It is admirable how many artists have the motivation to create work regardless of financial remuneration.  Artists who live and make work in regions that have little to no art infrastructure on the one hand have the freedom to be creative, experimental and reactive without the boundaries that accompany exhibiting work in formal spaces. On the other hand, a lack of market infrastructure means there is a significant divide between achieving a sustainable art career at home and reaching the point of exhibiting and selling ones work in the global art market. Two major contributing factors to this market divide are the demographic of visitors coming in, and difficulties of geographic access.

Artists working in less established regions often make their work profitable by selling to people visiting the country, mostly tourists. By nature of the tourist industry, these are likely to be people who are looking to purchase a curio artwork, and are on the whole not likely to facilitate serious opportunity.  Not only this, in order to attract clients the tourist industry perpetuates an attitude of consumption and feeds the idea that less established regions are a bargain basement for buying art. Artists are certain to be under priced and “grateful for a sale”—as colonial history can attest, need allows for exploitation.

Ant Strack, Self Portrait, Artist Portrait Series, 2010. Courtesy the Artist

An artist could however become profitable by being “discovered” by a gallery or curator who can pave the way to exhibit work in more established art markets.  With technology bringing the globalized community together the latter is becoming more viable, however geography still imposes major limitations.

For the sake of argument, let’s use the obvious example of transporting artwork for exhibition:  Talented South African photographer Ant Strack is beginning to exhibit abroad. A curator has asked him to send a print to Brooklyn for a show. FexEz charges $377.76 to travel a standard size 38-inch high and 6-inch diameter tube weighing 10 pounds (interestingly enough, UPS is not available in this country). Fair enough that this is the southernmost point of Africa; however, add this expense on top of artwork insurance, customs expenses, and a galleries commission, not to mention the added time it takes to transport a package, and the risk of an artwork in transit. The outlay is considerable in relation to the market value of the work, which is $2000- $3000 per print. In order to keep his pricing stable these expenses need to somehow be absorbed.

By the time these additional expenses are tallied, many artists are priced out of the market. Unless their reputation is at a stage that can demand a higher price tag, investing in an unknown artist from ones of these regions is a large initial outlay, and often requires long-term investment and the assurance that this artist will be a pay off down the line.

Claire Breukel

Claire Breukel is a South Africa-born contemporary art curator and writer. Her interest is in contemporary art that falls outside of conventional modes of exhibition, and often affiliated with “developing”...

One reply on “Art From The Developing World: A Bargain Basement?”

  1. I hate to compare Tampa, Florida to South Africa but this sounds familiar.  Some would think that with the increasing virtuality of the art world, physical location would also be an increasingly moot point.  Major art cities are still fetishized, though (no prob with that, I love NY – I was born there).  Don’t get me wrong, art sells here, as long as its a pseudo-impressionist beach scene or its a Thomas Kinkade – he’s got a gallery/shop down here…in the mall!  

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