The behind-the-scenes players that move the market for art and influence the value of an object are the focus of the new exhibition The Business of Art: Evidence from the Art Market, at the Getty Center, March 16 - June 13, 2004. Featuring documents and other materials that trace business activity in the art market over the last 400 years, the exhibition offers an insider's look into the machinations behind art transactions, revealing the influence of artists, collectors, dealers, curators, critics, connoisseurs, and conservators in the business of art.
Presented in conjunction with the Getty Research Institute's 2003-04 research theme "Markets and Value," the exhibition sheds light on the little-known business side of the art world, and demonstrates the importance of learning about the history of collecting and provenance research. Drawn from the special collections of the Research Library at the Getty Research Institute, the display of rare and diverse materials spans the 16th through the 20th century, and includes dealers' stock books, artists' personal letters, codebooks, rare photographs, press clippings, scholars' diaries, inventories of private collections, agents' reports, early manuals of auction results for collectors, and other valuations of art.
"To fully understand art, you also have to understand the value people place on various works and why," says Thomas Crow, director of the Getty Research Institute. "The creation of art is a multilayered process and it is important to see all sides -- the creative process alongside patterns of reception and dissemination. That is why in addition to acquiring works of art, the Getty also collects supporting materials that help define and explain the works. This exhibition showcases just a fraction of our holding of rare and important historical documents that trace the history of the business of art."
Although art is bought, sold, or traded, it is not a commodity in the ordinary sense. The value of a work of art can fluctuate radically in an instant, depending on a number of factors, including the assessments of scholars and critics, the power and marketing savvy of dealers, the influence of artists, the taste of collectors, and the economy and fashion of the time. This exhibition is organized around the four key professions that make up the art market and set value: artist, collector, dealer, and scholar/critic. The exhibition also includes an art market case study that traces Rembrandt van Rijn's Portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels in the 20th century, following its movement through the art market.
Artist: Many artists go beyond the role of creator by acting as agents, dealers, critics, and collectors. The exhibition includes documents from two Italian artists based in Bologna that capture a crucial shift in the perception of works of art: from products crafted by a skilled hand to the singular creation of an individual mind. The first, Guercino (1591-1666), charged a fixed price for his work based on the number of figures in the composition, even pro-rating for half or three-quarter-length figures. To illustrate this pricing structure, on display is a receipt signed by Guercino recording a payment of 150 ducats for three paintings, a price based on the number and the size of the figures in the composition. From the same period and city is a letter written by the more forward-thinking Guido Reni (1575-1643), who chose to give his "extraordinary" painting as a "gift" to his client, requesting a reward only for the intellectual and emotive effect of the work, which he referred to as "respect" for the artist. In such a case, the value of the work was determined not only by the artist, but also by the collector.
Collector: A collector may acquire works for a variety of reasons: aesthetic preferences, investment, speculation, scholarly study, or even as a social outlet. The exhibition features documents that detail the transactions of an important British collector, Joseph Gillott (1799-1872), the successful inventor and manufacturer of steel pen nibs. He brought his hard-headed businessman's approach to his collecting, categorizing his art transactions as "sales," "bargains," and "deals" in his "Picture Transactions Ledger." He bought, sold, and traded paintings as any other asset, using cash, other works of art, pens, wine, horses, jewels, or violins.
Dealer: The role of dealer as a middleman between artists and collectors was established by the late 18th century, with the dealer acting as an arbiter of taste or guide for a collector. The legendary Duveen Brothers dominated the market in old master paintings and European decorative arts from the late 19th to the mid-20th century, with a clientele of the wealthiest patrons, predominantly American millionaires who were then emerging as major figures in the world art market. The vast Duveen archive, held at the Research Library, includes ledgers, sales records, invoices, and extensive correspondence, providing a nearly day-to-day, hour-by-hour account of how Duveen pursued major works of art for purchase and sought the advice of art experts. The Duveen records contain valuable information regarding the authenticity and provenance of art, and extensive documentation on the formation of public and private collections, in particular showing how a dealer can play an instrumental role in the formation of taste. The records also tell a fascinating story of trade secrets and the skill with which Duveen influenced newly rich collectors, and includes an amusing list of codenames for prominent players in the art market.
Scholar/Critic: Scholars and critics may be perceived as objective evaluators of quality, who enter the market bringing scientific and historical evidence to support their judgments. Yet they are just as intimately involved in setting market values as in assessing artistic ones. Correspondence of the prominent self-taught art historian John Pope-Hennessy (1913-1994) records how the United States Commissioner of Internal Revenue called upon him in 1970 to assist a panel of American museum directors and curators, professors, and dealers to determine the fair market value of Madonna and Child with Saints Jerome and Magdalen by Matteo di Giovanni Bartolo (ca. 1430-1495), which had been given by Philip Lehman to the Metropolitan Museum in 1965. The Getty's Research Library also holds the archives of several important European and American critics, including the papers of Clement Greenberg (1909-1994). Greenberg actively championed post-World War II American abstract art in his prolific writings, which not only increased its visibility but also its desirability. In his letter to the London dealer John Kasmin, Greenberg promotes the work of the artist Jules Olitski and advises on the proper way for Kasmin to display and therefore sell the artist's works.