READING PASSAGE 3
Questions 27 - 40
How to make art history
A "GREAT art stands the test of time," goes the adage. But how exactly is the work tested? Put another way, in a world where anything can be art and where concept is king, how do works by living artists accrue value? The answer lies beyond the art market, in the broader terrain of the art world where artists and their oeuvres undergo a complex filtering process that insiders call "validation".
B Validation is not straightforward. If you are pursuing a career in accountancy, you are confronted with a series of hurdles; clear them all, and you have arrived. For artists, life is much more complicated. In a social setting where the official rule is rule-breaking, the artist who crawls under the first hurdle, knocks over the second and does a strange scissor kick over the third may ultimately win the greatest recognition. Almost by definition, a competent artist is an insignificant one.
C Although most artists under 50 now have a fine-arts degree, after graduation, the biggest hurdle is finding a good dealer to represent them. "Validation is at the core of our business," explains Iwan Wirth, a dealer with galleries in London, Zurich and New York. "It is our expertise. Credibility is what an artist needs in the long run." When recruiting new artists, the quality of their work is most important, but with young artists a dealer may have only a few years of work to consider. "So you do a risk-assessment based on their character," says Mr Wirth.
D A gallery's credibility rests on its stable of artists. The location, scale and aesthetics of a gallery's exhibition space inspire confidence, and strong curatorial connections and monied clients make a difference. What matters most however is a cluster of artistic reputations. When recruiting, dealers often act on the recommendations of artists who are already on their roster. It helps lend coherence to the gallery's programme and acknowledges that other artists are important arbitrators.
E Emerging art galleries also need the approval of prestigious art fairs to be taken seriously. The four leading fairs, in Basel, London, Miami and Paris, are oversubscribed and turn away many applicants. They rely on rigorous selection committees to impose quality control and do their best to avoid any hint of cronyism. According to Amanda Sharp, co-owner of the Frieze Art Fair, "Frieze's number one unique selling point is integrity. We try to make decisions in as balanced and informed a way as possible."
F Repeated display in different contexts tests the work as well as building an audience for it. Within a given museum, project spaces, group shows and solo retrospectives offer different platforms. And not all museums are equal. The Museum of Modern Art in New York used to be the most important judge, but now institutions such as Tate Modern and the Centre Pompidou have the muscle to ratify artists. Even so, the authority of the institution is no guarantee of success; a poorly received exhibition in a renowned museum can be worse than no show at all.
G Since Andy Warhol, media exposure has been increasingly important and a handful of artists are celebrities of sorts. An artist's work needs to accumulate a body of interpretation and, better still, a series of narratives about the creation of the work that brings it to life. Artists' personalities are important to the marketability of their oeuvre. To that end, scathing reviews can be just as useful as good ones. They suggest the work has touched a nerve, violating good taste or established norms.
H Auction-house specialists suggest that there is a strong correlation between quality and price. As Amy Cappellazzo, deputy chairman of Christie's in America, puts it, "a high price can result from two people feeling emotional about an object in a way that defies the natural market. However, the best is worth more, by a large margin, than just a nice example. The auction process roots out quality and rewards it."
I A high price at auction, however, can be followed by a backlash if enough people feel that the artist does not deserve it. During the boom Anselm Reyle, a German artist who makes large series of decorative abstractions, was doing well at auction for a while, but his museum exposure was limited and it was widely felt that his prices had become unduly inflated. They have since come down dramatically. Ideally, the market follows other mechanisms of validation. "When the prices go sky-high, artists' careers can become unhinged and it can be psychologically difficult for them," says Victoria Miro, a London dealer. "Auction houses have enormous short-term influence but it is a bad sign if careers are managed there."
J Validation is closely linked to the perceived integrity of artists and the lasting truths evoked by their work. It is a complicated process in which the art world's many different constituencies - artists, dealers, curators, critics and collectors - all play a part. Unless they all believe in it, the work will not stand the test of time.