Abstraction is dead. At least, that’s what David Hockney believes, according to a column he wrote for The Art Newspaper. ‘Abstraction in art has run its course’ is the very definitive, wholly final, and entirely self-assured headline that accompanies the piece.
And Hockney is in a good position to pass judgement: he is, after all, one of the true living giants of contemporary painting. But is he right? Is abstraction really dead?
Hockney’s main argument is that abstraction’s job ‘was to take away the shadows that had dominated European art for centuries’. He’s referring to the move away from the dramatic lighting and chiaroscuro of pre-1840s painting towards the bright, shadow-less art of the impressionists. He sees abstraction as the last logical step in the de-shadowfication of painting. But in the same breath, he’s also saying that abstraction’s job was to shake off the shackles of centuries of art rules, and that its mission has been accomplished. He’s saying that abstraction isn’t necessary anymore because it did it, it took away those shadows, it destroyed the rule book and now we can all just get on with the task of starting again.
I mean, obviously, abstraction has created its own new set of rules (or shadows) for people to follow. But the old rules are still being torn down in new ways, and abstraction is as alive as it's ever been.
Post-pandemic, there is a thirst for painting unlike any we’ve seen for decades. Frieze, Art Basel, and the majority of the world’s best contemporary art galleries are full of works on canvas. A big chunk of those paintings will be abstract.
Just look at ‘Mixing It Up: Painting Today’, the Hayward Gallery’s major autumn show, dedicated to painters working today. Among them, you’ll find Oscar Murillo, Rachel Jones and Samara Scott, artists pushing abstraction in totally new directions.
Murillo politicises it, creating huge, daunting, oil stick images on sackcloth used for global trade. Rachel Jones uses it to explore ideas of the black body, through enormous, kaleidoscopic canvases. Samara Scott fills tubs of coloured liquid with plastic bags and phone chargers, twisting them into flowing compositions, like abstract portraits of everyday life. All of these artists are trading on the history of abstraction, but pushing it and morphing it.
And they’re doing well. Really well. According to data from Wondeur, Samara Scott
ranks in the top 4.56% of artists with the highest institutional recognition worldwide and is in the top 1.9% established artists with the fastest career growth worldwide, with 45% growth in the last 5 years in her career.
Rachel Jones, meanwhile, ranks in the top 8.89% of artists with the highest institutional recognition worldwide and is in the top 3.41% established artists with the fastest career growth worldwide. Her career has seen 255% growth in the last 5 years,
And Oscar Murillo (1986) ranks in the top 0.94% of artists with the highest institutional recognition worldwide. Oscar Murillo is in the top 10.9% star artists with the fastest career growth worldwide.
During that time, Oscar Murillo had 21 solo shows and 65 group shows at places like MoMA PS1, Haus der Kunst and Stockholm’s Moderna Museet among others.
And those three artists are just examples from one exhibition. Abstraction is everywhere. When you entered the Frieze tent this year, what were the first things you saw, right there in front of you? Abstracts, by Jennifer Guidi at Gagosian, a whole booth of them. And to your left? More abstracts by Lucy Bull at David Kordansky.
And all this is even before we consider the world of digital abstraction, where artists like Zach Lieberman are using algorithms and neural networks to create wholly abstract images from a totally new perspective. There is so much abstraction out there, doing so many interesting, new things.
‘Many critics used to say Piet Mondrian was the last of them. Perhaps it did go on a bit longer in the US. Frank Stella in his show at the Whitney Museum of American Art (2015-16) seemed to be saying this’, Hockney says in his article. For him, abstraction ended - at a push - with the minimalists. But abstraction didn’t run its course then, and it hasn’t run its course now, you just have to look around you and you’ll see it, absolutely everywhere.
By Eddy Frankel, ARTE Generali author
Wondeur uses quantitative analysis to clarify aspects of the art world and art market while respecting its main characteristics. The goal is to reconcile the mathematical and numerical practices with history of art knowledge in order to understand what gives value to art and what makes it such a cultural force. In order to do so, Wondeur has focused on the past century of history of art and has acquired data on the main artists and their careers. Wondeur has aggregated data for approximately 95% of artists born after 1900 and who have operated throughout the XX century. The data gathered covers all aspects of their careers, including factors such as personal and collective exhibitions, collections, acquisitions and publications. By leveraging on artificial intelligence, Wondeur is able to examine how such events are interconnected and to make predictions about possible future risks throughout an artist’s careers and potential variations in value of his or her artworks.
