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Book Review
‘Art of the Deal’ by Noah Horowitz
In recent decades, the dynamic and rapidly evolving world of contemporary art has transformed into a major global activity. It’s today seen and perceived by its relationship to market and portfolio building as never before. To grasp the phenomenal rise of art not only as an object of beauty to treasure but also as an asset to hold, it is necessary to puts things in a broader context and see our relationship to the world of art from a new perspective. This demands a proper analysis of the social and financial forces that govern today’s society and individuals.

Going beyond the clichés and common presumptions about art and money, a new book by Noah Horowitz takes the discussion to a more fundamental level. His ‘Art of the Deal’ examines the intricate relationship between the contemporary art market and the value of its objects. The author tackles more 'immaterial' genres that, in spite of their popularity in galleries and biennales, probably receive far less attention from auction houses and collectors: video and 'experiential art' (installations, performances, action art or any form of art, which focuses on experience and social interaction.)

Throwing light on the book in context of the changing dynamics, an introductory write-up to it mentions: “The Prices of works have been driven to almost unprecedented heights. Conventional boundaries within the art world have collapsed. Artists now think ever more strategically about how to advance their careers. They no longer simply make art, but package, sell, and brand it. The author takes a look at the globalization phenomenon and its impact on the art world, evaluating the changing face of the business, giving the clearest analysis yet of how investors speculate in the market and how new art forms like installation and video have been drawn into the commercial sphere. By examining these developments against the backdrop of the deflation of the art bubble in 2008, he demystifies the process of collecting and investing in today's market.”

An art historian and art market expert, Noah Horowitz has worked for institutions like the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo and the Serpentine Gallery, London. The writer-researcher received his PhD from London’s Courtauld Institute of Art. He is also a member of the faculty of the Sotheby's Institute of Art, New York and director of the VIP Art Fair, the first-ever exclusively online art fair. He carefully grasps the changes that have swept across the art markets globally in the last fifty years. It has turned a complex maze not easy to decipher for those not so well-connected. The story, as he tells it, takes us back to the 1950s, when leading museums, flush with post-war prosperity, started growing in size and power. The powerful institutions acquired all the old art, giving a fillip to prices. Gradually, collectors were drawn to the contemporary art market, as a result of which prices rose.

According to him, art market is not much different from other international markets, when it comes to behind-the-scenes activities and investing tactics involving a network of an investment consortium of collectors, art museums around the world, dealers and auction houses, with art buyers completing the chain. All the players can work together at times to transform little-known works into gems. This process is possible because the art market fuses two contradictory aspects: on the one hand, huge sums of money involved; on the other, objects with no tangible, easy to assign value as an asset. What does the new economic environment really mean for the art market? It’s not easy to say, though as things stand right now, Noah Horowitz argues, the system is apparently eroding the idea that art ‘is more than just an empty stepping stone to social, political, and economic enrichment.’ Ultimately, the art market depends on trust - both in the idea of art and in the basically artistic motives of the art institutions. The more dealers resemble speculators, and museum galleries showrooms, the more than trust will get undermined.

He deftly underlines the 'experiential streak' that drives the global art world, even while demarking the boundaries between prestige buying and investment in art for sound financial returns. In essence, he doesn't theorize or generalize facts. His arguments are well-balanced and practical, bringing economics and art together. He even sees YouTube and other popular online video platforms as offering new opportunities and exciting challenges for further development of exhibiting and collecting standards.

This stimulating and informative account of the market forces is based on Noah Horowitz meticulous analysis woven into historical examples. His deep insight of front- and backroom business by loss leaders, profit makers and dealers is telling adds an extra edge to smooth narration. The author, in a way, exposes the contemporary art market’s inner workings, explaining how this unique economy came to be, how it functions, and exactly where it's headed. This book is a must read for an art lover, collector or a generic investor who wants to fathom the future of contemporary art economy.