Art Business Lecturer Tom Flynn on the Current State of the Global Art Industry

17 Jul 2019

To continue providing current and relevant insight into the workings of the art world, Christie’s Education has refreshed its art business portfolio of courses and welcomed Dr Tom Flynn to the faculty in London. Tom is an art historian with specialist interests in the professional practices of the international art market, historical and contemporary sculpture, and issues in art crime and cultural heritage protection. 

What is the current state of global art industry?

I’m taking the term “industry” to mean the broader culture of art production and consumption. Despite the cutbacks and constraints from austerity, and the extraordinary geopolitical shifts witnessed over the past twenty years, the art world is booming. As for the global art market, it’s a complex mosaic of object categories, geographical territories, contrasting cultural currents and different price points. However, the global demand for the rare, the innovative and the authentic is as strong and universal as ever. 

What trends can you see on the art market in the first half of 2019?

A few things occur. The global art fair circuit shows no signs of slowing down, despite the punishing calendar of events and the increasing pressure on all of us to minimise our air travel for environmental reasons. Technology is another area of exciting development, particularly with AI, VR and Blockchain all vying for investment. This is now a crowded precinct and more than a little reminiscent of the dot-com period. Our challenge is to discern where the real value lies beyond the allure of branding and venture capital. We’re hearing promises of greater transparency and democratisation. Only time will tell whether they can be delivered in a market notable for its culture of privacy and confidentiality.   

How is the art market being transformed by trends such a globalisation, financialisation and digital disruption? 

Globalisation is not a new phenomenon, but the internet and digital communication technologies have intensified cross-border connectivity. Meanwhile, we’re witnessing a shift in the tectonic plates of the geopolitical landscape as power and influence move from West to East, as it were. There is now broad agreement that the so-called ‘financialisation’ of the art market continues to gather pace. This plays out in different ways. Intense competition among the world’s wealthiest collectors for the finest and rarest works brings ever higher prices. This has served to sharpen the focus on authenticity and provenance. Market participants at the top level are very investment-savvy, so rigorous due diligence procedures are needed to ensure, where possible, that art assets are free of risk and encumbrance. This may help explain the growing importance of forensic science, particularly as traditional expertise — whether it be in the form of connoisseurs or artists’ foundations — recedes due to fear of litigation.

Since you are going to teach the Art Business courses in London at Christie’s Education - is art a good business and how can it be transformed in the future?

The art world is a hugely enjoyable and rewarding sphere in which to build a career. As to whether it’s good from a business perspective, that clearly depends on what sector of the market one engages with, how knowledgeable you are about art historical traditions, and what kind of business skills and entrepreneurial instincts you are able to bring. Our job is to provide our students with the tools to navigate the ecology of the art market and the confidence to negotiate the network of relationships that give the market its very particular character. As for future transformation, technology will impact professional practice in a range of ways, while increasing activity among investors may increase the need for tighter regulation.  

For whom are these courses tailored and why is it important to understand the art business?

Christie’s Education courses are designed for anyone with a passion for art and business and how the two cultures interact. Students may seek a role in an auction house, a gallery, insurance, art law, journalism, or the investment and banking sectors; others might be focused on the non-profit realm such as museums or education. Whatever one’s instincts or career aspirations, the courses provide stimulating and enjoyable insights into a unique and fast-expanding market sector.

Christie’s Education Art Business offering ranges from certificate programmes, short courses and seasonal schools in London, New York and Hong Kong, as well as online courses, find out more here. Art Business is also an essential component of the 15-month, full-time, cross-disciplinary postgraduate programme Art, Law and Business in London and New York.