Moreover, Wondeur analyses the whole spectrum of the art world, including an assessment of its mechanisms, factors that determine its evolution, and the impact that each art institution (e.g. galleries, museums, non-profit institutions etc.) has on the art world as a whole. Wondeur differentiates itself from competitors thanks to the depth and breadth of its analyses and its capacity of identifying the actual factors that determine value’s evolution rather than simple trends. To this day, the majority of available solutions on the market focus exclusively on 1% of market transactions and mostly base their analyses on auction results. Through the implementation of a highly innovative approach, Wondeur yields significantly deeper analyses and insights, making it a strategic tool that advisors can use in managing art as a cultural asset class.
The partnership between ARTE Generali and Wondeur, makes it possible for ARTE Generali’s clients to access the latter’s services via the “Market trends” functionality available on the App. In this way, the collector not only can monitor the performance of artists who are already part of his or her collection, but also carry out comparisons amongst artists. Based on the data acquired from the collector, the platform can outline a positive trend for a specific artist (e.g. artist in “growth” phase) based on which the collector can choose whether to proceed with a purchase or not.
Wondeur also supports the management of institutional collections, such as corporate ones, by carrying out four level analyses based on the following parameters: by asset, by artist, by portfolio or by market performance. By uploading the necessary data on the platform, the system recognizes the artists and performs a portfolio analysis. In this way, the tool assesses their value and risk distribution in order to support advisors in the decision of which artworks to insure. Furthermore, this approach makes it possible to identify collection biases and to understand how to build collections that are more representative of current audiences.
In the past eight months, Wondeur has also been evolving its capacity to analyze NFTs, a trend with rising popularity in the art sector. Woundeur’s tool may already be used to analyze the values and risks of NFTs by applying predictive analysis to this new asset class. Italian artists play a significant role in this movement and have encountered so far the appreciation of numerous foreign collectors, especially in the United States.
Wondeur’s role could be compared to that of an art consultant supported by artificial intelligence. The latter does not aim at substituting the art expert’s competences but rather at integrating and enhancing them. There are currently two types of artificial intelligence. The first strives to replace human knowledge and, in the art world, this would represent a great mistake. The second is finalized at integrating and promoting human expertise. Wondeur focuses on the second and the combination of know-how and artificial intelligence are exactly what this market currently needs.
By Italo Carli
Italo Carli is Head of Arte Generali Italy since Februrary 2020. Following his degree in Electronic Engineering at Politecnico in Milan, he started his career in the IT sector and progressively transitioned to the insurance one where he specialized in Fine Art risks.
Sophie Perceval and Oliver Berger are both French and based in Toronto. They have founded the startup Wondeur AI which uses artificial intelligence and big data to analyze the impact that museums and cultural institutions have on the value of artists and their artworks.
In the past 10 years, there has been a great revolution in technologies applicable to the fine art world (e.g. related to custody, conservation and monitoring of artworks). Consequently, the world of collections has been forced to face its technological backwardness.
The two main areas where technology is currently present and applied are:
Customer journey digitization
Whether it is a private or a public collection, there are always two sides in managing the visitor’s journey: the direct visit experience on the visitor’s side, and its management on the cultural institution’s one.
Unfortunately, the digital maturity assessment conducted on Italian cultural institutions yields to this day rather disappointing results. The digital divide of Italian museums still places them behind their foreign equivalents.
According to a study conducted by ISTAT on a sample of 4800 Italian cultural institutions in 2020:
The impact of technologies on the art market
The field of valuations and appraisals is one of the most impacted by technology. The potential of online sales is already known. For instance, in 2020, 25% of auctions took place online compared to 9 % in 2019. Through these selling channels, over $12.4 billions worth of art were transacted, doubling the results of the previous year. Moreover, 90% of collectors with a high disposable income claim to have visited at least one art fair or galleria via digital means in the past year.
The panorama of technological tools currently operating the art world is progressively evolving but at present, such tools are mostly deployed as facilitators of the purchasing and data gathering process, thereby lacking of a decisive role in the approach that collectors have with the art world as a whole.
