Art market

A word with Marc Spiegler

Art Basel’s global director on collector behaviour, auction price databases and the complexity of the art market

Marc Spiegler, global director of Art Basel Art Basel

How has collector behaviour changed?

In the past, many collectors began by buying art from their region and then slowly started buying artists with a similar aesthetic or approach from other countries. The step to collecting internationally is happening faster today, especially across Asia but also within Europe or the US. This provides some artists with international patronage much faster, making many of them less dependent on a single market. Collectors today have less time than in the past. This is why fairs like Art Basel have become so important. They provide entry points to new galleries.

Auction-price databases skew our perception of the market. Could you insist that sales at the fair are reported?

As we are not involved in the sales, it is difficult for us to stipulate anything, but I do think that pricing transparency today is very helpful. There’s a real risk of misconception when an artist is successful but the only sales data is auction data. Because sometimes the more complex work doesn’t do well at auction, but it is being sold to the best collectors and museums worldwide. Let’s face facts: it’s a lot easier to sell paintings at auction than it is to sell videos or conceptual work, and yet that’s the kind of work that often has the most to offer us.

What perplexes you about the market?

Some people don’t necessarily think about the impact of what they’re doing on the artists, who are the ‘sine qua non’ of this whole world. People forget that you can’t take the artist for granted, and that you cannot take artistic production for granted—or that there isn’t an unlimited supply of great or even good art. Nor is there an unlimited supply of great or even good collectors. Just because there’s three times as much demand does not mean there is three times as much good art.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper, 302 June 2018