In an intriguing article in Art + Auction magazine, Dr. Clare McAndrew, an art market economist who runs the research and consulting firm Arts Economics, offered an interesting perspective on the economic fluctuations of the art world. Dr. McAndrew explained the extent to which the decorative arts have been drastically overwhelmed in dollar value by the fine arts. According to her research, 10 years ago the decorative arts market was 3 times greater than the fine arts market. Today, that “situation has completely turned on its head” as “decorative art is at a low point in its cycle”.
The duopoly of Christie’s and Sotheby’s has had something to do with it, as they aggressively try to control the high priced segment of both markets; but it works better with fine art. But their emphasis on either art form is ultimately directed by taste, knowledge, and financial considerations (it’s not free like air, aesthetics cost money). This trend of the last decade probably won’t get much worse and according to Dr. McAndrew, should stabilize and improve. I’ve always been told to buy when this type of condition hits the stock market.
I’d like to sound bells and whistles and sing “happy days are here again”, but first the decorative arts have to earn its standing back with the consumer. Do antiques and decorative arts not have the advantage of a decorative functionality? An aesthetic quality is an intrinsic part of any art form. Decorative arts somehow do not have the cache of name recognition. That quality is now attached to contemporary furniture designers, but is modern or contemporary the only area for decorative arts success?
Ultimately it comes down to taste trends and price point. From what was displayed at the style influential Kips Bay Decorator Show House, the parceled use of antiques, pre-1950 was self evident. It didn’t help having the venue in a 1950’s apartment building to better display how “antiques” are not necessary in that form of living. It was a Show Apartment, not a Show House. The great apartments of Park and Fifth Avenue use to be laden with great decorative arts. The times have dictated the efficiencies of fine art for display and as a burden for furniture and decorative arts.
The challenge of living in a world that puts a value on space requires the decorative arts to be perceived as more of a necessity for living. Appreciation of the craftsman’s time and effort to design and construct a decoratively functioning work of art is not an inherent weakness. The economics of a limited supply will never go away. The question is why we can’t live with antiques and decorative arts anymore and what can make them more appealing.