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Quality, quantity and value

Posted in Debate, Opinion by Adele Todd on May 5, 2008

The Jamaican painter Roberta Staddart’s oil of a bowl of fruit. Asking price, $95,000.

This weekend’s art crawl with friends proved to be a dismal disappointment. We were all quite upset with the quality of work seen in most of the spaces. The question that kept coming up was, what is the criteria for ‘good work’? What struck us in particular was the fact that some relatively good pieces were sitting next to very technically poor pieces, and the prices were all relative.

What is going on in the local galleries at this time? Why is quality suffering? Why are standards suffering? There are more people able to buy art at the moment, and they should be educated and enlightened to the buying process.

Asking the assistant about some of the very sky high prices yielded the firm conviction that the artist requested that price. The figures we encountered began at TT$7000 for a work in oil to TT$40,000 for a living artists’ watercolour.

I have said repeatedly that I have no argument with artists wanting to make money. My argument is about quality and value.

I have been noticing the standard of framing, and it is getting cheaper and cheaper as works get pricier. However sometimes one would be inclined to believe that the work costs what it does because of the overly ornate frame.

I am very concerned about what is happening with newer artists and their work. I do not know how their prices are judged and how they increase over time, particularly when no real standards are set regarding progression of technical skill, or new techniques, concepts and the like. How do younger, up and coming artists set their prices?

I have observed that the pattern is for the first show to do very well. After all, family and friends are very excited about supporting the artist. The second show is usually a bit less endorsed and the third show, takes even longer to happen, and the sales become even smaller. The prices sometimes stabilize, but here is where the selling and value becomes murky.

As a gallery hopper, you may like a certain artist and then see their work many years later for much more than you recall. Obviously there has been a resale value, and this is happening all over the world. Artists see their work selling for figures they never got when they made the work, and that is why Jeff Koons is one of the savviest artists in the world. But that’s another story.

In Trinidad and Tobago, what needs to be known is what is the going rate for watercolour, acrylic, oil, sculpture and other types of works? What is the cap for the heavyweight artists, the middling and the newcomer? Are these prices based on longevity? Skill? What about value? Is value really judged on genuine talent? Or on bragging rights or artists illness pushing up the desirability?

Many factors make art in Trinidad and Tobago worth what it is, and in response to this article, the argument may be that the buyers and sellers know what they want and what they are doing. That may be all well and good, but we have seen that the art market’s selling of work has shifted downwards in terms of quality, and that must be discussed more fully.

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