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Art Dealers Navigate Challenges and Seek Innovation to Sustain Market Appeal. But, How?

In the face of well-known challenges, including dwindling supply, perceived irrelevance, and investment concerns, the Old Master art market grapples with a supposed irreversible decline. Critics argue that the traditional appeal of these works doesn’t resonate in today’s art landscape, leading to a decline in interest and market value.

Dynamics of Discovery: A New Driver for Demand

The art market’s dynamics of discovery play a crucial role in reviving interest in Old Masters. Collectors and speculators seek hidden gems—flippable paintings by the next emerging artist. Dealers in historic art now scour auction websites for uncatalogued “sleepers,” emphasising the importance of astute discoveries in driving demand.

Canny Discoveries and Their Limits

Examining recent auctions, some notable discoveries have sparked interest. Paintings attributed to the “circle of Rembrandt” and previously undetected Canaletto views of Venice generated attention. However, these canny discoveries have their limits, with ceilings on their market potential evident in the auction results.

Top-Heavy Trade: Thriving at the High End

While the middle and lower markets for Old Masters may be out of fashion, the high end remains robust. Dealers specialising in top-tier Old Master works find success at prestigious art fairs like Tefaf Maastricht and Frieze Masters, where billionaires and institutions converge, providing a select market for substantial sales.

Tefaf Maastricht: Crucial Event for Old Masters

Tefaf Maastricht in March has become a pivotal event for the Old Master trade. Despite the challenges posed by logistics and expenses, dealers find it to be a crucial platform, especially for high-end sales to museums and wealthy private collectors. The fair’s emphasis on museums and institutions has increased in recent years.

The Shrinking Private Collecting Base

Dealers note a diminishing private collecting base for Old Masters at Tefaf Maastricht. While private collectors are disappearing, institutions and their patrons continue to play a significant role. The fair serves as a unique opportunity for direct interactions between dealers and influential figures from museums.

Challenges for Emerging Dealers: High Costs and Limited Appeal

For emerging dealers specialising in lower-priced items, exhibiting at Tefaf Maastricht poses challenges. The costs of participation, combined with the limited appeal of lower-priced items to museums and patrons, create a tough environment. Young dealers face the dilemma of making a profit in the demanding Old Master trade.

Tefaf Maastricht 2024: Adjustments and Expectations

Organisers of Tefaf Maastricht have responded to concerns by reducing the fair’s duration to seven days. While the move addresses some cost-related issues, younger dealers in the Old Master trade express the need for fairs that cater to the affordable end of the market, similar to contemporary fairs like Paris Internationale.

Selling Stories and Stylish Presentation

Successful Old Master dealers emphasize the importance of stylish presentation and compelling storytelling in selling historical art. While technically brilliant works may not be the most commercially obvious, dealers highlight the role of narratives and presentation in enhancing the appeal of Old Master pieces.

Old Master Market: High-Quality Works Thrive

Despite challenges in the lower market segments, the Old Master trade sustains healthy price levels for high-quality works, particularly those by renowned artists. Auction results, such as Sotheby’s guaranteeing the sale of a formal Velázquez portrait, indicate sustained interest and market strength in top-tier Old Master pieces.

The Need for Reinvention: An Affordable Old Art Fair?

The middle and lower ends of the historic art market are in dire need of reinvigoration and reinvention. As the trade grapples with challenges, there is speculation about the potential for an “Affordable Old Art Fair” to breathe new life into the market and cater to a wider range of collectors.

Source:Art Newspaper

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