“Does the Art World Need Transparency?” is the topic of the next Art Innovators Alliance event on 24th September. In anticipation, we asked writer and art market analyst Ivan Macquisten 5 quickfire questions about the art world, transparency, and their relationship. Macquisten has spent 30 years as a journalist and business advisor and now runs ImacQ, his own business, media and public affairs consultancy. Find out more about him here.
Does the art market have a transparency problem?
I think it has several transparency problems, but they arise from two or three far larger problems: trust, prejudice and ideology, all of which are stacked against the art market and its players. Lack of trust is the result of a poor understanding of the market, the perception that it is not really regulated (it is, heavily and will soon be directly thanks to 5AMDL) and the valid need for discretion and confidentiality at times. Dishonesty can play a part in this too, so I’m not saying there isn’t a problem with that.
Prejudice is the result of jealousy, fear and lack of understanding, and also combines with the growing takeover of ideology in most aspects of life today to create a climate where numerous people outside of the market either want to close it down or restrict it heavily in line with their own, often misguided beliefs. I spend a great deal of my time advising the antiquities trade and have been astonished at the level of fake news, poor research and ignorance internationally among some of our most powerful decision-makers in their opposition to the trade. Too many have utterly closed minds and this is likely to become a much bigger problem for a far wider cross-section of the art market.
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about the art market?
That most art market professionals are extremely wealthy. The value of the entire global art market is equivalent to around 12% of the market capitalisation value of Facebook. Most businesses in the art market comprise no more than two or three people, and there are very few really big players.
Do you think there are circumstances (in the art world generally) where lack of transparency can be a positive thing?
Not just positive but essential. Too much public information about what a collector has and where they keep it, for instance, could have implications for security and insurance. Also, just like in any other industry, if you give up all of your trade secrets, you risk having someone else walk away with your business.
To use the dreaded B word – do you foresee Brexit having a big impact on art transactions?
I have written professionally about Brexit for the Art Newspaper and chaired panel debates on the subject over the past couple of years. I am absolutely certain of two things: no one really knows the likely extent of its impact and whatever happens is likely to be the result of unintended consequences. Having said that, I would be astounded if, at least in the short term, the mere fact of change did not create significant challenges for areas such as logistics and client confidence. However, the continued uncertainty means that it is already having an impact on the latter, so we need a quick resolution to rebuild that confidence. On a positive note, I also think it will create unforeseen opportunities that I hope will help mitigate some of the downsides. Also, I have tremendous confidence in the professionalism of our leading art market businesses in the UK, including the ancillary support firms, whose technology and systems lead the world in many ways. With the UK market coming second only to the US in terms of importance and value – roughly on a par with China – these people will not be leaving things to chance. I have already seen how some of the shippers have been preparing for the prospect of major change over the past three years, for instance.
Let’s not kid ourselves that the ride won’t be bumpy, but let’s not make matters worse by talking ourselves into abject failure either.
On an entirely different note, please tell me about a piece of art that has haunted you for many years…
The Wilton Diptych c.1395-99. Not just because it is so extraordinary for such an amazing piece of art that was so personal to an English monarch to have survived so well across the centuries, but also because of its iconography and because we now know that it probably inspired Shakespeare when he wrote Richard II. When the tiny orb at the top of the angel’s banner was cleaned around 25 years ago, it revealed a map of Britain originally set in a silver sea. Did this inspire the famous John of Gaunt speech from Richard II where he describes England as “this little world/This precious stone set in a silver sea”? And part of Act III Scene 2 of Richard II seems to have been directly inspired by the angels and the composition of the Diptych.T
Join us on 24th September in London for the next Art Innovators Alliance event. The panelists include:
Philip Hoffman, Founder & CEO of The Fine Art Group
Christine Bourron, Founder & CEO Pi‐eX
Ivan Macquisten, Writer, Commentator, Analyst, Collector
Moderated by Bernadine Brocker Wieder, Vastari Co-founder, this will be a lively and topical debate.
Tickets free, limited capacity, bookings essential.
Here is a write up of the previous Art Innovators Alliance event.