The future of the global art market: emerging art scenes of today and tomorrow


Andrew Russeth - Marina Abramovic, The Artist is Present, 2010. Full image credit at end of article

There are certain locations that have long been synonymous with the upper echelons of the international art scene. From the sun-drenched Art Basel Miami Beach to the hallowed halls of Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses, collectors and art-lovers alike flock to these art-world institutions in their thousands, and have done, in some cases, for centuries. It’s easy to imagine that most collectors know by heart the list of the ten most sought-after artists in the world: Andy Warhol, Picasso, Damien Hirst, Gerhard Richter, Cindy Sherman, Sol LeWitt… an American-dominated cohort with the occasional Brit, German, or Spaniard in the mix, and indeed, these names reflect the general trends amongst the old guard of the art market and its institu tions.

However, the recently-published Art Collector Report 2014 tells a slightly different story, examining the new forces at play in the art world and looking ahead to emerging art scenes and markets around the world. Amongst the report’s most important findings is the growth of the Brazilian and Chinese markets, which now rank fifth and fourth in the world by number of collectors, falling close behind the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States. More striking yet is the vitality of the Brazilian market, in which almost a third of collections are less than 15 years old (27% of Brazilian collections were established after 2001), and of its epicentre São Paolo, the world’s third most important city by number of collectors. For our 200th article of the week, AMA explores these emerging art scenes, characterised by innovation, strong growth, and willingness to participate in a global discourse around the fast-evolving art world, and considers the opportu nities and challenges facing these markets.

Rising starts of the contemporary art scene
Firstly, it is important to distinguish between truly up-and-coming areas and the regions that are already in the midst of a cultural boom, and have been at the forefront of the world’s burgeoning artistic scenes for decades; namely Brazil and China. Though often associated with the other emerging art scenes in their respective regions, these heavyweights in the global art market are leagues ahead of their neighbours; indeed, Brazil is home to 57% of South American collectors. Nonetheless, Colombia and Argentina, the latter of which has the second largest collector base in South America, are paving the way with initiatives such as the arteBA fair, which welcomed 77,000 visitors in 2014, and the Buenos Aires Performance Biennale, which opened its doors on 27 April for this year’s edition, and is hosting none other than the acclaimed performance artist Marina Abramovic. Meanwhile, Colombia is taking centre stage at ARCOmadrid, and is guest of honour at this year’s edition of the fair, which is taking place until 1 March 2015.

The Asia Pacific region, which was in the spotlight at the recent Art Paris Art Fair thanks to the selection of Singaporean galleries invited to the event, is a perfect example of an emerging regional art scene with a bright future. Indeed, South East Asia’s recent economic development is closely linked to the blossoming art markets found in countries such as China, Japan, India, Indonesia, South Korea, and the city-state of Singapore. There are a number of promising factors contributing to the growth of the region’s artistic and cultural scene, from the youth of the market – 45% of Chinese collections were established between 2001 and 2012, and 36% of Indian collectors are under 41 years old – to the strong interest shown by Western countries in the burgeoning Asian art market, in addition to the creation of several new institutions in the region, such as the National Gallery of Singapore.

As directors of the Beirut Art Fair and the Singapore Art Fairs, Pascal Odille and Laure d’Hauteville are pioneering figures in the emerging art scenes of the Middle East and North Africa, a group of countries nicknamed ME.NA.SA. This term, which would seem to describe a relatively disparate group of countries, in fact captures a commercial reality in the region, which d’Hauteville describes as “fertile environment”, profiting from a strong interest in culture and the arts. By contrast, Central and Eastern Europe have received less attention from the art world, partially because of the more fragmented nature of their markets, which is less conducive to success in a highly-globalised market.

Local versus international markets
If we consider the composition of most major art collections, there is often a strong correlation between the nationality of the collector and that of the artists they collect. The Brazilian and Chinese markets provide striking examples of this phenomenon, with 98% of Brazilian collectors dedicating their collections to local artists. Of the thirty most collected artists in Brazil, there is not a single foreigner to be found. Nevertheless, Vik Muniz, who occupies the 38th position amongst the world’s most collected artists, does not feature in the top ten most collected artists in Brazil, and instead appears to participate more in an international than a Brazilian market.

This dichotomy between the local and global art markets is explained, in the case of Brazil, by the economic barrier posed by the taxes on the import of foreign artworks, which are relatively high. There remain, however, other cases in which this correlation seems to arise more from a preference of collectors for artists from their own countries or from shared artistic and cultural tastes. The Chinese market, for example, which comes in second globally in terms of its share of the contemporary and Post-War market (28%), is marked by a particularly strong interest in rare works. As collector William Lim explains, amongst the Hong Kong collector base the number of contemporary artworks produced in China in the last 30 or 40 years “is very small compared to the Chinese population, which explains the high demand for contemporary works”, the highly competitive nature of the market, and the record prices fetched by artists in the sector.

On the other end of the spectrum are countries such as Vietnam and Romania, in which the local market is practically non-existent. Indeed, in Vietman, as Nguyen Phuong Linh explains, the vast majority of collectors are foreigners, with a tiny contingent of locals. The Quynh gallery, the country’s only commercial venue to offer contemporary art, is owned by an American-Vietnamese gallerist, Quynh Pham. Jan de Maere, an art historian of the University of Brussels and Duke University, paints a very different picture of the Romanian art scene. Whilst the country is home to a large number of talented artists, most of whom are based in Cluj-Napoca, local artists look to the global market for buyers and collectors. “These artists are often taken on by foreign galleries, which launch them onto the international scene. It is in the international art market that these artists find the greatest chance of success,” says de Maere.

