The museums, the market and the media
The discussion about recession, which started off in the United States, has continued throughout the autumn and winter of 2008 and has expanded into the art world, too. The issue is the focus of much interest, especially in the United States.
On a practical level, the totally private-funded and dependent US art world has already faced concrete changes, which affect their general operating budgets and therefore the size and nature of their exhibitions as well. The investing bank Lehman Brothers, for years a crucial nationwide sponsor for museums, is now history. It might well be that the remaining sponsors will cut down their support or even freeze it completely. The dilemma for museum exhibitions is that everything has to be planned years in advance. This will certainly become more difficult when the safety net is torn apart.
In reality, the effects of the recession will only really show at the end of 2008 when the number of donations and membership fees is clear. “Caution is the word of the moment”, the MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry points out. On the contrary, the Bank of America’s arts and culture executive (a bank still continuing with their sponsorship) thinks that in times like this corporate support to art is especially important because customer surveys indicate that the clients appreciate it (The New York Times, 20th October 2008). When the corporation supports art, art supports the corporate image.
In the art market the changes are very obvious. In November 2008 New York’s keynote auction houses Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury & Co hammered together 331 million dollars, which was far behind theirestimated 608 million dollar profit. The calculations were of course made before the bank crisis. The event was characterized as ‘New York’s half price art sale’ and it made certain brilliant acquisitions possible for some collectors (The Daily Telegraph, 17th November 2008).
There is some distance between Finland and New York, but even in Finland the prospect is changing all the time. “Sponsorship deals are usually long, something like three years, but corporations are now cautious and getting new deals may be difficult”, says the Finnish sponsorship pioneer and founder of the company Image Match, Raoul Grünstein.
“The deals are also part of the marketing budgets of the corporations. They can be cut down”, he continues. “My own line is that in bad times corporations should be active because that is how you can gain good market shares”. As far as Finland is concerned Grünstein is for a versatile art funding model, which combines public and private support.
The Helsinki based gallerist Ilona Anhava anticipates changes will effect the still quite stable Finnish art scene in the following way:” The museums will become more careful and the collectors may be forced to sell works they own. When budget cuts become reality it would be wise to base exhibitions on permanent collections”, she says.
Both US and Finnish art experts are concentrating on the evaluation of changes in attitudes in the art world. And this is something the media has vital influence on. “When the media is overly weary of bad times, the demand will diminish and so will the market, too”, Raoul Grünstein says. “Bad news always sell better than good news”, the international Helsinki based veteran gallerist Kaj Forsblom remarks, pointing out one of the fundamental problems embedded in the media.
As for the hunters of breaking news, it would be beneficial for them to remember that doing so you may also break your own ankle.