Fashion Bytes — Inequality and the Art Market

At the end of May, the New York Times ran a piece titled “How the Art Market Thrives on Inequality“. The article was an economic analysis of the art market, which is doing extremely well in spite of the economic depression with eleven of the 20 highest prices paid for art having been paid since 2008. The analysis argues that art is not a bubble market, but instead, “is a proxy for the fate of the superrich themselves.” 

While reading the article, I could not help but make comparisons to fashion, especially couture or pieces that are extremely rare. It brought to mind the exclusivity of, say, FIDM’s Alexander McQueen Peacock Dress, which was made specifically for them, or Daphne Guinness’s wardrobe, or the $75,000 paid for a zoot suit last November. What struck me most, though was what was unsaid and ignored by the article. FIDM Museum is precisely that — a museum; it purchased the dress in order to share it with the public. The article completely neglects to look at museum purchases, or donations by wealthy purchasers to public institutions, or how loaning private collections out or auctioning them for charity can benefit the public. However, there does seem to be an equivalency between the collection of fashion and the collection of art and that both are usually collected by the rich. Both can be statements of wealth and exclusivity. Not only is the art market is thriving, for the first time in decades, haute couture is returning a profit.

Is the article’s analysis that conspicuous consumption of art only benefits “the 1%” accurate or inaccurate? The piece ends by commenting on how few people make and spend large sums of money on art, and that most people involved in art do it for the mere love of it. Is this another similarity to fashion? Are the financial similarities proof that fashion is art? The article focuses exclusively on private, wealthy collectors and others who hope to make money from art; what important facts do they miss by ignoring the role of museums and galleries that display art to the public?  The analysis suggests that investing in art is a way to keep economic inequality going because it benefits only the already-rich. Is this true?  If so, what effect will this have on museums, galleries, and fashion?

Please share your thoughts.

Image via Wall Street Journal Heard on the Runway Blog

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