Saturday, 24 October 2020

Market Validation?

I was thinking about an earlier blogpost concerning the non-functioning of the art market in the Netherlands and it occurred to me that the possibility exists that the course in which a reputation is established is skewed there, which in turns hinders a proper functioning of its market.
What I hypothesized is that in most places in the world, commercial galleries act as a kind of free playground where ideas and artists can be tested through a kind of market validation process. A free market without significant gatekeeping then thus decides, to a large degree, which artists are 'worthy' of inclusion in some kind of larger institutional system. A value system of art arises naturally within these systems, for better or for worse. Any fool can offer anything up for sale, but only those that consistently and over longer periods of time appeal to a significant number of people can stay afloat in such a system. 
This system thus seems like a correct way of reasoning, with a wide variety being offered in a commercial setting, but only the artworks that adhere to some kind of criteria are validated by an institutional system with larger concerns of reputation, stability and long-term value. This in turn only creates additional value in the market for these works, without affecting the worth of those works that don't attain this recognition.
From what I've seen in the Netherlands, this system seems to be implemented backwards. Artists there are first validated through an institutional system, before they are allowed to find their way into a commercial circuit. As already outlined, this corresponds with a well-reported poor functioning of commercial galleries in the Netherlands.
To get an idea of the validity of this hypothesis, I looked up the first solo-exhibitions of 68 artists of some repute and noted whether they were held in a non-profit institution or a commercial gallery. 
22 of these 68 artists were of Dutch origin, with another 46 of other nationality. Of course, I tried to ensure that these nationalities corresponded to where their (early) professional life took place and didn't simply coincide with an arbitrary place of birth.
Of the 22 Dutch artists, 17 (or 77%) had their first solo-exhibition in a public institution, while 5 (or 23%) had their first shows at a commercial gallery. 
Of the artists of non-Dutch origins on the other hand, 14 (or 30%) had their first exhibition at a public institution, with 30 (or 65%) of the artists first exhibiting at a commercial gallery. An additional 2 artists (or 5%) had their first solo-exhibition at a non-art venue.

Now I'm well aware that 68 artists is not a very large dataset and it is thus likely that some amount of bias crept in unintentionally. For example, I took most of the biographies of the non-Dutch artists from the websites of galleries, while for the Dutch artists there was a larger number of personal websites I accessed to gather this data. It might well be the case that commercial galleries are more inclined to note exhibitions of other commercial galleries over those at (smaller) non-profit institutions.
Nevertheless, there is a quite a large discrepancy between these numbers and as such I believe it's a good indication of the truth of my hypothesis. It would be well to expand this research with a larger sample group and more strictly defined methods, to see if its results can be compared to other data sets.