Into Abstraction: Abstract Art Crosses New Boundaries

By Oswald, Hilary Masell | Art Business News, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Into Abstraction: Abstract Art Crosses New Boundaries


Oswald, Hilary Masell, Art Business News


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Much like the nature of the genre itself, the market for abstract art is full of surprises. Fortunately for publishers and galleries dealing in abstract art, developments in the market are positive, and artists are pushing creative boundaries in response.

"It's an exciting time to be in the abstract market," says Steve McKenzie, CEO of Artaissance, an online art publisher that represents more than 110 artists. "All things modern are really resurging with all of the mid-century furniture and clothing. Abstraction is a part of that trend."

Indeed, the market for abstraction seems healthy, as many artists move from representational work into pure abstraction, or at least add it to the mix of genres they're creating. Although some artists and publishers agree that the genre's breadth could overwhelm a first-time buyer, many say its diversity means that a collector can find a piece that perfectly suits his or her space, personality and style.

The Market: Interest in Abstract Climbs

McKenzie points to Generation X as one explanation for abstract art's popularity. Born in the 1960s and '70s, "this generation doesn't necessarily like to be told [what something means]," McKenzie says. "Abstraction creates a lot of freedom for them."

But Gen-X'ers aren't the only ones who are drawn to abstraction. Michael Havers, president of Toronto-based Progressive Fine Art, says he and his colleagues work with older collectors who are searching for abstracts for their second homes. "These homes seem to be more contemporary than buyers' first homes, so abstracts suit the space really well," he says. "It's a little surprising; these aren't the buyers you might expect for the abstract market, but here they are."

Another surprise, Havers says, is buyers' affinity for eclectic collections. "We're seeing more of a mix in how people are collecting and what they're willing to buy," he explains. "There was a time when buyers would never cross genres--[they would] never consider an abstract piece for one room if they had a traditional piece in another room, but that's changing."

Abstract art is growing in the corporate sector as well. Cristi Smith, president of Ford Smith Fine Art, says corporate buyers and interior designers continue to be important connoisseurs of abstract art. "Most abstract art is androgynous, not committed to a subject matter and most often not controversial," she says. "This is a huge appeal to this audience."

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The Challenge: Educating Buyers

Abstract art is often the media's favorite artistic punching bag. Every once in a while, reporters on television and in news magazines sucker-punch the entire genre by suggesting that the neighbor kid down the street could produce the same pieces that established artists create.

Couple the media's bias with the an unseasoned collector's belief that it's hard work to comprehend abstract art, and the techniques of marketing and selling abstract pieces change, requiring different strategies than selling Impressionist art, for example.

Some collectors, of course, require no help. Even if they're new to the genre, they respond to the color, form, movement or other quality in the work. But from the types who might shy away from abstract, McKenzie says he gets one of two responses: "What am I supposed to see?" or "I could do that."

"Part of the process [of selling abstractions] is getting consumers over that hump," McKenzie says. "Abstraction is about emotion and visual experience. It's the places it takes you, the pleasantness or severity of being around it." Publishers and gallery owners must figure out ways to help buyers understand that they don't have to be high-brow art critics to appreciate--and even love--abstraction.

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Smith recommends that galleries hire well-trained staff to help buyers understand the artist's intent and the quality of the piece. …

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