Takashi Murakami mixing up geo-politics in the art market

In the last decade the art market has not only more than doubled its sales value, but also saw a remarkable change in its geographical distribution. The keyplayers like the United States and Europe started to intensively compete with market participants from the Middle East, Asia and South America according to the Tefaf report of 2014 which summarizes the main global developments within the art market (2014, p. 24-26). Because of their booming economies these new participants enforce the ongoing globalization of the art market to present. However, at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, there is no reason of calling this constant development a trend as globalization of economies cannot be considered as a deniable process within the global market anymore. Therefore we have to ask how a market for contemporary art can be seen as an economic and institutional network functioning in an ongoing global environment.

The art market itself is a very exclusionary economy on its own as Horrowitz points out (2011, p. 19-20) and Takashi Murakami is playing a significant role during the last decade. His sales show a widespread performance over the main art hotspots in the world (Fig. 1) and his sales returns are skyrocketing (Fig. 2). Murakami takes over all main aspects from producing art in a diversity of genres up to the global distribution and marketing of his work.

This strategy allows him to overgo one main problem of the globalized art market network as he is no longer reliable on a local based producer/distributor of his works. He spreads his work to increase his global market return as well as to grant institutional significance. If he would, for instance, stay in a local market or did not have the possibility to increase his global market value by supplying art for an international audience, he would have never been able to adopt his artistic style in the global art world. The consequence would have been a tremendous impact on his market value. Murakamis´ strategy in this case, is also supported by his diversified portfolio. His company Kaikai Kiki Co. (f. 2001) shows an interesting establishment of a global artist brand within a variety of  market sectors because he is not only able to produce solely on his own but he can also control the marketing for his work as well as offering mass produced contemporary design products and merchandising services. In 2007 he created the cover and layout for Kayne West album Graduation. He also accepted an offer from Louis Vuitton to supply them with designs for collections which ended up in a widespread collaboration with the fashion house as described in an interview with Yves Carcelle by van Benningson (2009, p. 292-299). Becker describes this shift of an artist from one sector to another:

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“Art worlds typically have intimate and extensive relations with the worlds from which they try to distinguish themselves. They share sources of supply with those other worlds, recruit personnel from them, adopt ideas that origniate in them, and compete with them for audiences and financial support”

(1982, p.26)

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We can say Murakami acts like an international brand on its own and does not rely on the differentiation between art and commercial offers anymore. This lead him to international success in both markets and exemplifies the possibility that artists are now more than ever able to ignore the fact where art is produced and by whom it is distributed. Referring to the positive development of shifting the international market towards Asia (especially China and Hong Kong) Murakami also saw a constant increase in his price ratio.

Murakami also takes advantage of one of the main aspects of a global developing art network – the booming of cultural and commercial institutions. Horowitz, managing director of the Armory Show, points out that there has been a significant increase of museums, galleries and biennales around the world over the last years (2011; p. 16). Murakami was able to use the possibilities these institutions can add to his market value. He was presented in solo exhibitions at the Guggenheim Bilbao in 2009 and in Versaille in 2010. On the other hand this lack of sensibility concerning an institutional epidome like Versaille can cause cultural discrepancies ending up in the result that the commercialization within the art market destroys the last thresholds of art and culture itself. Pamela Lee, professor for art history at Stanford University, mentions that the art market does not create any serious environment for art anymore. As biennales are being established everywhere, it becomes harder to make a reasonable distinction of high quality art and commercially hyped kitsch. She also refers to the fact that the introduction of a biennale or an art fair has become more of a national branding and political positioning rather than an event focused on the qualities of the most important artists of our time (2012, p. 12-14). A lack of high quality presentation of art as mentioned by Robertson and Chong might in the long run influence the consistent value of artists because when the institutions in which their works are stored do not gain positive cultural value anymore, then biennales and museums won´t be able to have significant influence on the artists reputation (2008, p. 8).

Another disadvantage of a stable network like the art market is lack of innovation. Auction houses, galleries and museums still operate on a level nearly ignoring the technological possibilities offered today and online sales were still be estimated of just about 5% of global sales. Although there have been several enterprises getting stake in the commercial art online market like artsy, larry´s list or the collaboration between Sotheby´s and Ebay just to mention a few, no reliable source has been introduced by now and online sales figures could not compete with direct sales so far. So the international art market has to face this problem or else they suffer from a huge shift in stakeholders and main competitors in the market not just divided geographically but between physical and digital markets.

Text by Daniel Lippitsch

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Bibliography
Secondary Literature
Becker, H. (1982): Art worlds. Berkeley:University of California Press Berkeley.
Horowitz, N. (2011): The art of the deal. New Jersey: Princeton Press.
Lee, P. (2012): Forgetting the art world. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Robertson, I. / Chong, D. (2008): The art business. New York City: Routledge.
Von Benningsen, S. / Gludowacz, I. / van Hagen, S. (2009): Global art. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.
Journal Articles
Becker, H. (1976): Art worlds and social types. in: American behavioral scientist, Vol. 19, No. 6, July/August, p. 703-718.
Reports
TEFAF (2014): Tefaf art market report 2014. The global art market, with a focus on the US and China. Maastrich: European Art Foundation.

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