There have been nearly achieved 40 billion Euros for the “Balloon Dog” by Jeff Koons; 179 were the millionaire auctions, Christie’s New York closes the most cost-effective auction with a collection of 477 billion Euros.

These are some of the figures in the detailed annual report published by ArtPrice (imgpublic.artprice.com). The top 100 most profitable artists of contemporary art today generate 1 billion Euro in 12 months, compared with 102 million Euros just 10 years ago. Besides these figures addressed to few chosen ones (results over € 50,000 relate only 6% of the lots), perhaps the most impressive item is the medium low-end market, which over the past four years has developed around at that “commercial ufo” that has become contemporary art. The two giants, China and the US, are competing in the market of high-end target, while in Europe, 81% of the contemporary lots is sold at less than € 5,000 (compared to a world average of 66 %), and this happens in France in particular. While London stands unchallenged, Paris is gradually losing momentum (in 2014 several historical galleries closed their business).
In this new system supporting the performative dimension developed around few big names with staggering prices, what about the behaviours among sector components, auction houses, galleries, and why not, museums?
Roles are getting confused for a lack of transparency. Auction houses are playing roles more similar to merchants/dealers: organizing most important exhibitions, lavish catalogues, introducing emerging artists on the market, also concluding private sales, further expanding their range with online auctions. That may have been caused by inflated prices and elite behaviour of many galleries; but the fact is that small merchants are the first people to suffer from this phenomenon. Even the museum is facing economic problems, in some cases resolved with solutions taken from the “colleagues” merchants. Many museums exhibit works of emerging artists and in some countries, for example in Switzerland, some institutions organize exhibitions-market, open for sale.
This lack of transparency, confused roles and relationships, shows how the art market is operating with old systems and the recent proliferation of databases and online services seem to provide necessary rules for those arrangements.
But how far can you go? Before these deep diatribes for the “gold rush”, it becomes natural to ask oneself where the essence of the artistic message has gone. Is the historical value of artworks still traceable? And above all, does the evaluation of an artist come as a real priority?

This post is also available in: Italian