Art, Space, & China

Before we start with today's insider art and technology news, just a reminder that my three offers are still available for three of my newest artworks. All three come on a museum quality, stretched canvas, and I must admit I have been impressed by the quality of the canvases coming out of Fine Art America. A couple of friends purchased some large pieces recently to see the quality and they came as promised, on time, and ready to hang.

Reflections canvas print 20x16


Hare canvas print 20x24


Sunflower Summer Abstract canvas print 20x24

Sunflower Summer Abstract


In yet another episode of ‘What crazy idea is Elon Musk trying to disrupt the world with this week?,’ the billionaire’s space company has officially requested permission from the US FCC to begin testing satellites for what could become a globe-spanning internet.


Rumors of said spacenet began to crystallise back in January, when Businessweek published a report outlining SpaceX’s plan to cover every human being in a glorious blanket of high-speed wifi.


Basically, Musk wants to use a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to shoot a constellation of small satellites into low Earth orbit which will beam signals to the far corners of the planet. The space internet would eventually pick up a decent chunk of web traffic in urban and suburban regions, in addition to bringing billions of Internet-less people into the digital age.


The biggest problem facing Musk is the amount of satellites required. Because they are in a lower earth orbit than others, their reach is limited. Musk has calculated that approximately 4,000 satellites will need to be launched to pull this off.


The cost to the end user will probably be high initially, although if there is less lag than conventional satellite internet, it might just be worth considering if you live near, in, or visit a wifi not spot regularly. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this technology doesn't spill over into the mobile phone market.


Retro it appears is the new, new. This trend, which appears to be gaining traction quite rapidly, is a push back in time to the past, a few decades ago.


There is a real push for 'retro' products. Walking around in London nowadays, looking in shop windows, I see more and more products whose designs are clearly inspired by the designs of the past; and capturing in some way the essence of those past products.


Retro radios, retro cars such as the Mini Cooper, and a look on my Pinterest Board "Retro" gets multiple repins every day. You can follow me on Pinterest @beechhousemedia and take a look at some real blasts from the past.


For those in the UK, retro is going to get a whole heap, well, more retro. Those once famous coders of computer games, Elite systems, are replicating the ZX Spectrum from Sinclair. You can find details here, This is something I really need in my life. Well, this and the Apple Watch. It works essentially as a Bluetooth keyboard, but it has a range of classic games included. It's a bit of a startup, but actually it's also very exciting for retro nerds like me.




It seems that there is an emerging market for high end art in China. Chinese art collectors are paying higher and higher prices for paintings, just like the Japanese did before their economy stalled.


It was the sale of Pablo Picasso’s painting Les Femmes d’Alger which broke the record for the highest price paid for any artwork at auction, raising $179.4m at Christie’s in New York in May this year. But we don’t as yet know who bought it. I can however confirm that it wasn't me.


The sale of Claude Monet’s Bassin aux nymphéas, les rosiers for $20.4m by Sotheby’s on May 5th 2015, is more instructive. The auction house revealed that it was snapped up by Dalian Wanda Group, one of China’s biggest private property developers and the world’s largest operator of cinema chains.


This was not a one-off for the company, owned by one of China’s wealthiest men, Wang Jianlin . It has been buying up Impressionist and modern art for the past two years. Nor is it alone. Chinese collectors were responsible for around a fifth of all Christie’s international sales last year.


You will be forgiven for thinking that all this has a familiar ring to it. It does. In 1987 Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance, a Japanese firm, bought Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers for a then record $39.9m at an auction in London. It sparked a feeding frenzy - Japan went nuts for art. Now it appears to be China's turn to spend big.


I often wonder where the market is going with art auctions. I often mention Christie's which I will admit so one of my favourite auction houses, but there are alternatives. There are also online only alternatives. I find myself wondering frequently about selling art online. There is nothing like going to an art auction or gallery and planning the purchase strategy, online though is a very different experience.


Aditya Julka, an India-born biochemical engineer, was simply looking to collect some art for his new Manhattan pad when he was introduced to Alexander Gilkes, a well-known auctioneer. In short order, the duo decided to create the first stand-alone online auction house.


They raised around $1.7 million in seed money and launched Paddle8 in 2011. Since then, the company has attracted more than $17 million in funding from investors that include artist Damien Hirst and Founder Collective, the fund that backed Uber and Buzzfeed. And it has sold more than $50 million worth of art.


This digital approach is certainly welcomed in the modern age, but where does that leave the sale of digital art in the future? Will there ever come a time when the original hard disk used to create a digital work of art become the new canvas? Unlikely, as I have discovered after using recent solid state drives, they have a shelf life.


I have had to replace three solid state drives in the last year alone. Admittedly I have used these drives in hard conditions. Transferring around 5TerraBytes of data in a short space of time really does affect them. SSD's as they are often referred too have a limited read/write life. So where does that leave original digital art in the future?


I always create a master print of all of my work and this is to me, is the original artwork from a digital file. It will be interesting to see in the next twenty years or so if a demand for early digital art appears much in the way that post war art is becoming hugely collectible. The question is, in 300 years, will it be seen in quite the same light as a Picasso?


Talking of the art markets, as a collector and an occasional digital, less occasional traditional artist there is a dark side to the arts. Not the dark arts of Harry Potter, I am talking about the sometimes shady practices I have come across over many years. Is it time for some regulation around the arts business?


If regulation of the art business ever happens, it is critical that the regulation is set by those who not only understand art, it needs to be considered by those who also understand the value of art, not just in a monetary sense, and by those who actually understand the business. If that is not the case, then there is a risk that markets would be filled with new risks caused by poor regulation.


I have seen some improvement in recent years, but the art market is still often murky, and certainly not always transparent. Art is used too often as a commodity for tax evasion in all corners of the world. Money laundering is also tied in with art in some cases. It's an easy conduit for money laundering, it can often be purchased without providing identification, certainly not the case for other assets.


Price opacity is also a concern, it can lead to insider information, making insider trading just as likely as investment banking. Minimum and guaranteed prices can lead to artificially inflating the prices for which pieces are sold.


Price collusion has absolutely occurred in the art market in the past, most notably between Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses. In the late 1990s, a criminal investigation was launched on both auction houses, and in the year 2000, both agreed to collectively pay $512 million to settle claims. In fact, the principal owner and chairman of Sotheby’s auction house was convicted of criminal activity and was sentenced to a year in federal prison.


Perhaps the first debate that will need to take place in the ongoing process of how to regulate the art market is whether self-regulation is preferable to outside regulation. One thing is certain, there is nothing like visiting a high value auction.

Do you think the art market should be regulated? If you have a view, please leave a comment. Why not also sign up for email alerts for future posts. I don't like spam, so you will only get future updates!

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