10 interesting books to understand the contemporary art market

10 interesting books to understand the contemporary art market

In this extensive entry you will see a list of 15 books that I consider interesting to understand the art market. From a Western point of view, I have tried to reflect as wide a range of points of view as possible. And beyond the economic and hierarchical logic of the system itself, which is perfectly defined in Angela Vetesse's book and Don Thompson's, you will find reviews of interesting books from the collector's point of view, such as El laberinto del arte, by Carmen Reviriego, or Buscadores de Belleza, by Maria Dolores Jiménez Blanco and Cindy Mack.

You will also find voices more aligned with the predominant guidelines and the established system, as in the case of Adam Lindemann or Simon de Pury, as well as other voices more critical and more distant from the system, those of Avelina Lésper or the late Luis Racionero. At the same time, curious readings like the memoirs of Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who was a direct witness of the rise of artists like Paul Cézanne or Pablo Picasso.


The view of the art market from the point of view of the art dealer and art auctions

The value of art. Money. Power. Beauty | Michael Findlay (1)

Michael Findlay is the director of Acquavella Galleries, a New York gallery with more than one hundred years of history that represents artists such as Miquel Barceló, Lucian Freud, David Hockney, as well as impressionist painters such as Edgar Degas or Mary Cassat, cubists such as Braque or Picasso, fauvists such as André Derain or Henry Matisse or surrealists such as Magritte.

Before directing Acquavella, the art dealer Michael Findlay worked for twenty years for Christie's auction house. Although he refuses to buy art for purely economic reasons, it is clear that he knows the market well and knows his way around it. In the book itself he confesses to having met people who blamed him for being just another cog in the wheel, but as you go through his story you realize that he is a sensitive person, with certain values and above all with a broad knowledge of a world that fascinates him.

The truth is that few collectors are immune to the thrill of the rising market value of works, but Findlay argues that buying for investment alone is rarely smart. A true love of art and how it can enrich the collector's life plays a crucial role.

The book reads carefully and oozes a wealth of experience in the industry through his anecdotes and personal accounts, advice from one who has been through it all and has known everything there is to know. He explains exactly how works of art are valued and reveals how the art market works. A very interesting guide for all art lovers, not only for collectors.


The Auctioneer : Simon de Pury (2)

I bought this book about 2018 and have tried to read it several times. Even today I am still a few dozen pages short of finishing it. It is entertaining and reads well, but it still doesn't have the seriousness and rigor of others I reference on this list.

I would say that it focuses too much on the life and luxuries of the richest 1% of the world and the artists who get access to this select circle, who are considered winners, unlike the vast majority of mortals, who are intrinsically losers. We will not deny that it does not read with certain interest nor that Simon de Pury does not have anecdotes that enliven the reading, but throughout the book it seems that in the end everything is a question of large sums of money.

Also of belonging to a select club of collectors or being out of it, of being a wealthy and influential person with a great patrimony, or of being a nobody whose life is of no interest. All of this is perceived in the background all the time, and to a server so much chutzpah came across as a bit classist and exclusionary. Perhaps Michael Findlay feels the same way, but I found his book more refined and with more underlying values.

Some works of art and the skill of some artists are described with passion and detail, but others whose value seems to be basically linked to strictly economic criteria are vehemently defended.

Very interesting for those who enjoy the current newspaper headlines about the art market, usually linked to the records achieved at Christie's or Sotheby's, the two big auction houses that take almost all the cake nowadays. And for those who are more comfortable with the rule that says that the highest quality artist is the one who is most highly valued -a convenient mental shortcut if you don't want to get too deep into art but want to have some reference to talk about it. After all, this is the testimony of someone who was hired by one of the two largest auction houses in the world for his skill in selling at the highest possible price.


Recollections of a Picture Dealer | Ambroise Vollard (3)

How to contemplate the art market from the perspective of a gallery owner? And not just any gallery owner, but Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939), considered the first great modern art dealer, a front row witness of one of the most interesting moments and places in the history of art. Have you seen Woody Allen's movie Midnight in Paris? Who would not want to be in the city of Paris between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and have a front row seat to meet and see the rise of painters like Manet, Renoir, Cézanne or Picasso himself?

While it is true that this is not a book for those looking for up-close anecdotes about the eccentricities, love affairs and more personal motives of these painters -it is not a book of salaciousness, for that below you have a reference to Peggy Guggenheim's book, A Life for Art-, It is a knowledgeable approach to their pictorial motivations and to their sales processes, because apart from being, together with Durand-Ruel, the main promoter of Impressionism, Ambroise Vollard was close and a friend of the painters, and the book shows a deference towards those who in the end were his own workmates, the Impressionist artists.


La visión del mercado del arte desde el punto de vista del coleccionista de arte

Adam Lindemann | Collecting Contemporary Art (4)

This book is very much in line with Simon de Pury's, in that both Adam Lindemann and all the guests who participate in the book completely link the artistic value of the creators they defend to the economic value for which their works have been sold. You'll be interested if you're going full throttle with the living artists who are rocking with the prices in auction houses, and if you defend that the theoretical argument that accompanies a work is enough to support its intrinsic value as a work of art -the sentence falls on its own-.

The thing is that I don't remember much background reflection or any testimony that really shook me. Rather the general tendency to defend a firmament of stars that is fed back by a group that has a lot to lose if all those works start to lose value.


Out of This Century: The Informal Memoirs of Peggy Guggenheim (5)

This book also has similarities with Simon de Pury's, in that it describes in first person the eccentric and bohemian life of both the rich protagonist and her artist friends.

