What you see: Art Collecting Today: Market Insights for Everyone Passionate About Art by Doug Woodham. *$24.99, Allworth Press.
Does it fit in my purse? Yes, just.
Cut to the chase. Should I buy this book? Yes.
You could call this Everything You Wanted to Know About the Art World, But Were Afraid to Ask, but Woodham wouldn’t, because he knows better than to reach for a joke that last got laughs in 1975.
Still, ACT serves that sort of role, explaining all the things you should know about art-collecting, but might not, or might have forgotten, and it does it without condescension.
ACT came out in Spring 2017 and has aged well overall (the GOP tax bill passed later that year affected the information on art and taxes, but c’mon,).
Woodham knows whereof he speaks, having embraced contemporary art as a 15-year-old and having followed a path that took him to a PhD in economics, a stint at McKinsey, and president of the Americas at Christie’s from 2012 to 2015.
This background helped him obtain almost 100 interviews for the book with collectors, art advisors (which is his current profession), auction house and gallery folks, lawyers, and others who might not normally speak as freely.
The material Woodham gathered from the anonymous dozens ensures that ACT is not a dry recitation of dos and don’ts. It pulls in topical art controversies that were live before May 2017, including the unusual threat that the Detroit Institute of the Arts faced in the wake of the city of Detroit declaring bankruptcy. It acknowledges the rise of Instagram and details its impact. It spends a chapter showing how six artists–Christopher Wool, Amedeo Modigliani, Yayoi Kusama, Rene Magritte, Ruth Asawa, and Elizabeth Murray–have seen their market reputations rise and fall.
And it deals head-on with the emotions of buyers and sellers. For ages, the tenets of economics assumed that market movers generally acted rationally. That’s never been true for art, and could never be true for art, because loving art isn’t rational. And art that goes unloved eventually goes unloved by the art marketplace.
ACT excels at grappling with the inherent irrationality of the art market, shedding light on its mysteries without killing its romance. It explores the alchemy of how love turns into money, or fails to, with deftness and brevity.
This book is perfect for subway journey reading and just-before-you-fall-asleep reading in that you can jump into it and out of it at will with the confidence that you’ll learn something, enjoy yourself, or both. Usually both.
Worth buying new, at full price.
Image is courtesy of Doug Woodham.
* I received Art Collecting Today as an advance review copy through one of the five people whose brains I picked when I was working out whether and how to do this blog. I’m confident that if I’d heard about it later, I would have bought it or put it on my wish list.
Art Collecting Today was originally published in Spring 2017.
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