Amongst emerging players in this field, there are certainly marketplaces (e.g. Artsy), data aggregators (e.g. Artnet) and digital advisors (e.g. Ocula). In the past three years, several B2B and B2C art valuation software have appeared on the market, each with different maturity stages, purposes and data sources. These software provide estimates of the value of single artworks or collections based on the aggregation and analysis of digitally acquired data (e.g. pictures of the artwork, size, catalogue entries etc.). While the system carries out a “pre-screening” phase and accelerates it, human touch and expertise remain crucial for the process’ completion.
Such software match multiple valuation indexes depending on client needs and the initial business model (e.e. art work’s insurance, lending etc.). One of this approach’s weaknesses is that the values are attributed based on results registered on databases of reference, which in the majority of instances only include auction results. The latter are only representative of a portion of the art market, which is undoubtedly important but not the only one. Currently, there are still no univocal estimates on the latter’s weight on the art market as whole. In auction transactions, the seller is known while the buyer often is not and the valuations generated by these software exclude results from informal transactions or those that occur via alternative channels, thus leading to inaccuracies in their estimates.
The role covered by these software is to integrate, support and accelerate decisional process in a transparent way. Nonetheless, perplexities remain pertaining their predictive capacities, especially in instances where the sample is significantly enlarged. When the artwork subject to appraisal is by a lesser known or emerging artist with limited free float and a heterogeneous artistic production, a predictive software’s capacity to fill in the missing data is still to be defined and improved.
The other important aspect to be considered amongst the applications of artificial intelligence to artwork appraisals is related to the quality and accuracy of recommender systems. The latter constitute the main pillar of all platforms such as Amazon or Netflix. Algorithms are at the base of digital services, due to their ability of tracking user behavior, comparing it with that of other users, learning what user preferences are and based on these to generate recommendations of progressively increasing accuracy. Each recommender system functions in a unique way, thanks to its capacity of stimulating diversity, reducing user decision-making workload, increasing user satisfaction and supporting users to define their taste.
In the art world, recommender systems are also being used to support collectors or aspiring ones in their purchase decisions. Currently, only startups have worked towards the development of recommender systems in the artistic sector. However, these often lack of the necessary transaction and client data which are fundamental to progressively improve the recommender system’s accuracy and consequent effectiveness. Recommender systems’ bottleneck is that their predictive capacity is very effective when working on millions of users. When working on limited client and transaction datasets instead, the system’s predictive capacity requires more time to be refined.
Due to this reason, several startups to this day claim to be able of providing an efficient prediction service but they frequently lack of a sufficiently large statistical base for it to be truly effective since it takes time for machine learning to successfully work.
In the future, these recommender systems may conquer a market portion by focusing on a target audience with limited time to research art or who invests in art guided by speculative or other types of purposes. Lastly, according to a study conducted on Italian collectors by Banca Intesa, 93% of collectors claimed to be guided in the purchase of art by the ludic, intellectual or research pleasure. The true driver in their case is the pleasure of discovering something new. The risk for such a pleasure to be reduced or mitigated by the aforementioned recommender systems, inevitably leads one to be skeptical about the possibility for a mass dissemination of these software, especially in the B2C sphere.
By Guido Guerzoni
Guido Guerzoni is a lecturer of the Museum Management course at Bocconi University in Milan and professor at SDA Bocconi School of Management. He is part of the MIC’s Superior Council and technical Art Advisor of Banca d’Italia’s Museum and of Gallerie d’Intesa San Paolo. He is one of the most expert economists of culture.
Certainly, NFTs pose a challenge to the insurance world, which up until now has provided insurance coverages based on the notions of direct and material damage to physical artworks. The term “material” refers to the fact that the damage must affect the artwork’s materiality while “direct” indicates that the damage is not consequential.
Arte Generali’s fine art insurance policies cover accidental damages to artworks and upon the policy’s subscription, the market value of the art piece is established. In the case of damages or of loss (complete or partial) of the artwork’s value, the insurance company compensates the loss with its pecuniary equivalent, given the impossibility to replace the artwork with an identical one (given the concepts of uniqueness and originality). In the claim’s settlement phase, two aspects are taken into consideration: one tied to the artwork’s materiality, thus intervening on the piece by restoring it, while the other is associated with the art piece’s market value, based on which the depreciation resulting from the claim is calculated. “Depreciation” is this setting, refers to the loss of value as a consequence of a damage, which is computed in proportion to the loss of originality and authenticity.
