European Business Review – ISSUE 1 – 2013
by Harris Vourkas
An interview with Georges Ranunkel*, Managing Director & Founder of ArtFloor
How can you best describe 2012 in the arts?
One sentence from the very beginning of 2012 could best describe last year: Gerhard Richter – whose impressive restrospectives in Tate and Beaubourg were real hits- reacted to the sale of his work Kerze (Candle), which reached almost $15m by saying “it’s beyond understanding, it’s as absurd as the banking crisis”.
In fact, the global market figures hide that 2012 was a tough year for most genuine world players in the art market. Even though Richter was going to post 6 sales over $15m by that year and Munch’s Scream was sold for $107m at Sotheby’s in New York, most galleries and living artists experienced the drawbacks of the crisis. One may wonder how long the high-end of the art market will resist while everybody knows that this could not last indefinitely.
Fortunately, Art is not only a market but also leisure and education. The exhibitions and the public have been spoiled last year with impressive shows and retrospectives such as Kusama in London, Raphael and Hopper in Paris, Serra in Doha and a beautiful dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel. Not to mention the richest and biggest art fairs: FIAC in Paris and expending Frieze Art Fair in London.
The worst in 2012 was the confirmation of the existence of a new trend: a crowd with superficial taste. This trend according to me is the “Koons effect”, very successful marketers with very poor concepts and talents. They value names for names and prices for prices. Ignorant collectors are increasingly influential on the in the world of Arts.
Your profession combines market and civilization. Which are the frustrations and delights that procure to you this double identity?
When you consider that a Warhol painting is valued at 3-4 times as much as a Rembrandts, then this fact tells you a lot about what the market has become. Things are not that dark, dealers are indeed driven by financial opportunities and the amount of sales is of course increased by money laundering; however, most of the people you will meet in the art market from collectors to experts, from artists to auctioneers, are aesthetes and creative people, often passionate about Art since childhood. The pleasure that comes with making a living combined with the freedom of owning your own gallery can make this an extremely gratifying profession. We spend most of our time with people who believe in our vision and choices, we promote the art we have selected and appreciate and collectors are always very enthusiastic, otherwise they would not have followed us. By showing a consistent selection of artworks, we have established an identity for our gallery and have enhanced our viewer’s understanding of what our work is all about. The biggest frustrations could be to miss those talented artists we really have wished to promote or not manage to collect in time some exceptional works from the very fine among them.
In the past, the creation of works of art was intended only for the “happy few”, as we may have called them today. Do you consider that the situation has changed today? Is art an individual occupation or a societal one?
We are talking about two different worlds. Nowadays, the happy few have the means and the network, they are able to collect, become consultants or curators of large institutions. They make the trends and also dictate the policy of institutions. Most of the museums have board of Directors from the private sector (like in the US) or are sponsored (or even owned) by powerful collectors that will “kindly” insist that their collections would be valued through exhibitions. The rest of art amateurs include the followers that will enjoy buying a work produced my Murakami’s studio thinking that it is by the hand of the artist. Real art connoisseurs are also in this category, those who visit the museums for the pleasure of viewing works.
Even if the market makers are still an elite, the situation has really changed today while numerous exhibitions, shows and fairs – not to mention the Web- have given access to Art to a very large public. Almost 7 million art lovers visited the Met in New York City last year and 10 million went to the Louvre in Paris.
Do you consider that art occupies an important part in our lives, can we live without it?
From design to advertising, Art is almost everywhere, you’d better live with it, even passively! Historically, it has always served as a mean to express personal views on politics, war, social inequities, the human condition and it is even more noticeable nowadays.
I have always considered that mainstream people should be taught Contemporary Art because it really helps thinking out of the box!
Art, design, lifestyle… Which are the boundaries for each notion and where do you place the common perimeter between these notions today?
It is common sense to consider as artists the designers if they call themselves “artists”… Milton Glaser noted in a 1974 interview that whereas a design must convey a given body of information, the “essential function” of Art is to “intensify one’s perception of reality”. “Sometimes”, he said, “these functions coincide, as in a medieval stained glass window, but in the modern times they have diverged”. I now do not subscribe to this point of view, contemporary artists have become multidisciplinary and their work has to be considered as a whole which means that Art can be dealing with comfort and also concepts all together.
Which is the role of the media in the “shape of the things to come”?
How do you evaluate their ability to influence other players in their investment strategies (private and institutional collectors, galleries, individuals, etc.)?
The media has an incredible role in the reshaping the market, especially in troubled economic times while non-aware investors will tend to follow those they consider in-the-know.
The great press coverage of the exhibitions also encourages collectors to lend their works to value their collections. The media has brought people to compete on figures more than any kind of aesthetic approach. We read more about exhibitions attendance and auction sale prices than about the works themselves. Websites such as ArtPrice provide the clients with the results of most of the largest auctions around the world. Any collector is aware of the quotation of an artist. Make no mistake, despite the overflow of information about prices, the art market is still opaque…
We definitely live in an era of over-exposition to multi-layered information. Do you consider that today’s artists need more specific communication coverage? In which form?
It is probably while galleries, agents and dealers still have a role to play. The artists need to be promoted and this implies to use the network of the gallery and intensive PR. It is actually why I launched ArtFloor.com in 2000. At that time we were pioneers on the Web in this field but the online gallery success confirms that communicating broadly was a real booster to promote our artists internationally.
Nevertheless, whatever the communication exposure level may be, or even the choice of the media, the traditional effort of selecting the artists remains a compulsory one: buyers ask for real expertise in Art, even when they operate on the web.
How do the younger generations deal with art? Does virtual reality affect their creativity?
They tend to use it a little too much and not in a very efficient way. This process of creating is radically new. Imagination is often overwhelmed by the work produced by computer.
Some artists explore this new path of creativity with talent as Japanese artist Rioji Ikeda who creates an incredible visual and environment where visitors are submerged in an extreme illustration of projected and synchronized data. I had the opportunity to see his show The Transfinite at the Armory in New York two years ago and it was really an impressive one.
Which are the trends we may see end of 2013?
I believe in a huge burst of the art market one the Internet. Geographically, the marketplace is turning East with Russian and Chinese collectors and new museums. South-East will still become very attractive with noteworthy Art fairs (Art Basel in Hong Kong for the first time). Of course, Brazil is the third area where Contemporary Art is booming. I think the Chinese Art bubble will explode but it might take another year. Meanwhile we can still expect some bids to rocket even higher in some auction houses for exceptional works this year.
On the other side of the market, 2013 will remain full of opportunities for collectors while dealers and artists have now experienced 2 to 3 difficult years in a row.
*Georges Ranunkel has been promoting emerging artists for over a decade. He launched a new type of virtual gallery in 2000 with Geoffroy de Francony: www.ArtFloor.com. They now advise private and corporate collectors worldwide to build their collections or offer Art brokerage services. ArtFloor designs projects including communications strategy based on Art for international companies. Georges Ranunkel has curated several exhibitions and prizes including the MasterCard Prize. He gave lectures at Sorbonne University and at IESA in Paris and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.