60 Minutes last night revisited the contemporary art market, twenty years after its first report on the business. Back then, the segment was accused of being nothing more than a “send up” of the art market. Last night proved nothing has changed in twenty years.
This time the focus was on Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), the contemporary art fair held in Miami. Accompanied by shots of private planes, cocktails and trophy wives, “the one percent” were described as benefitting from an art market that sizzles while the stock market fizzles.
The segment interviewed some of the more notorious art dealers at ABMB. All came off badly, sounding more like cynical and pushy time-share sales staff. With over $5.5 billion transacted at contemporary auctions alone, 60 Minutes alluded to the perils of price fixing in an unregulated market. Bottom line, dealers and ABMB didn’t challenge the segment’s suggestion that the whole market is nothing more than a giant con with some dealers unwittingly giving credence to the idea.
The PR Verdict: “C” for Art Basel and the contemporary art market industry. This was a rerun of the 60 Minutes story from 20 years ago, only with higher prices.
Next time the leading dealers and art fair producers should aim to change the context of the discussion. Why not start with acknowledging that like any specialist market, the contemporary art market has its own language and context. None of it is understandable at first blush. Giving 15,000 people access to an art fair doesn’t mean they have understood the subject mater just as giving 15,000 people access to data on options trading also doesn’t guarantee widespread understanding. To move the conversation on from the gee-whiz approach to prices, something more considered was needed.