While classical or traditional art (e.g. paintings, sculptures etc.) do not pose substantial challenges, contemporary art on the contrary often leads to face new challenges. Conceptual and immaterial art, amongst which NFTs can be included, certainly add a layer of complexity, also from an insurance standpoint, to the aforementioned concepts and processes. In the artwork’s dematerialization process, which frequently occurs in the contemporary art field, the concept of “hic and nunc” (here and now), proper of something original, authentic and non-repeatable, is no longer present. The insurance sector has worked so far with the concepts of uniqueness and authenticity, and thus in the context of objects that are non-substitutable and irreplaceable.
The challenge that contemporary art poses to the insurance world stems from the fact that in the former, the artist interrupts the creative process in the conceptual phase of the artwork’s ideation and consequently does not move the project forward until the realization of the tangible art piece. In these cases, the artistic creative process culminates with the production of documents, which allow to produce a tangible form of the artwork. It has taken decades for contemporary art to be understood and it is likely that the same will occur with digital art. In the case of Sol Lewitt’s artworks for instance, the artwork’s essence is to be found in the contract, in the certificate which establishes the relationship between the artist and the buyer. The certificate can be insured because it covers a double function: the first is that it is unique, just as in the case of an artwork, while the second is that certificates are usually tangible and most commonly under the form of a sheet of paper with original signatures.
In the case of files instead, can these be considered as objects? May one attribute to a file the same characteristics which can be found in a certificate tied to a conceptual art work? A token for instance, is numbered and this constitutes a permanent record of its authenticity and ownership. The system with which tokens are numbered may be compared to the approach applied to certificates, and thus lead to the possibility of insuring tokens. However, the latter do not align with the requirement of non-reproducibility and originality. Moreover, for what concerns the risk assessment practices that are usually applied in order to underwrite a fine art insurance policy (e.g. who manager the alarm system, safety measures in place in a museum etc.), it is complex to apply these to platforms dedicated to the trade of NFTs. At present, the necessary standards to insure these objects are not yet in place.
The fine art insurance sector has evolved over time to cover conceptual art pieces and probably the same will occur in the future for cryptoart when the insured items will be more defined and regulated from a market and legal standpoint. Our branch Assicurazioni Generali has taken a first step forward in this direction, given the potential tied to insuring these types of art works, by communicating alongside with YAS the launch of the first type of microinsurance coverage covering the loss and theft of NFTs. It will be interesting to see how this project will evolve in the future, also at on international scale.
By Cristina Resti
The art historian Cristina Resti works as an Art Expert and Art Network Manager at Arte Generali. She is also a lecturer in multiple master programs and universities, including for the “Economy and Art Market” course at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. She is also a member of ICOM’s Security and Emergency commission in Italy.
Sophie Chahinian started her career in film as an actor, but over the years has moved to the other side of the camera. Now, she runs The Artist Profile Archive, an in-depth resource filled with interviews with some of the world’s most important artists. Her work gives viewers an insight into the processes, ideas and lives of artists, and has featured stars like Chuck Close, Dan Graham, Robert Longo and Shirin Neshat. Here, she tells us about her relationships with these creative forces, and why documentary filmmaking is so important in contemporary art.
First of all, what is The Artist Profile Archive? What is it, what does it do?
The Artist Profile Archive is a uniquely curated video archive of contemporary artist profiles, wherein artists talk about their work in their own words, usually in their own studios. Additionally, the website offers multimedia content featuring exhibition photos, audio clips, biographies, as well as a glimpse of what goes on behind-the-scenes. As a production company, we offer filmmaking services for artists, galleries, museums and collectors.
How did you end up in film making?
I started in film as an actor and producer. I didn't realize it at the time, but my various experiences in film ended up being on-the-job training for becoming a filmmaker myself. When I completed my master's degree in contemporary art, I combined my two areas of interest.
Why focus on art documentaries rather than any other film discipline?
Art is something I believe in that has enriched my life immeasurably. Yet somehow many people feel that art is esoteric or that they don't get it or that it's not for them. Our objective at The Artist Profile Archive is to make contemporary art more understandable and accessible to anyone curious about it. Having the artists speak about their own work and personal journeys to becoming artists allows the audience to make a human connection and this adds to the experience of art and exhibitions.
