Is the art market the great art movement of the 21st century?

Art movements have been used to define the face of the art world time immemorial. Sometimes these movements are defined after they have come to pass, grouping artists working in tandem, and sometimes these movements are coined by a group of artists whilst they’re working as a collective. 

Art movements have been used to define the face of the art world time immemorial. Sometimes these movements are defined after they have come to pass, grouping artists working in tandem, and sometimes these movements are coined by a group of artists whilst they’re working as a collective. Despite how they came to be known, there has been a new and revolutionary movement every decade or so, of the 20th century. 

From Fauvism to Postmodernism, historians and artists alike pin new styles and schools of thought to a timeline, showing a clear evolution of art through the last several hundred years. However the timeline gets slightly blurry towards the end, and since the height of Pop Art in the 1960s, the blanket terms and generalised labels have fallen by the wayside. 

Throughout the late 20th century while the ‘isms’ began to fade, the art world began to acknowledge ‘scenes’ and ‘groups’ opposed to overarching movements., The Young British Artists for example may have been perceived differently had they emerged 50 years prior; however, due to changing perceptions and an increasingly interconnected world we don’t consider their collective a ‘movement’. Another example is Stuckism, a self proclaimed art movement that has expanded from 13 artists in 1999, to 236 groups across 52 countries in 2017 - despite the length and breadth of the movements it’s not considered decade defining or revolutionary by art world observers. 

The 21st century seems to be missing its counterpart to the revolutionary work of Cubism in the early 20th century that laid the foundations for contemporary art and the ideas surrounding it. Perhaps Globalism, the drastic changes in communication, and interconnectivity are changing the way art is made or maybe not enough time has passed to look at things retrospectively - perhaps the success of the market itself is stunting the formation of artistic movements. 

So how much has the art market grown?

Since the millennium, the art market has grown at an unprecedented rate; this is due to myriad factors. Two of the main areas of growth have been the emergence of China in the global art market, and the valuation of contemporary artwork. In the 1990s, China saw the emergence of a new financial elite, with this an increase in demand for all manner of luxury goods developed. A country with such rich artistic heritage, where up until 1976 it was illegal to own, inherit or exchange artwork, was hungry for the emerging market. From non-existent with no infrastructure in the 1990s, the Chinese art market grew from 1% of the global market in 2000 to 30% in 2011 and by 2013 had surpassed the US and became the largest art market in the world. Concurrently, in the last 20 years the contemporary art market has increased in size and value rapidly - by 2007 the contemporary art segment accounted for 15% of global art market value, with values for postwar and contemporary art increasing by 450% from 2003 to 2007. 

So what’s this all got to do with art movements? 

It's easy to forget when reading and writing about the cold financial facts of the art market, that it is so closely linked with the what, why and how of artists' creative pursuits, a dip in value or shift in preference can affect tastes and styles globally. Artists (consciously or not) resonate with these fluctuations and their work will change as a result. Perhaps it's not that globalisation and changing art world perceptions put an end to ‘isms’ and movements, but instead the fact that artists are creating work at a frequency and style that satisfies the market and complements their work's value. It could be suggested that this fast paced, more commercial approach to art production doesn’t lend itself to the creation of art movements and collectives. 

Will a great revolutionary art movement emerge or will time slowly reveal one? Only time can tell. What is for certain though, is that the growth of the global art market seems to have been wholly unaffected by the pandemic and is set to continue increasing. 

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