The art vendors along the narrow cobblestone streets of the famous Montmartre district in Paris sell everything from oil paintings to hand-blown glass sculptures, prices ranging from only a few euros to thousands. Last year, on a trip to the city with my friend, I set out on a mission to buy an affordable piece of art, ending up with only a cheap watercolor scene of the Paris skyline for my bathroom painted by a man sitting on a street corner with nothing but an easel for a studio. My friend thought it was pointless at first, buying a cheap piece of art from an unknown artist, but I would not be swayed, because even the most “trivial” art is an investment. Numerous famous artists from El Greco to Gauguin lived their lives in squalor. Even Van Gogh was only able to sell one painting during his lifetime. So in a city like Berlin, where talented artists are as common as gum on the asphalt, you never know, the world’s next great art icon could be waiting around the corner.
Art: Luxury or Necessity?
In the realm of the “penny pinchers,” Berlin reigns supreme. From businessmen in suits fishing bottles out of the trash can to get change to urban gardening to save money on produce, Berliners certainly know the value of a euro; especially the young 20-somethings fresh out of Uni and buried up to their eyeballs in student loans.
“The Berlin art scene is a very young one,” said Berlin-based artist Phil Amigo. “The interest in art is shared by all kinds of people, but few of them are in the end able to buy the works they‘re interested in.”
“Young people in Berlin struggle to pay their health insurance and rent inflations, so even when they love a piece of art, they may feel guilty to indulge,” explained George Ironside, co-founder of the art collective VAGE. “Often they spend their last euros at the bar appreciating the works on display.”
As any Econ 101 course would tell you, when assets are slim, the first items to be cut from the budget are luxury goods, a category in which most people would place art – which is why the purchase of artwork generally falls to the older, more financially stable generations who have more disposable income.
“When I first began to curate in Berlin in 2009, I always sold works to people affiliated with the artist,” explained Ironside. “But in recent times I have noticed many international and mature-aged people buying up the young and emerging artists’ work…they seem to understand it’s growing value.”
On the other side of the coin (no pun intended), artists struggling to find a viable market for their work in Berlin are oftentimes forced to turn to other cities where art is selling for more money – a phenomenon, which not only hurts the current art market in Berlin but also discourages other young artists from coming to the city.
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