Although little is said about art and collecting, there is so much romance, so much jealousy and so many self-destructive tendencies among this group of "crazy artists" that from the beginning it reads well and is quite an enjoyable read. Perhaps with little aftertaste too, but good. The fact is that it describes perfectly with examples that to be an artist you have to be tormented and lunatic and be loaded with addictions.

Although with little approach to the works of art themselves and the artistic motivations of both the protagonist Peggy Guggenheim and the creators themselves, it is interesting and entertaining for the salseo. For the first-hand testimony that describes the personalities of some of the artists of the first half of the twentieth century that today are considered most relevant: Jackson Pollock, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp are some of the friends who share adventures and are helped by Peggy Guggenheim.


The view of the art market from the art critic's point of view

Inverting in arts | Angela Vetesse (6)

Marketing, Museums and Market. These are the three M's that mark the rise of an artist in today's art market.

This book, like those of economist Don Thompson, reflects with reliable clarity the volatile situation of many artists, who can sell a work for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of euros and after a few years remain in absolute ignorance.

It is also very focused on guiding the collector, not only to value the artists and their works according to economic criteria, but also taking into account the relationship between the price and the cultural value of a work, the leading opinions in the sector, the most important aspects of the curriculum, identification of marketing strategies to inflate the aura of the artist and, most importantly, to study how artistic production, the promotion produced by museums, by critics or by the press and the market are related to each other.

It is a well documented book and I found it very interesting to read in order to contemplate my profession from the point of view of someone who is going to spend a good amount of money on a painting and has to know if he is going to be right or wrong with his choice.

Although as I say it is very interesting to understand the art market -if the idea is to know more about the art market, along with the two books by Don Thompson, for me this book is perhaps the most complete of this list-, but if your intention is to buy art, the most important thing in my point of view is the intuition and the passion for which you acquire a work of art. Even if you are going to spend a considerable amount of money, in the end it is vital the use value of the work, that deep thing that motivates you to have it with you every day and that you know it will never leave you.


The view of the art market from the Economist's point of view.

The Supermodel and the Shiny Box and The $12 Million Dollar Shark | Don Thompson (7)

Don Thompson is a Canadian economist specializing in the art market, and in this case I recommend his two books: The $12 Million Shark and The Supermodel and the Glitter Box. In fact, I already wrote this article reflecting on what I had learned in these two magnificent books.

Through his narrative full of documented examples -many of which the author has been able to know closely- we come to understand the gears that move the art industry at these levels of museums, rich collectors and millions of dollars in which there is often no direct relationship between what a painting or sculpture is objectively worth (hours of time invested, intrinsic quality of the work, and above all use value) and what is paid for it.

It explains perfectly the reasons for valuation that have absolutely nothing to do with what I have just said. Rather, they have to do with immense marketing campaigns aimed at a very specific public to whom all the glamour that comes with the work is sold, either because of the "prestigious" collection to which it has belonged or because of the extraordinary history that has accompanied it.

Through the examples experienced by Don Thompson, all the resources used by auction houses to create a climate of exclusivity, opportunity and haste are explained with precision and clarity. A manual to understand the psychology that lies at the heart of persuading a buyer that we often perceive as a tycoon but who in the end is also a victim of the networks of these powerful auction houses.


Fine Art and High Finance (en inglés) | Clare Mcandrew (8)

An economist specializing in art, Dr. Clare Mcandrew founded Arts Economics in 2005, a firm specializing in research and consultancy in art economics. She has extensive knowledge of the sector, among other things because Arts Economics periodically develops comprehensive reports on the global situation in the art market, which are the main reference and guide for most of the actors in the sector eager to know how the market is doing.

These are the latest publications of Arts Economics

The book Fine Art and High Finance (published in English) is one of his best-known books, and in it we have a relatively similar approach to the one we had from the collector's point of view in Carmen Reviriego's El laberinto del arte, but going deeper and focusing more here on the purely economic aspects of buying and owning art: appraisal and valuation, art as a loan guarantee, taxation, investment in art funds, insurance...


The view of the art market from the artist's point of view

The artist's path | Julia Cameron (9)

"Creativity has no bottom and no ceiling, even if there are parts of its growth that are slow. The ingredient that is needed is faith-understood as ironclad self-confidence. This book shows you the way and the faith needed to unleash people's creativity. Take it as an exercise to open yourself to a new perspective and unleash the artist in you".

With these words came to light in 1992 this book by the American writer and artist Julia Cameron. A necessary stimulus to combat the loneliness and despair to which we artists sometimes succumb, immersed in a long-distance race that requires everything and more on our part, but dealing with different kinds of disappointments, if not lukewarm responses from the environment.

Although we cannot say that it is a book about the art market, it is a book that delves into a mentality that is essential for the artist to be able to create and to be able to offer something in the art market.

The Artist's Way is a guide to strengthen ourselves internally along with our purpose with the sole objective of gaining iron confidence and not to stop or let ourselves be carried away by idleness, to the point of becoming our main coaches, a psychological figure that is certainly not at all superfluous if one is going to be an artist. On the contrary, having someone who morally supports you and trusts in the value of your essence is the water of May for this tough long-distance race.


How to become a successful artist y 100 secrets of the art World | Magnus Resch (10)

Author of six books on the art market, Magnus Resch holds a PhD in economics from Harvard University. His book How to become a succesful artist (published in 2021 in English only) is interesting because it combines precise data analysis with insightful case studies.

However, it has the great drawback that it is too focused on the large galleries and large art institutions, implying that if the artist does not manage to enter this select circuit in his early years he will fall into ostracism. However, it largely ignores an important group of artists who, with their own platforms and resources, manage to make a very comfortable living from art, earning 6 or even 7 figures annually in some cases.

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