Expanding horizons
Nevertheless, regional galleries and institutions are not lacking in initiatives aimed at fostering local interest and creating new markets, often starting with students and establishing an educational framework to promote contemporary art. This notion is championed by Björn Geldhof, deputy artistic director of the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kiev, who explains: “Our audience is very young, so it’s important that we reach them using their preferred media. They are the intended audience for our videos […], which provide an introduction to what we do at the centre.” Putting in place such structures, which are, in the main, open to the general public, generates interest and investment in contemporary art, often seen as inaccessible to the uninitiated, in emerging art scenes. It is worth remembering that China owes its first contemporary art museum to the generous donations of a private collector, whose collection consisted largely of Western art. Likewise, for Laure d’Hautevill e and Pascal Odille education and discovery are at the heart of their Signapore and Beirut-based fairs. The latter, whose inaugural edition took place in November 2014, places educational events at the heart of the fair, in the aim of expanding the artistic horizons of audiences in the MENASA region with its programme of conferences, performances, Street art, and public exhibitions, an approach founded in the belief that an academic and intellectual appreciation of an artwork adds much to its value. The “French touch” that d’Hauteville and Odille bring to the burgeoning Singaporean artistic scene is not a unique phenomenon, however. Swiss-born Lorenzo Rudolph, another European fair director, has become a key player in the Asian art scene with his Singapore-based contemporary art fair Art Stage Singapore. But does the prominence of so many European imports amongst the leading figures in the Singaporean market mean that the local scene is lacking its own resources?

Contemporary art with an Asian identity
To hold such a view would be, however, to ignore some of the most exciting developments on the Singaporean art scene. Indeed, as Rudolph points out in an interview with AMA, his fair maintains a strongly Asian identity despite its Western origins. In the 2015 edition of the fair, for example, more than 70% of galleries were Asian, a deliberate choice on the part of organisers who hope to see more of Asia’s best artists represented by Asian galleries. Moreover, alongside the Western fair directors that may seem to dominate the Singaporean scene, there is Singapore-native Alan Koh, who has recently been appointed director of Singapore’s Affordable Art Fair, perhaps a sign of things to come in the region…

And alongside this divide, yet to be totally eradicated, between Western and local forces in the emerging Asian art scenes striving to secure a place on the international stage, we find another subtle, yet perceptible, trend. Though such scenes are highly dynamic, it seems that Singapore, with its hopes to assert itself as the capital of the South East Asian renaissance, is beginning to establish itself as the figurehead of regional art scenes. The exhibitors at the recent Art Paris Art Fair, at which Singapore was the guest of honour, tell a similar story: the fair’s Singaporean galleries represented not only Singaporean, but also Thai, Indonesian, and Burmese artists. And yet this Singaporean hegemony is hardly surprising if we compare the city state’s cultural policy to that of Vietnam, for example, where contemporary art is met with a certain reticence, if not outright condemnation, from officials. That said, South East Asian contemporary artists may have found a spokesper son in Khairuddin Hori, recently appointed deputy director of programming at the Palais de Tokyo. Formerly of the Singapore Art Museum, Hori is currently working on the exhibition “Secret Archipelago”, which presents a selection of works by more than 40 artists, who, for the most part, have never before been exhibited outside their home countries.

Media and the emerging artist
Many of the emerging artists from these regions work in relatively isolated conditions, and, as such, are often free from the constraints of tailoring their artistic output to the trends in the global contemporary scene, and the whims of its institutions. We can find a key example of this in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, in which a group of highly engaged artists and curators, working in a collective called “Beta-Local” are transforming a fledgling, and still fragile, art scene into a fertile ground for artistic production and innovation. In an area still threatened with financial instability, these artists are perfecting the art of “creative leisure”, working at a leisurely pace, and one that allows them to eschew the demands of the market. This approach, founded upon both social and aesthetic concerns, is known as “tropicale-povera.” Other notable examples of this include the project presented by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla as part of the United Sta tes pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale, entitled “Gloria”, in which professional athletes jogged on a treadmill, their movement powering the wheels of an upturned tank, whilst further away a replica of the statue of liberty perfected her tan in a sun-bed.

Given that performance art, in essence, represents a dematerialisation of the art object and a criticism of the mechanisms of the art market, the popularity of the medium amongst today’s Vietnamese artists is hardly surprising, especially since it does not require complex or costly materials or pose the same challenges in terms of exhibition and installation as more traditional media. As Nguyen Phuong Linh points out, performance art allows the artist to create using only their body and other rudimentary materials. A similarly pragmatic take on choice of media is presented by Pascal Odille, who explains that photography is a very important medium for Middle Eastern artists. Amongst the principal advantages of photography, and its cousin video art, are their accessibility, the direct sensory experience they offer the viewer, and the opportunity for a wide diffusion through multiples and copies. Indeed, it is this very diversity of approaches that reveals what gives these scenes t heir richness and vitality: the desire to push boundaries, and the ability to create simple yet powerful work, rooted in, though by no means confined to, the artists’ geographical, cultural, and artistic context.


Image courtesy of Andrews Russeth under creative commons license.