Assistant-produced art: Do collectors buy it? Wall Street Journal

CONTEMPORARY ART MARKET

The Wall Street Journal has highlighted what is often spoken about in hushed tones, if spoken about at all, among those in the art world: that many of today’s contemporary artists, including young artists, hire assistants to do their work.

A closerTsong Pu, 'The White Line on Grey', 1983, mixed media, 194 x 130 cm. In an effort to imitate the working methods of traditional Chinese embroidery, Pu asked for help from neighbours and family to complete this work. Image courtesy the artist. view of Tsong Pu's 'The White line on Grey' (1983).

Tsong Pu (Taiwan), 'The White Line on Grey', 1983, mixed media, 194 x 130 cm. In an effort to imitate the working methods of traditional Chinese embroidery, Pu asked for help from neighbours and family to complete this work. Image courtesy the artist.

Artist assistants a necessity

We all know that big name artists like the multi-disciplined Ai Weiwei and Japan’s Takashi Murakami use assistants and apprentices in the production of their artworks, but then there is high demand for their high-priced work. What does it mean when even emerging artists are taking up this method of working?

Art market insiders say soaring prices and demand for contemporary art is spurring the use of apprentices by more artists. The art world is divided on the practice; while some collectors and dealers put a premium on paintings and sculptures executed by an artist’s own hand, others say that assistants are a necessity in the contemporary market.

Click here to read the article, called “The Art Assembly Line”, in its entirety on The Wall Street Journal.

Early visitors to Ai Weiwei's 'Sunflower Seeds' (2010) were able to walk over the installation. Image from jomints.blogspot.com.

Ai Weiwei's 'Sunflower Seeds' (2010). Each seed is individually made, intricately handcrafted by over 1600 expert artisans. Image from jomints.blogspot.com.

Not such a new concept

Adam Sheffer, a partner at New York gallery Cheim & Read who is quoted in the article, attempts to provide an answer to this ‘phenomonen’, saying that some artists are choosing to take on assistants in an effort to keep up with an increasing demand for contemporary works while others consider the use of assistants to be more widely accepted today than in previous decades.

But is the ‘outsourcing’ of the labour needed to create your artistic concepts really such a new approach? As Wall Street Journal writer Stan Sesser points out, “Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Rubens relied heavily on the assistants in their studios,” as did pop artist Andy Warhol in the 1960s.

Iconic Pop artist Andy Warhol in his studio. 'Art workers' would make silkscreens and lithographs on an 'assembly line.' Image from deardearchicago.wordpress.com.

Iconic Pop artist Andy Warhol in his studio. 'Art workers' would make silkscreens and lithographs on an 'assembly line.' Image from deardearchicago.wordpress.com.

What do collectors want?

When it comes to collector preference, the collectors interviewed for the article seemed to want artist-made work. Florida-based contemporary art collector Beth Rudin DeWoody said she likes to buy drawings because they’re usually done by the artists themselves, and Michael and Susan Hort, collectors from New York, like to “see the artist’s hand in the work” they buy.

The dealers spoken to all seemed to agree that, at least for paintings, it was important to buyers that the work was done by the artist. For new media, mixed media, sculpture and photographic works, however, it is a different story.

Collectors often expect the use of assistants in fields like conceptual and video art, where the idea, rather than the execution, is key to the work’s value….

Artists, too, were quoted in the article. For those that used assistants, what mattered to them was their ability to maintain total creative control over the working methods of those assistants at all times. If this could be achieved, the artists felt the final work produced would be the same, whether they had made it themselves or not.

Meanwhile, here in Asia…

This article, published in The Wall Street Journal, gathers opinions from mostly American collectors, dealers and artists. We wonder what the response would be if collectors, dealers and artists from Asia were asked similar questions. Are you opposed to buying art that is assistant-made? Share you thoughts in the comments field below.

KN

Related Topics: buying art, overviews

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