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Ask the Art Critic: Dave Hickey

Dave Hickey at 70 years old seems to have no fear of repercussions from the sharp barbs he delivered during his lecture at the Beyond the Borders International Art Fair on Sept 3, 2009. He has written for Rolling Stone, Art in America, Artforum, Harpers and Vanity Fair. His art gallery experience included his own, A Clean Well-Lighted Place in Austin, Texas and directorship of the Reese Palley Gallery in New York. He has served as Executive Editor for Art in America magazine, as contributing editor to The Village Voice. He has an international reputation and has been profiled in the New York and LA Times. He was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, known also as the "genius grant." He is currently an English professor at the University of Las Vegas. His speech was peppered with the phrase “Do you understand?” He wanted so much for us to get it and he used humor to achieve his goal. So here are a few of his opinions aimed to educate and encourage art collectors.

On the current art market crisis:

  • This is a normal 40 year correction in the art market.
  • Works in mid 6 figures are stable. Works under $10,000 are also stable. Works in between are finding their new level.
  • Criminals in the auction world and even criminal collectors manipulated prices and helped to bring on the economic downturn.
  • There are 6000 passionate people who think full time about art and that number has not changed in the last 100 years.

On art gallery dealers:

  • There are two types of dealers: matchmaker (those who will match a painting to a couch) and pimps.
  • The Art Gallery role is to support the prices of their artists.
  • Look for galleries which perform in a legal and morally correct way.
  • Make sure the gallery you choose likes what you like.
  • A good gallery should be prepared to take a work back for exchange or credit and should welcome upgrades.

On market prices:.

  • The role of the Auctions is not to establish prices. The price set at auction is only for that one piece on that one day.
  • Price is only escalated by the increased interest in the art work.
  • Price is affected by who owns the work and what condition it is in.
  • The quality of the work is the biggest secret of all and that affects price as well. If the work you buy becomes iconic you are a winner.
  • Always ask for a price list before you say a word. If you should mention that you like the work, the price goes up. Recognize who has the power to influence the market place. They are the ones with the power. It could be the dealer who controls what you can buy. It could be the collector who by buying can set a trend. The art market is all insider trading.
  • Art sells in pockets of interest. When a pocket is exhausted the market goes flat in that area.

Advice to collectors:

  • The mistakes you make teach you the most about what to collect. You think hard when you buy something in 5 figures, no matter how rich you are.
  • The Art world is a social place. You have to show up and look with your own eyes.
  • You must be able to value work compared to all other art. You can research with books and on line.
  • As long as you own a work of art, it is worth more than you paid for it…..until you sell it for less.
  • Art collecting is not for sissies.
Our A+ Art Blog is a report on the Beyond the Borders International Art Fair.