Noah Horowitz


On his book Art of the Deal: Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market

Cover Interview of October 02, 2011

The wide angle

A few basic tropes characterize writing on the art market.

Economists focus almost exclusively on the auction trade, and paintings in particular.  The reason is straightforward enough: auction sales are public record (unlike dealer transactions which take place behind closed doors), and paintings make up the bulk of its value.  Years of economic research have produced a solid understanding of the cyclical ebbs and flows of prices at auction, and recent writing has shed intense light on the historical returns of investing in art—an imperfect science, but one of extreme interest in the market and a focal point of Art of the Deal.

At the opposite extreme, art historians, critics, curators and artists obsess over the role of value in a much broader sense.  Painting, for this camp, constitutes but one of many equally vital multidisciplinary practices.  Art’s philosophical, metaphysical and museological import reign supreme over commercial reality.  The market, in turn, is often perceived as a little more than a necessary means to an end, while talk of investment is taboo.  Dealers, themselves, are complicit in the game, with leading galleries seldom affixing prices to the wall and instead framing their sales process as a complex social dance—all the easier to make something as truly “priceless” if it has no obvious price.

My academic background bridges economics and art history and the book speaks multiple languages at once.  It reigns in key economic concepts and data all too often absent in art market writing and blends these with an understanding of the major recent developments in today’s artistic practice and discourse—from the rise of conceptual art to the opportunities and challenges of art’s migration online.

Readers from all sides should come away with a new appreciation of how the contemporary art market functions and the many nuances of today’s trade.