The Art Market Counterproductive to Creativity – Olafur Eliasson

by | Jun 27, 2015

Just before his new exhibition’s opening at the Langen Foundation, the artist Olafur Eliasson was interviewed by Artsy. Besides talking about his exhibition, Eliasson talked about the art market, creativity, and the relationship between the art world and the business world. I found his words important to share, especially in times when we hear constantly about the art market and record-breaking artworks.

Eliasson, Sculptor of light and space [as described beautifully on], is a Danish-Icelandic artist mostly known for large-scale installations as well as for sculptures. In 2003 he installed The Weather Project at the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern in London. “Representations of the sun and sky dominate the expanse of the Turbine Hall. A fine mist permeates the space as if creeping in from the environment outside,” was written at the Tate at the installation. I encourage you to see the photos, read the information, and watch the videos on Tate’s website at the following link.

The Weather Project

The artworks in the current exhibition are taken from a private collection, The Boros Collection which belongs to Christian Boros and Karen Lohmann, two of Eliasson’s collectors. When talking about them, Eliasson expressed gratitude and respect for his collectors’ ability to take risks. New collectors normally go with the trends and buy what’s “hot” or the “right thing,” but Eliasson refers to his collector’s ability to start buying his work long before he was known yet experimental.

What I think is interesting is that a show like this exposes a whole other side of the phenomenon of collecting. It should be no surprise that the more conspicuous nature of collecting art—by which I mean less speculative in terms of profitability, in terms of investment—has recently become the more predominant view of what collecting is. The truth is that there are actually collectors around like Christian and Karen who are taking great risks, buying really difficult work, and doing things on their own initiative. Of course, we would hope that shows like this can inspire younger collectors, young people in the private sector, to be more willing to take risks, to be less conspicuous, and to essentially have more trust in art and culture in general. We’re seeing a lot of young collectors who are coming to terms with what risk really means. A show like this could be an indicator of how taking on risk when purchasing works can be its own huge success.

When he was asked about the question of return on investment in art, Eliasson answered:

It’s also important that we don’t alienate them or make fun of them [the young collectors]. We need to inspire them to gain more confidence. How can they know better if they only go to art fairs? Without knowing it maybe, art fairs exercise such hostility towards art. The auction houses are also so career-oriented. And, in general, the whole sector of the art world that we call the “art market” has itself lost confidence in artistic values. So the people who enter the art world through the art market, I’m not surprised, become very conspicuous because the art market is not the best ambassador or representative for art. Sadly, on the contrary, it has become counterproductive to creativity.

When he was asked if the online media is a threat to the arts, he expressed his view and spoke about why the luxury brands that lost trust in the recent years after the crisis are trying to collaborate with art:

On the contrary, I’m very interested in the potential offered by online media…. I have great confidence in the cultural sector being able to create new networks and new alliances across disciplinary boundaries. Maybe not art alone, but I think that the trust that art and culture enjoy from civic society is something that can be turned into great momentum. In every small town, in every suburban area, in every part of the world, there is cultural activity…That’s why the cultural sector enjoys so much trust.

That’s also why the private sector and the luxury sector are increasingly buying into culture, because they are struggling with a loss of trust due to the financial crisis, shareholder driven decisions, non-ethical brand management, and so on. Now is our chance for the cultural sector to see how we can benefit from the private sector, now that they need us. I’m one of the more moderate people in the art world who think we should try to develop a relationship where we can benefit. The truth is, the cultural sector could use the private money. And it’s an illusion to think that the public money—which we should still maintain and exercise our relationship to—is free. We have seen a public sector that has gained a private quality: due diligence languages, for example. The public sector is not public anymore. It’s all one.  

Alexander Forbes’ interview with Olaifour Eliasson was originally published on in April 24, 2015. You can read the full interview here.


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