Begun in 1967, Art Cologne was the first major international art fair, organized by commercial galleries and dealers to market contemporary art. Specifically, it was a continental initiative to gain traction in the rapidly expanding Euro-American art trade. By the 1980s the monetary potential of speculation in artworks had become a known lucrative investment strategy; increasingly wealthy collectors realized higher returns on artworks, held for a few years and re-sold at auction, than financial markets at the time could provide. Prices for work, strategically driven up by gallerists, auction houses and new collectors, achieved astounding levels in the dot-com and hedge-fund years, the years of collateral debt obligations and credit default swaps, with (like the sources of this wealth itself) little actual relation to inherent value. Elite artists, who benefitted enormously from this artificial market inflation, convinced themselves that their work was finally achieving the valuation it deserved.
The deaths of the German Joseph Beuys on January 23, 1986, and the American Andy Warhol on February 22, 1987, ended the lives but not the continuing market successes of two well-known international and trans-Atlantic artists. These two typified the burgeoning universal economy in contemporary art and its speculative markets. Warhol and Beuys developed easily recognizable, self-created personae which already in the 60s and 70s gave them branded status; much of Warhol’s work depended on modular and repetitive motifs linked to consumer culture, while Beuys focussed on socially-based and ‘universal’ typologies originally derived from Rudolph Steiner, and realized in his artworks through repetitive use of signature materials imbued with metaphoric content. For both of them, the global traffic in their works carries on through galleries, dealers, collectors, auction houses and art fairs.
The universal modular shipping container, an inter-modal system for the world-wide transport of goods by ship, truck or rail, was developed in its current form by Malcolm McLean in 1955; this now-ubiquitous global phenomenon has been used for the legal and illegal transport of everything from artworks to human beings.