The Artist Profile Archive’s artist films are short, accessible and freely available - do you feel like you’re providing a service, a way of getting people interested in art?
We are definitely providing an educational service with easily digestible content that also has a consistent production value.
How important as the internet been to building your brand?
I don't know if I would be doing this without the internet! The internet has given The Artist Profile Archive a place to live where others can enjoy.
Where does your own interest in art come from?
My interest in art was a solid appreciation of the Impressionists until I sat next to Light and Space artist, the late Eric Orr, on a flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I started working for him thereafter and in my capacity as his studio manager I was able to meet a lot of the artists who were living and working in Venice, CA. This opened up my eyes to contemporary art and the excitement of being able to experience art that is made by a living artist. I wanted others to also have access to that singular experience of hearing artists speak extemporaneously about their work and thus The Artist Profile Archive was born.
How do you choose who to work with?
When we accept a commission to make artist profile films for museums, galleries or artists, we include these films in the archive. When we are not commissioned, I select artists of critical significance who our audience would appreciate hearing from; we also have some lesser-known artists I've discovered whose work has inspired me when I have seen it in person and wondered who the artist behind it was.
Do any of the artists you’ve worked with hold a special place in your heart? Is there a standout film you’ve produced that means a lot to you ?
It was a tremendous privilege to be invited by Shirin Neshat to create a behind-the-scenes documentary during her filming of the Land of Dreams video installations. Going on location to New Mexico and being able to spend many days with her and her amazing film team was a fantastic learning experience, and the film that we made has been well received every time it has been shown. Even better is that Shirin and her partner Shoja Azari both loved how it turned out, and they have become dear friends.
Do you yourself collect art?
I have started collecting art. I wasn't planning to collect mostly female artists, but as it turns out, some of my favorite pieces are by women, including Carol Peligian, Farida El Gazzar, Letha Wilson, Sheree Hovsepian and Kelsey Henderson.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into your industry?
Documentary filmmaking requires patience and dedication, which means a huge investment of time, so be prepared!
Finally, what do you see as the future for the kind of art films you produce?
When I initially started making these films, I felt that I had to convince people that videos need to be on artist, gallery and museum websites. Now I don't have to. These films are appreciated as a valuable source of education, inspiration and celebration of contemporary art and the artists who make it. As we add more profiles to The Artist Profile Archive, the collection as a whole will come to have deeper meaning as a historical record over time.
Written by: ARTE Generali author Eddy Frankel
When comparing traditional art with digital art, one should focus on the following three fundamental elements:
The art piece itself:
The artist: one or more physical persons (both in the case of digital and traditional art)
Exhibiting the art piece:
Potential fiscal implications tied to NFTs from their creation, to their sale, to subsequent resales (phenomenon also referred to as “flipping”):
The transaction, transfer of ownership and amount paid for the NFT are recorded on the blockchain’s ledger every time a private individual or a company purchases an NFT. The system’s transparency allows to identify the price for which the artpiece was traded in every transaction. Should a private client purchase an NFT artwork, he or she is not subject to taxation but if another subject purchases it there may be different fiscal implications.
For what concerns the reporting obligations tied to NFTs in Italy, there is currently a regulatory gap. For RW bill statement purposes, it is not possible to include NFTs under the “art work” category amongst one’s assets. However, all subjects who are resident in Italy from a fiscal standpoint must compile the RW bill statement as part of the tax declaration process and should indicate:
The risk is for NFTs to be considered as financial assets, due to their similarity to cryptocurrencies, rather than assets. However, since NFTs are not fungible, these should not be treated as currencies or cryptocurrencies. The issue is that NFTs are traded using cryptocurrencies and this inevitably generates a risk profile associated with them. The “Agenzia delle Entrate”, Italian equivalent of the IRS, has yet to release a statement regarding its position on this matter. Lastly, accounting and taxation are closely interconnected. When managing clients who own cryptocurrencies or NFTs, it is necessary to identify them from an accounting standpoint. At present though, ad hoc standards and regulatory frameworks on this subject matter have yet to be introduced.
By Filippo Buzzi
Filippo Buzzi is Head of Blockchain Desk at Fidinam in Hong Kong. He has 14 years of international experience in the field of accounting, taxation and Finance. Within Fidinam, he established a dedicated team who provides consulting services on the crypto sector.