I had a conversation with a curator friend the other day about just what museums were spending their money on. He says that contemporary art is getting the lion's share of attention, which baffles him. He doesn't really begrudge that fact, instead he feels it is inevitable, but what he begrudges is the lack of understanding that guides the contemporary art field. He says that he is still looking for the edge that will give him the grip on what contemporary art is trying to be.
I, too, am looking for that edge. I would dearly love to understand contemporary art. How does someone become a modern master? It seems either presumptuous or premature to give an artist that label. My lack of understanding is revealed in the end game of the art market, or at least art in the last twenty years that it has become an investment. I remember when English furniture was considered an investment. That was not true then and it certainly isn't true today.
The only thing I can relate it to is the market for real estate in London. I was there last year and virtually every single person I talked to mentioned the real estate market. Clearly, London is an attractive city for foreign money and, furthermore, foreigners do not have to pay tax on profits they make on London real estate. Such incentives are creating a bubble that currently has no end. Rational explanations are only part of the picture however, given how much time people spend talking about the market.
Contemporary art is intriguing and often beguiling, but rational explanations for the explosion in value of a few artists belies the reality of what time can do to an artist's work. Clearly everyone, including the museum world, understands this. Some of the money they will spend on a big name now may not be a big name in fifty years. But for collectors who want to manipulate concepts such as taste and tax law, the game has become one of very high stakes.
At this point, we are not really talking about art.