ontemporary art has been around since the ’60s and by nature of things, we all know that it will not last forever. Of course, it’s not the first time that a manifesto comes up with such a statement but let’s not be condescending here as this paper isn’t to predict that it will be the end of Contemporary Art at some point in time, but rather in which extraordinary circumstances… and what would be next?

The end of an era is often the result of a tectonic shift that happens when the system fails its deep need to consider and observe reality and, as a result, becomes archaic and dated. Then a new generation of cool kids come and challenge its status quo, revealing in themselves a pondering spirit, seeking out things that nobody else can comprehend yet. In our field, this well-known phenomenon is usually referred to as a sub-culture or counterculture and you would usually expect it to come from the music, fashion, or art community. However, this time the new and radical paradigm doesn’t seem to have come from our usual suspects but rather from the crowd that the traditional cool kids have dismissed from day one.

If not the cool kids, then who?

Unfortunately, the cool kids have become ‘petits bourgeois’ with very mundane aspirations, struggling to get into the property market, fearing the new world, stuck in a woke discourse fuelled by remorse and, obviously, too busy fighting for their survival rather than changing the rules of it. The new tribes to move the needle are geeks, and they are changing the world order from their bedrooms, speaking a language that would make no sense to any average human born in the 20th Century. But, while we have spent our life dismissing them, they have developed a way of thinking that is now challenging most aspects of our daily life. Rather than replacing capitalism with a communist utopia, they have built a new decentralised monetary system, founded on blockchain solutions and cryptocurrency, independent of banks and governments. Trust me, this is only the beginning. Not only are they managing to shake the unthinkable, but they have also become hugely successful and wealthy along the way.

What do we know about the new tribe extraordinaire?

We know for a fact that they act fast, and have no time for nonsense, and if the system can’t give them what they are after, then they will build it themselves. We also know that they understand the 21st century like no one else, are fluent in social media and new technology and have full backing from the investment community. They don’t seem to value fancy dinners and glamour as much as the previous cohort as we all have seen them turning down invitations from blue-chip galleries run by successful venture capitalists’ wives from the tech world in San Francisco or Palo Alto. Even if they come across as a bit odd sometimes, we must salute them for solving the problems of certification, authenticity, transfer of ownership and artist resale rights in the same amount of time that it would take Larry Gagosian to sell a Picasso. And contrary to the new buyers coming from emerging economies who show interest in acquiring only abstract or figurative paintings, they have started their journey with generative art. As we know, acquiring knowledge about the core concepts of contemporary art takes time and dedication. Over the last few years, populism and intellectual shortcuts have become our new norm. Many new ‘collectors’ and gallerists have been heavily ‘influenced’ by that trend, favouring visually pleasing art. Its colour palette is aimed to coordinate perfectly with the sofa and wallpaper and demonstrate an abundance of ‘art and craft’ to justify the overprice entry ticket. On the contrary though, this new tribe extraordinaire stands on the other end of the spectrum, venturing into the art world via the generative art movement, elevating Herbert W. Franke or Gottfried Jäger to semi-god status, and by the look of it, they will have dived deep into Conceptual Art, Minimalism, New Objectivity, Art Concret, Hard-edge, Group Zero, by next summer.

So, what’s next?

As A. Einstein put it, we can't solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them. By now, the contemporary art market has stopped expanding. Old collectors are coming of age and most of their heirs have no interest in following their steps or starting a new art collection. It’s no secret that money plays a very important role in the survival of the art ecosystem, and it is paramount for art galleries to have access to this new community of wealthy geeks. The dynamics are about to shift drastically. This new breed of collectors knows what they are after and will not compromise or even try to play the rules of the old world. The reverse is on the horizon and the so-called tech bubble will become the centre stage. Most of us heard of Art Blocks for the first time in June 2022, when Pace announced its partnership with them, it has now a market valuation that is twice the value of Pace and, if history repeats itself, it could have a feeling of déjà vu taking us to a distant memory of the Salon des Refusés, at least conceptually rather than visually. The incumbents, established artists, art dealers, advisors, museum directors, and others need to hurry up and update their thinking as the ship is about to sail.

Sebastien Montabonnel