Looking back at the art market a generation ago, one might be forgiven for questioning what has changed. In the early 1970s top level art was fetching record breaking high prices against the backdrop of a deep economic recession and high oil prices. The London auction rooms recorded record turnover, figures brought about by an influx of money from wealthy clients worried about the prospect of high inflation. A case of history repeating itself?
Gauging the state of the international art market today, however, has probably never been more difficult. Which market? And where? What is true in one sector or area will not necessarily be true everywhere. It is no longer really possible to speak of one market behaving in a consistent way. Nevertheless, the past six months have reinforced one overriding perception: whatever the continuing financial fficulties in the USA, Britain and the Eurozone, it is class and quality that count. Objects with impeccable provenance, especially if they are new to the market, will find buyers. Well constructed and well presented sales will attract interest and produce success.
The 2008 financial crisis, of course, did not affect the world equally. The Chinese economic miracle continues apace, although it is not yet possible to make a definitive judgment about the medium to long term significance of the explosion of interest in Asian Art in China.
Will the Chinese super rich develop a taste for Western contemporary art and what will this do to prices? One thing is certain: collecting at the top end of market is now truly global and a strong international presence and the technology to support it is essential. Sellers want access to the markets which gives them the best chance of realizing high prices. Buyers want to find the best objects and to be able to bid on them wherever and whenever the auctions are taking place. Bonhams across-the-board introduction of on-line bidding, in addition to the existing phone and on-line advance bidding facilities, have undoubtedly increased participation in sales to the benefit of sellers and buyers alike.