Our annual printed publication – the CoBo Supplement strives to increase awareness by serving as a platform to develop conversations pertaining to contemporary art. This year’s edition, released to coincide with Art Basel Hong Kong 2019, features the opinions and viewpoints of over fifty influential, global art leaders on eleven dynamic topics addressing significant ongoing discourses in the art world. To kickstart our conversation we bring to you the musings of Stefan Simchowitz, Georgina Adams, Jennifer Yum and Jonathan Crockett, on the Blue Chip Art Phenomenon.
Text: Stefan Simchowitz, Georgina Adam, Jennifer Yum, and Jonathan Crockett
Images: Courtesy of contributors and Pablo Helguera.
Stefan Simchowitz, Collector, Dealer, and Art World Provocateur
Blue Chips – I prefer Jalapenos!
“Blue chip” art, is phrase liberally, broadly, and over used by advocates of art at the highest price, in the art business, today. Used primarily by the “high end” professional selling army of the global gallery and auction system, blue chip art is accepted readily by wealthy buyers – who wish to be considered “collectors” and “connoisseurs.” The nomenclature suggests that this is the conservative and safe way to buy art.
All we have to do now is change a few adjectives. Let’s consider “collectors” = “investors,” “connoisseurs” = “aspirational wealthy elites,” “blue chip” = “expensive,” and “conservative” = “clueless.”
Most of the people I have met who collect blue chip will tell you proudly they only collect that category, and they recently bought a Murakami or a Basquiat and would scratch their head at the mention of Francis Picabia. In other words, most “conservative collectors” today who are “connoisseurs” collecting “blue chip” art are in fact CLUELESS ASPIRATIONAL WEALTHY ELITES BUYING / INVESTING IN EXPENSIVE THINGS.
At the dawn of time there was no blue chip. There was cave art – artists who clearly liked hunting and spending time indoors to avoid the cold. Then the Renaissance – artists who figured out that interpreting the iconography of the Catholic Church was a great way to make a living. There was Marinetti and the Futurists – artists fascinated with the machine age. There was Pop Art, whose practitioners figured out that art could be produced more efficiently than it had been in the previous 5,000 years. And so many other movements. We are now in the 21st Century and most “blue chip” collectors think that if they have heard of it, then its solid; and if they ain’t, then it just ain’t important. The professionals selling this line of merchandising know the simple rule – market it hard, make it expensive, and call it blue chip.
Emerging contemporary art has been largely demonized as speculative and “unsafe.” Of course it has! Who wants to be selling major works for USD1,000 to USD250,000 when you can sell “major” works for USD1 million to USD100 million. The fetishization of “blue chip” art has been a tremendous boon to an increasingly narrow band of players at the expense of broadening the market, collector bases and the countless emerging artists globally who should have broader support commercially and institutionally. The institutions are more than happy to service the blue chip agenda because it is in service of their board members and the blue chip artists who make donations to their prestigious and lucrative charity auctions.
As you can tell, I don’t have high regard for this term. I just love great art. Take the blue pill and invest in great art and be a real authentic human being. Or take the red pill like many people and be an aspirational, inauthentic wealthy investor. Limited cultural comprehension makes people buy art as if hunting brands, like Gucci or Prada. Try and comprehend that you spent your entire life making money and now that you are rich, you are not automatically an art connoisseur. It’s easy to market a handful of names to this culturally pea-brained class of individuals. Big money. Blue chip.
I prefer jalapeno-flavoured chips and sometimes salt and vinegar. My son likes plain and barbecue: comes in the same bag, just has more flavour.
One final suggestion on this subject: shake the bag well to distribute the flavour evenly!
Georgina Adam, Art market editor-at-large, The Art Newspaper
As always, Stefan shakes everything up in his unique fashion, and as always, he is provocative – and both right and wrong. Yes, there is a category of investor who buys “blue chip” art for purely financial reasons: the works are by museum-validated, established names and the likelihood of losing money is extremely low. Does that make the buyers pea-brained? I don’t think so; anyone who puts major sums into any purchase, not just art, is entitled to expect it will hold its value. Stefan is wrong to reject the blue chip category wholesale. The reason for the pre-eminence of these artists (and I concede some are “made for the market”) is that, well, they’re just good. Maybe Stefan’s favoured category of emerging artists will one day reach the heights of Bacon, Freud, Warhol and so on.
Until then, it is much more of a gamble.
Jennifer Yum, Founder,Jennifer Yum Fine Art.
I have yet to utter the words “blue chip art.” It was coined by the media to explain the highest tranche of the contemporary art market. I am continually asked by collectors what would make a good investment. In recent years, the criteria used to judge and assess art have altered, and connoisseurship is very rarely practiced. Seldom do discussions involve questions like: when did de Kooning start painting on newspapers laid on canvas; or how did Ed Ruscha’s 1960s canvases gently subvert their clean graphic nature; or how did Agnes Martin’s paintings evolve from grids to horizontal striations?
The scale and size of the current art market has influenced the mentality of the art collector. Advice is taken from sales people, and the study of art – reading actual books about art, talking to art professionals and seeing with your own eyes – has been replaced by easily consumable catchphrases and hearsay. Fortunately, to be a great collector, you need only the traits that make you a great human being: curiosity, passion, discipline and grit.
Jonathan Crockett, Head of 20th Century and Contemporary Art and Deputy Chairman, Asia, Phillips Auctioneers
Although “blue chip” has its origins in the high value chips used in gambling, today it is used as an adjective that describes shares in companies considered a secure investment. In the art world, it is used similarly as a synonym for art of the highest value or quality. What I find most interesting is the transition from an emerging or mid-career artist into a “blue chip” name, an ever-evolving process in the field of contemporary art. A defining moment in the career of George Condo, for example, was in 2017 when, after decades of artistic output, his work started finding its way into some of the most important collections around the world, and fetching very high prices at auction.