Boom or Bust? The Art Bubble…

With news that house prices are once again rising out of control, that they need regulating and that a new bubble is forming, should we be concerned about the art market?

In this particular case what I mean by the art market is the very top end. The end reserved only to the top 1% of the world’s population. Just last month the New York branch of Christies held an auction that took almost 745 million dollars (Approximately £450 million sterling). Making it the highest grossing auction ever!

In the past such highs, such records have always come before a fall and it may be worth keeping an eye open for signs of a fall. Like most economic trends the art market is very much cyclical seeing drops fall in the 1990’s the 1970’s and during the Great Depression at the end of the 1920’s when many established Victorian and Edwardian artists whose art were breaking the records of their time crashed enormously, inflated initially by the types of auction we saw at Christies last week


Marc Quinn’s, sculptor of Kate Moss outside Christie’s New York which sold for $1.3million


The art market seems to have survived the latest crash, buoyed by investors from emerging markets in the Middle East, China and the newly wealthy looking to build collections. Another factor in all this seems to be a growing trend to guarantee the art coming to auctions, it transpires that 40 of the 72 lots on offer last week had already in theory been sold.

These guarantees cement high prices for the works of art pre-sale and prevent those works (and the artist) failing to sell looking weak in the eyes of the market. If the sale goes over the guarantee then the piece is sold to the highest bidder while the party who placed the guarantee gets a cut of the sale. This practice although not new is becoming increasingly common and threatens to artificially market prices. On the other hand, it also protects investment and does stave off market crashes and benefits us all across the entire art world. This practice is really no different to other measures imposed on the housing market, the banks and other sectors to try and ward off financial hardship.  
Despite the warning I gave earlier, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of these records or market highs just yet. The art market having survived the latest economic downturn relatively unscathed appears even more appealing to those looking to invest.  

Here at George Thornton Art we may not quite be selling our works to the 1% of society (yet), but a number of our artists, such as Kate Brinkworth and Laurie Williamson are already selling through auction houses. As in all areas, the artists we sell are driven by the fashions coming out of the top end of the market and the gallery thrives on a new breed of art fair, where buyers reflect and mirror the trends established at these types of events. Hopefully the art we deal in the gallery today will be tomorrows masters.

Artwork on line and available in the Nottingham gallery – 12A Flying Horse Walk, Nottingham, NG1 2HN



The Price of Art, are we all just getting a bit carried away?


Only a few weeks ago Wang Jianlin (the richest man in China) was lambasted by his fellow countrymen for spending $28million on a Pablo Picasso. Criticism over the purchase has been widespread in China and for several different reasons covering a whole area of issues political, cultural and ethical. One Chinese blogger asked:

 “With that money, how many sick people could receive treatment? Why not give something back to society first? China’s nouveau riche are short of nothing except conscience.”

Others have protested because Picasso is himself not Chinese and is a country eager to claw back its own national treasures and artwork, this seems like unpatriotic and wasteful act. Indeed it is widely felt in China that the $28 milllion would have been better spent at an auction specialising Chinese works of art and there has been a missed opportunity here. The same applies to upcoming Chinese artists, with groups feeling let down that such a vast amount has now ended up in the West where the auction was held (Christies – New York).

Jianlin’s aides hit back arguing that “Only an enterprise with culture can understand art and collect the best artwork in the world,” and that “Chinese people should be proud rather than focus on how much money was spent.”

Do the Chinese public have a point though? The price of art is booming and the game played by auction houses now seems to be one of merely, “which record can we break next?” Great for investors and sellers, but it doesn’t really seem to capture the real essence of art and threatens to cheapen the cultural impact of the work. Here in the gallery we look to take London art out of the London market with out stipulating the London art market pricing structure. Our prices are set on secondary market sales, artists cost and fluctuating trends and fashions, a set of practices that in my mind should be independently regulated.

 Although having always been a luxury good, the nature and extent of art has changed dramatically over the past few decades. David Zwirner asked “Why do we pay so much for Art?” This is quite a poignant question, with so many other things urgently requiring capital why is so much money plunged into the art market. Maybe the critics of Jianlin have a fair point and it may be time for us to question the larger picture as a whole and insist that these buyers take a more philanthropic approach, diverting funds into community projects and buying art works that benefit the larger cultural and social system whether repatriating art or acquiring works for national galleries and museums.

Looking to China

For many years now industry and services looked to China, the art world is no exception to this. It was only last week that we witnessed Art Basel’s first show in Hong Kong along with several other fringe events. This shift is nothing new, but the show takes Hong Kong and indeed China in the right direction to becoming a regional art hub.



Hong Kong’s access to the growing wealth of Chinese collectors combines with a highly developed infrastructure to facilitate trade that few locations in Asia can match. It’s a recipe that saw the city already rise to become the world’s third-largest art auction market after New York and London.
This is brilliant news for Western galleries and artists looking to expand into new markets. Hong Kong is already teeming with high end, branded Galleries from Hanart TZ and Schoneni. It’s even home to the AAF (Asian Art Fair)
It isn’t all good news though, despite Chinas’ growing economy and an every increasing Chinese middle class. Art sales have slowed considerably compared to 2013 with sales down some 50% on this time last year. In fact art sales in the U.K. and U.S.A actually far exceeded that of China, but there is still time for a come back. It was after all two Chinese artists who topped the 2012 best sellers list.
Even here at the gallery it is a Chinese artist ‘Xue Wang’ who’s work is consistently popular and sells well at increasingly good prices.


Xue Wang – The 41st Wink.
Framed dimensions 20″ x 27″. Original Oil on Board, priced at £1,500.
Own Art available over 18 months. No deposit, followed by instalments of just £83.33 per month.


This shift in the art world and the art market is by no means a bad thing, new markets offer new opportunities to all; galleries, artists and consumers who are now able to access a much larger volume of works, ideas and fresh techniques.
With more events to come out of China this year and major auction houses Christie’s & Sotheby’s hosting their ‘Post-War and Contemporary’ exhibts this should give investors another peak into the health of 2013’s market.


Timothy Hon Hung Lee – ‘I’ll Never be your Roman Candle’
Framed dimensions 22″ x 28″. Original Artwork: Ink on Rice paper, priced at £1,750.
Own Art available over 18 months. No deposit, followed by instalments of just £97.22 per month.

For more information contact the gallery

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