Vanessa Garcia-Osuna interviews Miriam Bers on the topic of ‘Tendencias des Mercato del Arte’ for coleccionar arte contemporáneo.
Miriam, how did you become an art advisor?
Already during my art history studies with focus on modern and contemporary art I was intrigued by artistic developments and their gradual positioning on the art market. At the time I started doing freelance journalistic work. After collecting work experience in commercial galleries I became the director of Galerie K&S in Berlin, an institutional exhibition space and showroom of Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin and the ZKM Karlsruhe. In my position as curator I accompanied grad-students from all over the world on their career paths as well as selected international artists living in Berlin. Eventually, in 2006, I founded GoArt!, an agency for art advisory and mediation.
How would you explain the increasing influence of the art advisor within the art system?
In my opinion there are various reasons: The amount of collectors but also the working artists have multiplied. Factors such as internationalization, the Asian market (especially China!), investors from Eastern Europe or the Arabic countries have influenced the chain of supply and demand. Besides, in times of low interest policy with classic financial assets there is a higher number of investment in art objects. Not all advisors are coming from the field of art and those who regard the art object as cash item occasionally work in the financial sector. Here the secondary market plays an enormous role. Collectors and art enthusiast with sustainable agenda make up one side of the coin in the art-jungle where everybody needs to constantly keep track of trends and expertise with regard to content. This is where the art advisor – to which I count myself – comes in: in the first instance with focus on the primary market meaning galleries and artists specifically.
What are the advantages of working with an art consultant? What does your work consist of?
From the outside the art market may seem complex and difficult to navigate through. The work I do is always different and highly depends on the client. Is it a newcomer to the art world I try to spend as much time as possible with him to find out what he might be interested in and what a future art collection could entail. This is also one of the reasons why I lately started to take on the concept of “art classes” for my agency: developing an understanding of art, quality criteria and market correlations are complex topics. I often try to come up with a pre-selection – also depending on the portfolio or digital image renderings of the rooms that need to be equipped. This is important for clients who are already in the process of collecting and occasionally travel to Berlin – the world’s biggest production place for contemporary art – from afar.
Working like this I can save an immense amount of time and the rough direction and genre of works can be determined before a personal meeting with galleries or artists. Additionally, I have an elaborate network that facilitates glimpses behind the scenes. Surely, art consultants do not represent artists or galleries but the client, therefore they should have a neutral approach. Ultimately, my multilingual team and I take care of all services relating to the purchase: We visit fairs by order of the client and optionally oversee the handling, transport and hanging of the works.
What are the main challenges a contemporary art collector has to face nowadays?
The main challenge is definitely the constantly growing market and tied up with this the increase in online offerings. It is difficult to align yourself with numbers when it comes to emerging artists because naturally art is bound to many different factors: Questions concerning the inventory, continuity as well as the significance of individual works play a role – nobody wants to buy art works that are already in the process of losing value! These are decisions of importance: Should the collection be an investment in the medium turn or in the long run? Should it merely represent the mainstream? And more importantly: What consequences result from the clients’ preferences, from the decision for a specific genre like photography, video art or performance? This line of questioning goes on to thoughts on conservation.
How can the choices of certain collectors influence the art market?
Generally speaking collecting is often viewed as a prestigious activity. A collector can set public trends with his paintings, photos or objects. In fact, an influential art collector has more capital than most museums and can this way consolidate young artists faster than state-run art institutions. Never before have so many private exhibition spaces or publicly accessible collections been founded: Christian Boros comes to mind. He bought a WWII bunker in Berlin, converted it into a private museum for his collection and was one of the first who rooted for artists like Olafur Eliasson. Another example is the established collection Maramotti, owned by the fashion label Max Mara. Luigi Maramotti discovered artists such as Jacob Kassey long before he was a competitor on the art market. An almost mythic status enjoys Charles Saatchi, art patron and –venturer, who – in the 1990s – promoted young artists like Damien Hirst or Sarah Lukas. He bought and sold their works in large numbers and consequently influenced prices, curators and other collectors.
The art market has reached unprecedented levels. What aspects would explain this exponential growth?
Simply said there are far more wealthy people than before. Classical art works up until the classical modernity are highly competitive while the reception of contemporary art in the age of the knowledge-based society is easier, accessible and popular. New markets have developed: Asian or Arabic countries, such as Hong Kong or Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become centers of the Middle Eastern art world. Art opens doors and at the same time it is publicly accessible. With this added value it is more exceptional than lets say gold that is securely stored in the safe. Moreover, art connects people of various cultures and ethnicities, establishes an international identity, networks and a surplus value that should not be underestimated.
What have been the notable changes you have seen in the art market over the past years? (For example the emergence of the Internet, globalization, etc.)
The phenomenon of globalization has indubitably changed the art world. That way there are Blue-Chip galleries as well as fairs that open branches in Berlin, London, Los Angeles or Singapore. Galleries become agencies to manage international projects and co-operations more flexibly. Additionally, there are gallery owners who switch to working in auction houses. Newer trends develop in the field of real estate: Financial advisors who as of now also have art works in their portfolio. A macro trend is the very speculative and snowballing secondary market that also boosts the prices for contemporary art. Coming along is a growing body of young collectors who are very familiar with our digitalized society. Online market offers and artists who promote themselves directly via online portals present subsidiary challenges for the collector. That way he can visually pre-consider his choices.
Can art be a good investment? Could you give some examples of this?
Yes. In fact, there are numerous examples also in the field of contemporary art. First of all art is a value-adding and goodwill-creating investment. An artists’ career develops through complex connections: emerging artists have gallery owners, museum experts, art associations, critics and curators behind them who invest many resources to their oeuvre. We live in a time of image consumption that is why selection criteria are more important than ever. I carefully observe artist careers for more than two decades: Think of Thomas Demand who had his first solo exhibition in Munich in 1992 while today his works are shown in the Bilbao Guggenheim or the MoMa in New York. Shiharu Shiota – whose works I presented when she was still a master student of Rebecca Horn – has recently become the shooting star of Blain Southern gallery with branches in London and Berlin. The same applies to the unconventional performance and video artist Katarzyna Kozyra who by now belongs to the pool of most notable contemporary Polish artists of today. One of the most successful and internationally prominent German painters is Jonas Burgert who – in 2004, only 15 years ago – could hardly make a living of his art.
Are there any specific regions, movements or artists you would advise paying attention to?
An exciting new tendency lies in the field of street art. That has a lot to do with the current zeitgeist and the enthusiasm for a hip-hop subculture. Berlin – city of departure and upheaval with all its liberties – accommodates many urban artists. Meanwhile there are museums and galleries that are professionally dedicated to that trend. This is appealing for young collectors in particular, because the prices are still in the four-figure range. At the same time photography is a medium in demand. In general, I think that Europe and its focus topics of sustainability and migration is a major hub for artists and collectors. Berlin alone has one of the biggest international artist networks: official numbers show that more than 20.000 international artists live and work in the German metropolis. Among the protagonists are Olafur Eliasson, Thomas Demand, Thomás Saraceno or Katharina Grosse who became famous here. Art is like a plant that grows where it finds suitable humus to thrive on. The attraction exercised by cities like Paris or New York has today shifted towards Berlin – also pivot point to Eastern Europe. Spain on the other hand has been the gateway to South America since many decades not only proven by the Arco in Madrid.