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Is art losing its cultural value as investors lock up classics in vaults for profit?


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Once upon a time people would make trips to art galleries; give freedom to their imagination and see the world from the unique eyes of­­ the artists. It was an activity carried out with patience and open mindedness. Viewing art today is comparably very distant.

The rise of commerce and technology has been evolving the experience of taking in art in the modern world. Investors have hidden some of the most desirable works ever created in their vaults, whilst social media has made it effortless to see art from the convenience of a mobile.  

Businessman and art collector Mr. Kaiser says, “Art isn't something that is so easily seen. There is only one of everything and they are in particular galleries scattered all around the world. This is what makes art so valuable and the experience is heightened when you see it.” 

He collects art from paintings to vinyls and with a collection of over 10,000 items and has quite a full vault, but is always ready to purchase. “Art is a wonderful investment because there is only one of it in the world," he says. "Last week I sold a domain name I bought 13 years ago as an investment for £2,500; it was because there is only one of them.”

Investing in art is an investment less traditional than bonds or a savings account, but is incredibly profitable. The arts market is currently booming with last year sales hitting a staggering  £37 billion. Last year an oil painting by French post-impressionist artist Paul Gauguin called ‘When Will You Marry?’ sold for nearly $300m (£197m). This is the highest price ever paid for a piece of art. Some high-profile experts have even spoken out: “no one should buy works of art for investment”, Art critic Brian Sewell said in an interview with the Telegraph.  

Visits to England’s top 16 museums, which include the main galleries in London, were up 4% cent in the last research statistics in 2013-14 from the Department for Culture. Growth is being driven mainly by tourists, and despite the big names including The British Museum, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museums' positive rise in numbers, this country’s two grandest art galleries, the National Gallery and the Tate Modern, are losing domestic visitors at a fast rate. These galleries have dropped in number of visitors by an alarming 20%.

It would seem art has become sentimentally worth less to the public but more to the financially prosperous. Bryan Adams would disagree. Bryan is a 21-year-old young artist in London, currently trying to save up to study at The Art Academy. “I think it’s sad that Britons are spending less time in galleries; everyone needs art in their life,” he says.

It could mean young artists like Bryan may never have their works seen. Perhaps they’d be better off showcasing and trying to sell their art on the Internet. Bryan says: “I would be gutted if something I made was put up in a gallery and nobody came to see it, but I would still remain an artist, it doesn't discourage me."

He hopes that Britons do not discard art in the future and lose interest in it: “There is a good feeling when you stare at a piece and try to understand who the artist is and what the portrait can reveal about him.” However what we can learn about an artist through the paintings is a curiosity negated by the likes of Wikipedia. 

Art tutor Moira Kazme says: “I think there is a lack of creativity in this country and its not surprising that people are moving away from art. It is very inspirational and therapeutic. We should not take it for granted. There are museums that don’t even showcase pieces, and with the 1% locking them away in their vaults, social media and online art websites may be the only place anyone will be able to see some of the classics.”

It has been revealed that museums have been hiding paintings and portraits of legendary artists like Picasso and Joan Miró in their archives. The Tate shows only around 20% of its permanent collection. Some art directors say they have no space and others insist they are preserving the world’s art. Either way it would seem like the best place to get cultured by art may just be the Internet.

“I’d like to believe that the great artists throughout history painted, sculpted or designed works to be seen, not to have them be locked away in a vault or for investment”, says Moira.

Shadow Culture Secretary Michael Dugher warned that only a “privileged few” have the chance to enjoy around 22,000 pieces by some of Britain’s greatest artists, which are kept in parliament and government.

Dugher is fighting for new free public gallery to be opened in Parliament to display these art works that are worth millions of pounds, which include works spanning over six centuries.

It is a battle with two sides looking to reap benefits from the art, whether financial or cultural. There are some who say art should be appreciated in galleries and others who wish to extend the cultural significance in the world. What is certain is the value of art has depreciated in some way or another, and the Internet will fill the gap.

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