian alone managed to gross more than half a billion dollars at auction that year, the first time any artist had come anywhere near that level.
Izabella Kaminska delivered a typically sparkling essay yesterday, riffing off a Tyler Cowen post headlined “Will accurate 3-D reproductions disrupt art markets?”. The science of reproduction is getting better, you see, with paintings now able to be reproduced in three, rather than just two, dimensions; already reproduction Van Goghs — in a limited edition of 260 — are being sold for $34,000 apiece.