The Power of the Panel
By Heidi Lee | May 27, 2009
Falling prices, numerous layoffs and a huge decrease in sales has caused a shift in focus from the art market towards art history and connoisseurship. With more time on our hands we are beginning to appreciate art, in the real sense of the term. Museums are cutting back, artist’s markets have tanked and non-profits are still struggling for funds but the desire for art knowledge and understanding is on the rise. While licking our wounds we are blazing forward and anxiously trying to gain new perspective on where things stand now. One useful vehicle that has helped adjust our focus and chart the next steps towards a brighter future has been the traditional art panel. A slew of panel debates and discussions are popping up everywhere. Very simply, art professionals are brought together to debunk myths, challenge conventional thought, or divulge secrets of the trade. Art Chicago’s organizers Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. (MMPI) hosted a series of panel discussions called “Art Chicago Speaks” in April where contemporary curators were flown in from around the country to discuss art’s most pressing issues. MMPI created it as way to give non-art experts access to art in a way that was previously reserved for insiders or connoisseurs. It was also very effective in boosting sales. A Jim Nutt painting sold in the six figures exceeding expectations for the slow, high-end market.
In February, Intelligence Squared US/The Rosenkranz Foundation hosted “The Art Market is Less Ethical Than the Stock Market” panel that polled the audience before and after the session. It not only accurately measured how persuasive the actual debaters were supporting their positions it also measured exactly how influential the interactive format was in forming their opinions. Before the debate, 32% of the audience was for the motion and 30% was against it. After the debate, 55% was for the motion and 33% was against it. The significant change in numbers clearly demonstrates the power of the panel.
Panels also bring unlikely figures together that don’t normally carry an exchange. One would not typically see the artist Chuck Close debating an auction house head like Amy Capellazzo or Lisa Erf, the director of JP Morgan’s collection sharing corporate collecting strategies with high powered secondary market dealer Dominque Levy, as we saw at “The Art Market Is Less Ethical Than The Stock Market.” These contrasts usually make for an exciting exchange of ideas and invaluable insight. Sometimes figures can clash but that’s where the entertainment comes in.
More recently, Christie’s Education hosted its first annual “Art Leadership: Top Industry Leaders Discuss the Institutional and Economic Forces Affecting the Art Industry.” Christie’s Education Alumni Society organized it with the aim of giving alumni and students first-hand knowledge about the current state of the industry. Dr. Veronique Chagnon-Burke, moderator and director of studies, asked questions ranging from the status of emerging art to the role of the global market. After hearing the differing responses from the Christie’s panel on whether there has been a huge shift in the industry, you may have found yourself more confused than before you registered. The dealer on the panel said that the prices are the only things that had changed. Another said only the number of collectors changed. A third person said that spending is more stringent than ever and a fourth had a totally different response stating they need to completely rethink their mission since they laid off 10% of their workforce.
Art panels can serve as a key catalyst in reaching your core business or educational objectives. Whether it is to boost gallery sales, improve art fair attendance or enhance one’s career, the possibilities are endless. In an ailing economy like now, desperate times call for creative solutions even if it means dusting off an old idea from the past.