The truth behind the beauty: why I'm really missing the TEFAF Art Market Report in 2018

On the way to Maastricht, thinking about my dream last night. A mysterious facing looking straight at me and saying ‘what's so great about working in the art market?’

After getting over the fact that my job is so deeply entrenched in my subconscious, I do start to think about that question. Sometimes the art world does feel like trading in the invisible and/or the imaginary. Canvas, bronze, silver and even pieces of buxus wood with such unbelievable yet undeniable value. Where does it come from? Like a Gauguin painting one asks “how did we get here, where are we going?“

I love going to Maastricht because it's a concentration of the most beautiful items each year brought together by experts who can tell their stories better than anyone else.

For the past decade, The European Fine Art Foundation who organise the fair also published an annual art market report, helping the industry put numbers down to describe this trade of intangible value.

These figures were used for the industry to provide some gravitas to what we do. $60 billion turnover a year is no small feat.

But last year Dr Clare McAndrew left Maastricht to complete her report for Art Basel, presented in Hong Kong. The team at TEFAF enlisted another professional, Dr Rachel Pownall from Maastricht University, to provide their report. Suddenly the art market had two points of reference. Any respectable industry should have multiple opinions and this seemed promising for the art world.

Dr Pownall used a different technique to assess the market size, and as a result the size of the market after her assessment was 20% smaller than the previous years. When she published the report, she explained that this was because she removed the sales on eBay of “art and collectibles ” under a certain price threshold.

A very valid line of reasoning and definitely helpful to truly get a full picture of the industry (from 2 different perspectives once McAndrew published her report and priced the market at $56.6bn). As I spoke to others in the industry, we were delighted with more perspectives as it would potentially help the art world understand itself.

This year, the report in Maastricht has been cancelled. But I can't help thinking that there might have been a more commercially savvy way to wrap this information by Pownall, if it has been done as a collaboration between the academics at Maastricht University and another more strategic consultant.

As the art world prepares for another round of the art fair season with the Armory show in New York and Tefaf art fair in Maastricht, I can't help but have some existential thoughts. This industry keeps getting close to being professional and transparent but then falls at the last hurdle.

The symposium where the report is usually unveiled will instead focus on "transparency" in the art world, pioneered greatly also by TEFAF's new Chairman, Nanne Dekking.

At the end of the day, being professional and transparent is not only proven by the highs - those astronomical auction prices, the big sales at art fairs, the huge overall market size, the wins and the premiums - but also the lows - when the market is doing less well, when mistakes are made and when people lose money. It seems as though in the business of beauty, the ugly facts are rather forgotten.