Gallerists and heeled assistants running from one place to another, public relations agents flooding email and WhatsApp inboxes, the hubbub of artists in the restaurants in the center of the city… Everything points to the fact that we are a few days away from the start of the Art Week in Mexico City —from February 6 to 12—, an event that little by little gains more presence in the international art market calendar. Normality is installed, neither face masks are mandatory, nor restricted capacity, so it would be the first edition of Art Week without the ghosts of Covid-19. But could it be that the art market has already overcome the crisis that unleashed the pandemic?
At the end of last year, the Satellite Account of the Culture of Mexico of INEGI reported that the culture sector presented a growth of 7.5% during 2021 and that the areas of the sector with the greatest recovery were music and concerts, performing arts and shows, and crafts. The opposite was the case for the area of visual and plastic arts, since it was the only one that decreased (less than 4.2%), the one that contributed the least to cultural GDP (0.9%) and one of the ones that generated the least jobs, contributing only 1.5%. %, just like the performing arts.
Eduardo Cruz Vázquez, an analyst in the cultural sector, explains in an interview that these data are a representative sample of the value chain and reflect that in 2021 “there was no good business, there were no sales of supplies or work, in any of the outlet channels.
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The also founder of Reflection Group on Economy and Culture (Grecu) warns that these figures from the Satellite Account of the Culture of Mexico must be read with the nuance that they not only refer to the sale of art in galleries, but that it is a representative sample of the value chain, which goes from inputs required by an artist to produce a work of art, to the sale of art in department stores, other commercial establishments beyond galleries (coffee shops, bookstores, frame shops), art fairs, in art markets, direct sales between individuals and much more.
Cruz Vazquez It also indicates that these figures must be read objectively, because “the art market is one of the most difficult markets to monitor because there are many informal operations and many below the market price.”
The outlook could be considered grim for art dealers and artists, but it seems that demanding greater growth from the art industry or waiting for it to reach the levels of the music industry (which in 2021 had a growth of 28.4%), would be going against their own nature and logic.
“Visual art is different from music and other forms of expression, because it is not consumed at any time,” clarifies Brett Schultz, director of the Material Fair, a meeting that will start its next edition on February 9 and will host 57 exhibitors. from 30 cities and 15 countries. equipment, along with ACME and Zona Maco, It is one of the most important meetings of the Art Week.
Schultz says that he does not take a bad view of the 2021 figures, because “a much worse decrease had been expected”, but that the market is currently recovering quickly.
“I don’t know if it’s bad that it doesn’t grow so much, it’s a quality of the visual arts, it’s an industry that’s very resistant to consolidation, it’s driven by entrepreneurs and small businesses. It doesn’t have distribution mechanisms like music, which has established, easy-to-understand distribution channels. The art industry obeys its own mechanisms. It is an industry of the size that it needs to be, ”he maintains.
“The art market in Mexico is in good health, and there is more and more interest, it is a time to observe what the galleries offer,” adds Andrea Zapata, a graduate of Yale University and director of Investments in art at LS. /Gallery.
Zapata claims that the Art Week and the windows offered by art fairs are a sales driver: “they make a selection, there are high-level curators, such as Art Basel or Frieze and it is also the case of Zona Maco. Not only Mexican collectors attend, but also Latin Americans and even from other countries. It is a great showcase for Mexican galleries to offer their art to the world”.
“The art market is small, it is not deficient or insufficient, it is small and that is the way it has been”, Cruz Vázquez maintains. To give an idea of the size of this industry, of the 709 thousand 161 million current pesos that Mexicans spent on cultural goods and services in 2021, only 1% belongs to the area of visual and plastic arts.
One of the factors dictating the natural size of the Mexican art market is collectors (or lack thereof).
Collecting in Mexico
The analyst Eduardo Cruz Vázquez assures that this industry contributes little to the economy because it requires buyers with significant purchasing power and there are not enough of them in Mexico.
For his part, Zapata explains that art “moves with variables contrary to what is happening in the market. The economic crises mainly affect the middle class, art buyers do not belong to this sector”that collectors buy art as a “refuge asset” and that if collecting in our country has not grown it is because there is also a lack of knowledge about investing in art.
Domitila Bedel, an Argentine gallery owner, says that shortly after the confinement, sales recovered, but the clientele changed. While many borders remained closed, Mexico remained open and digital nomads and tourists became a strong clientele at Machete Galería, Bedel’s space in Roma Norte. “Digital nomads used to buy many works by emerging artists because they decorate their apartments and they thought it was a good price. I do feel that they have helped us a lot, although at what cost, in the end with their presence prices grow ”, she admits.
Bedel describes that many young professionals began to buy art, but this new generation stopped with the pandemic. “Little by little it is restarting, but it has brought with it debts and inflation, which greatly affects young people,” he adds.
“We are fine, what happens is that inflation in Mexico grew a lot, operating expenses increased a lot, rent and salary expenses as well, and we still do not have local collectors, more than a few. We get used to those who come from abroad. (…) Many of us had to maintain a non-operation for almost a year, and then go out and start to see what we did. I closed the gallery a bit due to the exhaustion that left me trying to survive during the pandemic, I lost my energy ”, says the Argentine gallery owner. Despite saying goodbye to her gallery, Bedel maintains Trastienda, a space with works by emerging talents with more affordable prices that seek to promote collecting. Trastienda will open again in March, now at Campeche #130, in Roma Sur.
Is there a future in the NFT?
At the end of 2021, specialists predicted that in 2022 blockchain technology and cryptocurrency payments would gain strength. However, last year cryptocurrencies and the crypto art market suffered a series of blows and controversies that undermined their reputation.
“Nobody cares about NFTs anymore. The NFT they are deader than death itself,” said Amy Castor, a cryptocurrency specialist and contributor to The Art Newspaper a THE UNIVERSAL at the end of 2022.
Regarding whether the sale of NFTs has also been affected in the Mexican art market, Bedel considers that precisely because of the controversies surrounding cryptocurrencies, there is not much future in this field.
Contrary to this idea, Schultz considers that it is not necessary to draw hasty conclusions and allow time for this format to evolve, since he remembers that when the web emerged there were also skeptics who did not see a future for it.
1.5% WAS THE CONTRIBUTION from the visual, plastic and performing arts to the generation of jobs in 2021, according to the Satellite Account.
Owned by Argentine Domitila Bedel, Trastienda is a space with works by emerging talents at more affordable prices. Photo: Machete Gallery
“Visual art is different from music and other forms of expression, because it is not consumed at any time”
Brett Schultz, director of the Material Fair
“Not only Mexican collectors attend, but Latin Americans and even from other countries. It is a great showcase for Mexican galleries to offer their art to the world”
Andrea Zapata, Director of Investments in Art at LS/Galería
“Many of us had to maintain a non-operation for almost a year, and then go out and start to see what we did. I closed the gallery a little because of the exhaustion that left me trying to survive during the pandemic ”
Domitila Bedel, Argentine gallery owner
“The art market is one of the most difficult markets to monitor because there are many informal operations and many below the market price”
Eduardo Cruz Vázquez, analyst of the cultural sector
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