Super rich don't care about art, just money, say brokers
Published 15/02/2012 | 05:00
ART dealers have been reduced to mere "commodity brokers" as the super-rich have lost interest in the aesthetic value of major works and instead obsess about their monetary worth, according to one of the industry's most experienced auctioneers.
Anthony McNerney, head of contemporary art at Bonhams, said ahead of a flurry of sales in London this month, with work valued at £500m (€597m) on the market: "Many more people talk about art as an investment. A lot ask: 'Is this investment potential? Can we see it as an asset class?' I'm nervous about that. Art is a very volatile market.
"A lot of us were frustrated, it is always about the estimates and the deal, not the art. We wanted to talk about the works of art. It's whether the art works are important.
"When I started at Christie's many years ago clients would ask me about the work of art or the artist. In late 2007 they started asking, 'What's it going to cost me and how much will it be worth.' That's when you become a commodities broker."
Collector Charles Saatchi has also criticised the new "super-rich art-buying crowd" as "vulgar and depressingly shallow". He asked whether they liked the art or just wanted "big-brand name pictures".
Mr McNerney said the trend to target big names really started in 2005, until the market dried up in the wake of Lehman Brother's collapse three years later. "It has restarted now with prices going to a huge level," he said.
A fortnight of major auctions started at Christie's last week, where sales topped £135m (€161m). This followed a record breaking 2011 for art auctions. The Bonhams sale on Monday night saw a Frank Auerbach charcoal and chalk drawing of Freud sell for £480,000 (€574,000), close to the top of the range.