Art is remarkably popular these days. When I tell people that I am an academic working on the art market I often get an approving nod of the head that almost makes me feel like I am doing something meaningful with my life. But one also starts suspecting that the art market may be becoming a bit overexposed when you hear opinions on the merits or sale price of a Leonardo painting while having your hair cut. There are few other markets, except for those relating to technology, that has grown so spectacularly over the last decades – not simply in terms of the actual size of the market, but in cultural prominence. Art has entered the realm of the collective unconscious, exhibiting a cross-generational pull that bodes well for its future. It is not simply that the superrich are lavishing millions on paintings – it is also the increasing attendance at museums worldwide that is pointing to a thriving economic sector. The Louvre has broached the mark of 10 million visitors per year, New York museums are charging $25 per ticket, yet the constant flow of visitors is showing no sign of abating.
I had firsthand experience of that combination of cultural edginess and a trending market when I offered a course at a business school on Aesthetics and Art History. I intentionally avoided any reference to the art market in designing the course, promising nothing more than an overview of the history of art in ten sessions, emphasizing the principles of formal aesthetic analysis. The unexpectedly high enrollment, the enthusiastic response of the students and unusually strong work ethic throughout the trimester made me think that I have stumbled upon something deeper than just extended course offer and bored students craving excitement. Many of them were destined for careers in banking but were remarkably open to the opportunity of discussing visual representation. Experiencing a sense of forbidden pleasure for exposing future bankers to the history of art, I marveled at the relative ease with which brains attuned to complex calculations switched to the analysis of visual patterns. The combination of finance and art that unfurled before my eyes was truly intriguing, with their appearing as more compatible than even I had imagined. More… “When Gekko Collects Art”