Did Reaganomics Work for the Art World?

I’ve noticed a few people credit Reaganomics — or the growing wealth gap — with the art world boom. A few weeks ago, I pointed to a quote by Santa Fe dealer Peter de La Fuente, who blamed Obama for the New Mexican city’s art problems:

“I hate to be a snob, but what we’re getting now is a bunch of 99 percenters, and they’re very appreciative, but they’re not collectors,” he said. “The people who are collectors, my clients, are the 1 percent, people who can afford art and fine art and expensive art …

“We [need] to get rid of Obama and let the people make money again. Profit is not a bad thing. It’s what makes this country go.”

And now in the Wall Street Journal, Deborah Kass, who is talking about what it was like to move to New York as an artist in the 1970s, has this to say:

“In the ’80s, with Reganomics, everything started changing. Dallas and Dynasty. Money became very fashionable. It was the tax breaks for the last 30 years that made the art world into what you expected to be a part of. It’s the one place where trickle-down economics worked.”

All this makes me wonder if the issue is being framed accurately. Is there a misconception about art and the reasons for its success or is this reality? The boom in private money flowing into all things art comes at a time when public arts money continues to shrink in the United States and elsewhere but is there a bigger shift at work? Is the misery of others really the source for the prosperity for art?

My personal hope is that one day visual art will be able to create a mass-oriented culture in much the same way music, literature, cinema and other art forms have.

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