Is Contemporary Art in Crisis, or Will Crisis Save Contemporary Art?

Last year, after the dust had cleared from the meteoric crash of the contemporary art world, there was the distinct feeling that the party had ended. But has it?

Lately, famous works have gone unsold even at rock bottom prices. Publicly-funded exhibits from China to Iceland have been stopped mid-development, and galleries wait with baited breath to see if they will still be around by the end of the year.


The recent economic downturn can be felt everywhere. But one place where the lack of capital has been less obvious to the untrained eye is the art world, which has always been known for its pluck and resourcefulness in lean times. In recent years there has been much talk about how money was destroying art. The question now is, what effect will the lack of money have on art?

As history has shown, a classic piece of art, much like a family heirloom, will always retain its value even in a wildly unpredictable marketplace. At the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, Gallerists and collectors are banking on this reasoning by offering sure bets such as a Van Gogh landscape, multiple period Picassos and articles which once belonged to Yves Saint Laurent—a big seller at a recent Christie’s auction.

RoseLee Goldberg, director of performance art biennial Performa thinks that the contemporary art world will have to do some in depth soul searching to determine how contemporary art will fare post-downturn. “We’re asking, What is the role of art? What is its capacity to introduce a new humanism or a new esthetics? The kind of art we’ve been looking at for the past ten years is incredibly sophisticated, but it’s really been driven by a loaded market,” she says.

Indeed, crisis may catalyze innovation, but only if artists are galvanized to look critically at the world around them—something which was conspicuously absent during the Bush years, when many artists were afraid to upset the status quo that was sky-rocketing the value of their work. Watch Sean Scully delve into this topic here.

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