The art markets and the Global South – A mirage or a turning point?
Between 21 and 23 November, the MNAA (National Museum of Ancient Art) hosted the international conference The Art Market and the Global South, co-organized by the consortium Instituto de História da Arte, Universidade Nova de Lisboa; TIAMSA – The International Art Market Studies Association and Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul.
In this conference, themes related to the international scenario of the art markets of the Global South were debated. Which Global South is this? The term, although it refers theoretically to the emerging economies of the Southern Hemisphere, such as India, Southeast Asia, South America, Africa, and even countries in Southern Europe, stimulates various opinions among researchers. The renowned speaker Olav Velthius advocates a resurgence of the Global South. Other researchers, such as Alan Quemin, speak of a less homogeneous picture in a South that should be more global.
Keynote speaker Olav Velthius, a well-known researcher in the sociology of the arts, both cultural and economic, advocated not an emergence of the Global South, but a resurgence of these art markets. This process was born through a process known as bottom-up, organized in four phases: 1) “Proto-marketization”; 2) Legitimation; 3) Creation of Infrastructures; and 4) Commercialisation. Phase 1 is chaotic and spontaneous, when the first sales take place by foreign buyers, who visit emerging economies, or through exchanges with other artists or artistic groups. Phase 2 is the acceptance of contemporary art markets, with the legitimation of US and European curators and other groups of artists. The third phase is the creation of a space to support art and art market players, with art fairs, biennials and private museums. The final phase is commercialisation, which depends on art galleries, curators and museums choosing works of art for their collections or for exhibitions, legitimising and stimulating the purchase by multi-millionaire collectors.
Alan Quemin characterizes this Global South as being heterogenous. Is there really a Global South? According to this researcher, it is unlikely, because the South has many differences in relation to the integration of non-homogenous markets of contemporary art. The realities of Oceania, Brazil and Argentina are incomparable with the reality of Africa, even though they all belong to the Global South. That is why Quemin questions: What is the Global South? It is the periphery, according to the researcher. Paradoxically, Alan Quemin asks if there is a globalization in the art markets? Everyone thinks so, says the researcher, but his studies show that there isn’t. There is a hegemony in the rankings: a third are artists from the USA and a third are artists from Germany. More than a globalization, there is an internationalization. According to Quemin, there is no Global South, but several regions of South America, such as South America, the Mediterranean Sea, Africa, which are unique and heterogeneous.
Despite the relevance of multi-millionaire collectors (there is a positive relationship between the number of multi-millionaires and the values of the art markets per country), they influence the final process of the resurgence of the Global South, but they are not the ones who generate it. In addition to the usual suspects, including primary market artists (art galleries) and secondary market artists (auction houses), other actors, such as collectors, curators, and museum directors, also have influential roles.
In relation to Portugal, the outlook is optimistic. The country could benefit from tourism and real estate investment to attract potential collectors (temporary or resident in Portugal) to invest in our art and artist markets. However, it is urgent to create a network or group of contemporary art collectors. When will we define a long-term strategy for culture, as we did in tourism? Will the legitimacy of an institution like Cultura de Portugal be as important as the one that already exists in Turismo de Portugal? The cultural lobby, in its neutral sense, as a group that stands for national cultural interests, depends on a simple recipe: critical mass and the union of art market players, as well as the political will to execute.
This very important and timely conference has brought up issues of international and national relevance, which remain open:
1) How to coherently define the Global South?
The concept of the Global South for art markets is controversial and needs to be consolidated. There seem to be several concepts of the Global South. We have excluded the Global North (USA and Central and Northern Europe), but there are regions and countries that remain uncategorized. For example, are southern Europe and countries such as Portugal and Italy eligible?
2) When will the mapping and quantification of the value chain of the Portuguese art markets take place? How can we have transparent transaction values, especially in private sales?
The international reports present data that could be only half the reality of the art markets. As we know, private sales are hardly taken into account in market values. On the other hand, market players, such as art galleries, can be removed from rankings if they fail to pay commissions. In Portugal, there is a lack of a study that quantifies the value of the art markets. This would make it possible to promote an equitable sharing of income between tourism and culture, where culture is no longer the low-tier element and tourism the high-tier one. Transparency attaches real value to culture.
3) How can we deal with the asymmetry of information between the different market players?
This is not only a question of economic theory, but also a practical problem in the relationship between art galleries and artists, and of buyers or collectors with galleries and auctions. Those who know more about a work of art, or have more knowledge of art markets, can win in the market, just like investment fund managers, who try to profit from the stock market (according to conventional economic theory, a market is always efficient and limits the speculative margin of investors).
4) How should we answer questions of ethics and justice in the relationship between artists and art galleries?
Are galleries predators or prey, by demanding commissions that can reach 50% of the sale value of artists’ work? Or is it the artists who, when they reach fame, abandon the small and medium galleries that supported them, in order to stimulate their artistic careers?
These are some of the questions in the economy of culture, which are sometimes remembered, valued and talked about. But it needs to be put back into the cultural identity of a country. Then, perhaps, Culture may become a turning point in Portugal.