Bloomberg Pursuits takes audiences inside the changing art world

Jen Robinson

This Wednesday, Bloomberg Pursuits Arts Columnist James Tarmy will join Sara Friedlander, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s New York, and Marc Porter, Christie’s Chairman, Americas to offer expert insight at a time when the art market is being redefined.

The discussion, to be moderated by Bloomberg’s Julia Chatterley, will take place at a private preview event for Christie’s upcoming 20th Century Week sales, co-hosted by Bloomberg Pursuits and Christie’s and sponsored by XOJET. This year’s sales notably feature important Abstract Expressionist works from the Eppler Family Collection.

“I don’t think anyone buys an artwork hoping it becomes obscure,” says Tarmy. Exploring that mix of aspiration, emotional connection and wealth, he has written about such topics as how art compares to the stock market as an investment and how art value emerges. Below, he shares inside perspective on how Bloomberg brings readers stories from the intersection of business and art.

Q: You’ve written about art and culture for Bloomberg for six years – and for a range of other publications prior to that. How is today’s art world different from past years?

A: We’re seeing record attendances at museums everywhere around the world. The art market has a direct influence and response to museum shows. What happens in the market has reverberations on a much broader level and impacts tens if not hundreds of millions of people who go to cultural institutions every year.

That’s not to imply that the market dictates what you’re going to see in museums. Museum curators – and I’m actually writing a piece about this – museum curators are going to art fairs, they’re going to gallery openings. They’re very tapped into whatever the Zeitgeist might be.

That obviously has an impact on programming. It’s not necessarily just this wealthy gallery wants this artist to be seen more and a museum curator jumps. It’s an entire ecosystem. There are a lot of pushes and pulls. That’s something that’s really fascinating to explore.

Q: And that helps demystify the art market for audiences – even for audiences like Bloomberg’s who have the means to participate in it?

A: What I try to do – what our arts coverage generally tries to do – is make the art world and all of its forms applicable to Bloomberg readers, who often do have a background in business or finance.

The art world since time immemorial has relied on patronage and money, from the Medici’s commissioning Michelangelo to today. In talking about the business of art, it’s still possible to talk about the meaning of the art itself. Bloomberg Pursuits is able to occupy a unique space in art reporting because we have tools – the data available in the Bloomberg Terminal, our huge global newsroom – that allow us to go into the nuts and bolts of how the art market works in ways that others are not.

It just takes a kind of forensic analysis, looking at who is behind what you’re seeing, and all of a sudden that’s the story. That’s fascinating to audiences – the process of how things that seem very simple on the outside become imbued with extraordinary monetary value by very powerful people.

Q: Does that mean investors looking for fantastic returns?

A: Part of buying an artwork is a hope for future acclaim or recognition that isn’t just transactional. I think part of that is this narrative of people purchasing artworks when they were not particularly valuable and then it selling for bajillions.

We have seen many examples of that. But art has been considered an investment-grade asset since very early on — even modern art, even in the 1910’s and 20’s. Without real context, you might say wow, that piece doubled in price in ten years. Well yes, that’s an incredible return – it’s far better than putting your money in a pillowcase – but how does it compare to basic U.S. equities? Compound interest is pretty powerful, especially when you’re dealing with a large initial investment.

You get something from art other than the return on it. You get the enjoyment of it. And you get all of these really abstract things that bring value to you beyond aesthetic enjoyment.

You can make the argument that well, if you have a Monet, and your business is public-facing, and it requires people to consider you as wealthy – that these artworks give a patina of culture and gravitas that you might not be able to quantify. Unless you tattooed your portfolio on your forearm you can’t convey that in other ways. That provides a crucial value to their owners.

Q: In addition to writing, you’ve lectured extensively on the art market and appeared as a TV commentator for close to a decade. What still surprises you?

A: I’m still realizing and learning that when you talk about the art market you’re actually talking about hundreds of different markets. It’s the equivalent of talking about the car market and speaking about Hondas and Ferraris in the same breath.

It is so specific to individual periods and individual artists. Obviously you can make some generalizations but it turns out that just like every variation on a market, there’s very different behaviors and external phenomena that impact market performance.

Sometimes if you look at specific markets you can see examples like the artist Christopher Wool, whose work has surpassed the S&P 500 in a way that is just astonishing if you bought him at a certain point. There’s so many different interesting stories to tell.

Read More: Bloomberg Pursuits Art & Design

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James Tarmy  @jstarmy

We’ll post highlights from the event’s panel discussion on the Forum later this week. Pictured above, courtesy of Christie’s: detail from Franz Kline’s Light Mechanic, 1960, the masterpiece that leads the Eppler Collection.