Now that even the chancellor is in a blind panic and declaring that we are in for the worst recession in human history, can the art market sustain its recent craziness?
Some of us with a few quid in the bank might sense an opportunity to nip in and buy something relatively cheap, but if Frank Cohen, one of Britain’s biggest collectors of contemporary art, is correct, we’re almost certainly deluding ourselves. Galleries and collectors are more likely to sit on what they have than let it go at a significant discount.
“It’s not easy,” he says. “There’s not so much out there at the moment that I’m really interested in. I’m still looking at the odd Indian piece, still interested in China. But a few years ago I was buying at perhaps $10,000, and now they’re asking $150,000. You might expect prices to fall when the economy takes a downturn, but for some reason it never happens.
“It’s not like a house where you can pick up a house cheap during a recession.
“I remember when I was trying to get Dubuffets and Miros and the price never came down. People held on to them and eventually the market came back.
“Damien Hirst is going direct to the public by putting works into Sothebys next week. But if someone like him sells for $1m you can’t pick one up for $250,000. The dealers wouldn’t want that, Hirst wouldn’t want that.
“If you had bought an Armleder 10 years ago you could have picked it for nothing. These things now are like $8,000-$10,000, which is cheap in this market. Tracey [Emin] can get $100,000 for her work.
“A lot of fringe galleries showing mediocre work are finding it tough.
At the top end of the market you have the Abromoviches looking for Freud and Bacon, so those prices won’t come down, but they’re only looking for cream pieces.
“The art market has been on fire, but now I think everyone is waiting. People are more sceptical and dubious-minded, so they are holding fire.”